The week of April 27 was especially important for the online advertising world. The three companies that account for nearly 70 percent of online ad spend – Amazon, Facebook, and Google – all announced quarterly earnings. Here was the first time advertisers would see the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ad spend. And the news was better than expected.
Amazon Advertising Surges
Amazon announced a rise in quarterly revenue as people sheltering in place increasingly relied on digital to manage their lives, including purchasing products. Amazon’s Advertising service saw a 44-percent increase in revenue (advertising is included in the “other” category in Amazon’s earnings). Why did Amazon’s advertising business do so well?
- For one thing, consumers on Amazon are searching with intent to buy. And a lot of people are searching on Amazon. According to CivicScience, 49 percent of product searches start on Amazon, versus 22 percent on Google.
- Amazon without question became a more attractive place to find things to buy as shelter-in-place mandates took hold. According to Learnbonds.com, Amazon’s monthly unique visitors for March, 4.6 billion, easily exceeded competitors such as eBay and Walmart.
- Amazon was prepared to help advertisers build their visibility during the surge. As we have reported on our blog, over the years, Amazon’s advertising service has developed a number of products that have served Amazon and advertisers well. Those products include Sponsored Ads, Video Ads, and Display Ads, among others.
Amazon said it will plow its profits into COVID-19-related relief activities. As CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement, “If you’re a shareowner in Amazon, you may want to take a seat, because we’re not thinking small. Under normal circumstances, in this coming Q2, we’d expect to make some $4 billion or more in operating profit. But these aren’t normal circumstances. Instead, we expect to spend the entirety of that $4 billion, and perhaps a bit more, on COVID-related expenses getting products to customers and keeping employees safe.”
Amazon’s steady development of an advertising service helped put the company in the position to be able to accommodate this expenditure.
Facebook and Google: Signs of a Turnaround
To no one’s surprise, both Facebook and Google saw a slowdown in revenue earned from online advertising, especially in March. But stock shares for both companies rose after they announced earnings. Why? Let’s take a closer look.
Facebook: More Users and Engagement
Facebook announced that even though ad revenue had dropped during the quarter, it was showing signs of turning around in April. Overall, quarterly revenue rose by $17.74 billion. As Facebook said in a statement, “After the initial steep decrease in advertising revenue in March, we have seen signs of stability reflected in the first three weeks of April.”
In addition, Facebook said that monthly active users had increased 10 percent year over year to number 2.6 billion, and engagement was up as people sheltering in place increased their use of social media.
The advertisers who maintained their spending levels during the dip in March benefitted by being present during the surge in user engagement, as we discussed on our blog.
Google: YouTube Is the Star
Meanwhile, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, reported quarterly revenue of $41.16 billion, a 13-percent year-over-year increase. Revenue from advertising rose 11.6 percent, with advertising from YouTube surging by 33.5 percent.
Alphabet acknowledged that online ad revenue had taken a hit because of COVID-19. But in an investor earnings call, the company’s Chief Financial Officer, Ruth Porat, said that “We have seen some very early signs of recovery in commercial search behavior by users.”
Because Google is very active in the travel and retail – industries that have been rocked by the pandemic – its performance actually exceeded expectations.
As with Facebook, advertisers who maintained their levels of spending benefitted as the general population shifted its behaviors online during the first quarter. As we noted on our blog, many businesses adapted their tone and content to demonstrate empathy with ads running on Google sites such as YouTube. Those businesses positioned themselves well.
What You Should Do
Amazon, Facebook, and Google will continue to dominate the world of online advertising for the foreseeable future. Here is what we suggest:
- Don’t go dark. Businesses that maintained their visibility online during the March advertising downturn benefitted from the increase in online engagement. Even as states ease up their shelter-in-place orders, social distancing is not going away anytime soon. We’re living in a digital-first world now amid longer-term behavioral changes. Being present with paid media means taking a digital-first approach.
- Mind your tone. As I blogged in March, businesses need to do a gut check on the tone of their content. Many businesses have successfully incorporated empathy into their advertising while others have changed their messaging to focus on health and safety. Taylor Hart shared some examples of successful social media advertising in this blog post.
- Be open to different forms of engagement. It’s important that businesses be ready to adapt different forms of engagement to reflect changing user behavior. For instance, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pointed out during Facebook’s earnings call, livestreaming on Facebook is a more attractive alternative to live events. Moreover, Facebook had already been seeing a marked increase in use of its Messenger app before the pandemic. Héctor Ariza recently shared examples of ad products that capitalize on the popularity of Messenger. Given the increase in Facebook’s monthly average users, now is a good time to try those products.
- Capitalize on new ad products. Google is fighting hard to protect its turf amid the rise of Amazon Advertising. The company continues to roll out new products to make the Google universe more appealing to advertisers. For instance, I recently blogged about how Google has adapted the YouTube masthead ad format for the era of connected TV. As Mark Smith discussed in December 2019, Google has been developing some impressive location-based advertising tools.
Contact True Interactive
We know how to create and manage online advertising that is appropriate for the times we are living in — don’t hesitate to reach out. We can help.