Howard Macmillan’s (alleged) response to a journalist when asked “what blows governments off course?” in 1961 is more relevant than ever in January 2021. The overnight changes to all of our lives have shut offices, shut businesses, and shut us up in our own homes. As advertisers and agencies, we have of course reacted to these macro events, pausing investments when we perceived we would not make profitable returns, and returning to them as we expected new opportunities for growth.
Figure one below is a good representation of how the wisdom of crowds was a key driver of advertiser behaviour in 2020. TV advertising revenue, essentially static year on year for the first quarter, dropped like a stone in the first lockdown, with demand falling by 43% year on year in Q2. By November, the perceived wisdom was that lockdown 2.0 was no big shakes, and revenue rose more than 10% for the only time in 2020.
Figure One: The UK TV broadcast advertising market year on year growth by month 2020
Source: TKF January 2021
We’ve previously covered the extraordinary results brands who continued to invest against market norms achieved, so we won’t revisit that here. Our focus is not on the macro events that we all note and act on (correctly or not), but the micro or ephemeral events that most of us miss or fail to react to in time.
This topic came to mind following the publication of ‘The year in Wills’ by Farewill last week (if you haven’t heard of them yet, they are worth a quick glance). Farewill are a young tech play, helping people write their wills online or over the phone from home. Not surprisingly, they enjoyed great success in 2020 with 267% growth year on year. Now wills are a somewhat arcane subject – of great interest if you are a charity trying to persuade a supporter to leave you a legacy, but of only periodic interest at best for the rest of us. What we found interesting enough to share with you can be seen in Figure two, below.
Figure two: Spikes and dips in will writing 2020
Source: Farewill ‘The year in wills’, 5 Jan 2021
As expected, with people reacting to events in their own private life, the interest of writing one’s will online is somewhat low. Then as our individual life experiences become communal, and our collective sense of mortality grows, so does the number of will written per day. So far, so macro, as with the TV market in figure one.
What is really interesting in Figure two above are the micro moments, spikes or dips lasting for a single day or a few days at most: The peak the day Boris Johnson went into ICU; The peak on the day before we were all unlocked in May; The dip as morale lifted when pubs reopened; The spike as global deaths reached one million and we were all reminded of our mortality.
As performance advertisers or agencies, many of us as readers will be able to plot a chart like the one above for our own sales by day across 2020. What we may not do is attribute the change in daily performance to external events, preferring to attribute it to our own (normally paid) media investments. The chart above is a salutary reminder that MacMillan’s advice still holds true fifty years on.
So, what relevance does this have for brands? Figure three below might help out. This is a very simple share of search calculation, showing what Hotel Chocolat achieved each week during 2020 when compared with Lindt, the purveyors of golden bunnies to the nation. Three things stand out for us on this chart: Firstly, the advantage that an omnichannel brand has over a retail brand. Hotel Chocolat was born as a direct-to-consumer catalogue brand, only adding retail five years after launch. As Covid spread and high street footfall fell, Hotel Chocolat’s share of search rose by more than ten points. Secondly, as traffic returned to the high street in summer that share fell back to its historic norms, holding a pointer for many DTC brands that have enjoyed huge growth in 2020 and again now. Those gains will have to be defended again this summer.
But the third and most pertinent point for todays musings is the massive dip in share in September 2020. In the week of 6 September, Hotel Chocolat’s share of search vs Lindt drops from 64% to 26%. Like the spikes in Will writing this was an ephemeral moment; a week later share returned to 49%, and two weeks later to 64%. The cause of this spike for Lindt? The global launch of The Home of Chocolate. This event, together with its associated ‘earned” media’ caused a movement in the force for Lindt, but just a momentary one.
Figure three: Hotel Chocolat share of brand search vs Lindt 2020 by week
Source: Google Trends 2020 TKF analysis
Despite Lindt outspending Hotel Chocolat twelve to one on paid media in 2020 (£12 million vs £1 million according to Nielsen data), Hotel Chocolat was back enjoying more than 70% share of search between them within weeks and holding the lead through Christmas. All of which will have helped drive Hotel Chocolat sales up by 11% in H2 2020 and Lindt’s decline of 11% like for like by value sales as reported in Tuesday’s FT.
So, what are this week’s actionable insights? Three things to consider doing that should accelerate your growth:
Firstly, whilst linear attribution is a powerful tool and better than no attribution at all, if you are a consistent performance advertiser who invests significant amounts, add a nonlinear tool to your armoury. Don’t kid yourself that all your results are down to you.
Secondly, embrace Owned, Earned, Shared, Paid thinking. Look for the externalities of ‘events’ in the real world that you can embrace and amplify.
Finally, have an always-on “listening & watching” warning system. Look for those events that no-one can predict, spot them in real-time, then act on them and amplify them. Having worked with global emergencies with clients like Unicef and Oxfam for a couple of decades, we know that whilst headlines are running and search levels are high, response rates to appeals can be more than ten times higher than normal. Clients can generate the same revenue in a week that would take them a quarter to make in normal times, and when the noise increases, so does the uplift. Ultimately, every day that you can invest in counts.
If you want to explore how events might be harnessed for greater growth in 2021, get in touch.