2020 was a monumental and unprecedented year in history; one that forced us to stop, think, reevaluate, shift gears and work towards a more sustainable and responsible life on all fronts. While the whole world was propelled into a parallel universe of lockdowns, restricted living, social distancing and countless SOPs, the World Economic Forum in a recent report titled Dashboard for a New Economy has predicted a more comprehensive definition of economic recovery – be it U-shaped, L-shaped or V-shaped. For its part, Accenture had previously forecast the contribution of media, communications and related platforms (including traditional and digital media communications) at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of eight percent during 2019-2022. However, considering the fallout of the pandemic, it is clear that the broader media and communications industry has not been shielded from the upheaval caused by this global economic challenge – and Pakistan is no exception. Now that a second wave of the pandemic has crept upon us, the question is whether its impact be the lesser compared to the first wave or much worse. Time will tell, but for now, let’s look at how the Pakistan media landscape has changed over the last year.
The Dynamic Media Landscape in Pakistan
Since the pandemic began, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) reported a surge in digital/internet usage (especially during the lockdown period of March-August 2020) equivalent to a staggering 15%. However, despite the growth in digital consumption, TV as the primary medium to reach key audiences saw an estimated 10 to 15% increase in the consumption of minutes, especially with respect to news and entertainment channels during the lockdown months.
Looking at the spending for the year, media and primarily TV, can easily be represented as an ‘inverted U-shaped’ curve with Q1 starting off with a 20% increase in overall spending. In Q2, this was met with the hit on the overall economy, resulting in a 30% decline in spends. Q3, with businesses reopening or at least moving forward with efforts to keep the communication open with audiences, meant that TV budgets resurfaced and increased by an estimated 40 to 45%. Digital media on an average saw a 20 to 22% estimated increase in spend, with brands shifting approaches and fighting for share of voice for the available online audiences.
Despite the trend of brands pulling back their marketing spends, major categories such as foods and beverages, household goods, OTC medicines and personal care saw an increase in their advertising due to higher consumer demand for their products.
In terms of post lockdown consumption levels, digital continued to lead the media and marketing conversations, with a 20 to 25% increase in viewership, particularly with YouTube becoming the top content platform in Pakistan; the trend of online subscription for video on demand also left no stone unturned. A sudden but expected rise in demand for Amazon Prime, Netflix and related platforms also meant that consumers were actively engaging in looking for new solutions to keep themselves sane and entertained during this unprecedented time. This not only paved the way for these platforms to update their libraries with new content to retain and grow their audience base, it also challenged the conventional advertising methods of the majority of brands, compelling them to think of new, out-of-the box solutions to reach audiences.
Shifting Gears for the New Reality
This sudden shift in consumer behaviour and brand priorities proved to be pivotal for the media industry, as it resulted in changing gears and resetting sails from a media Point of View (POV). However, looking at this new reality as an industry professional, it also meant that the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” was going to be put to test by the need to come up with solutions that not only delivered on ROI but ensured that going forward we are preparing for the long-term with an approach that integrates the need of the brand with the need of the consumer in a seamless manner.
According to some reports, global e-commerce sales reached a monstrous $3.4 trillion, with both brands and consumers shifting to adapt to a new environment. The efforts in Pakistan, with brands actively moving towards e-commerce, resulted in the worth of e-commerce rising to an estimated two billion dollars. The reliance on safe and convenient shopping can be seen from the 40% increase in overall home deliveries for online orders, a 138% increase in searches for ‘near me’ and a 1.5 times increase in ‘same day’ delivery queries, putting platforms like Careem SuperApp, Cheetay Pantry Delivery and Foodpanda Online Groceries in the limelight as saving the day for many consumers. To further boost this, the State Bank of Pakistan took measures to facilitate electronic payments.
Although for some brands all this meant rethinking their media strategy, for others it was a mere readjustment from conventional to digital spend to allow for more agile efforts to convert audiences, as well as earning greater value for their time and money with more personalised, data-driven marketing efforts.
Moving Into 2021
With Q4 now moving towards a close and the end of unprecedented year and the possibility of another lockdown, brands are exhausting their media spends to ensure that they benefit from the momentum gained in Q3 for a last push for businesses to meet their target KPIs. Summing up 2020, there were four major changes in market behaviour that will continue to drive marketing plans next year. Firstly, the growing tension between profitability and visibility will further drive marketing conversations. Secondly, business priorities will be defined in terms of the new ‘must haves’ versus the ‘good to haves’. Thirdly, there will be continuous advertising adjustments based on evolving consumer behaviour. Fourthly, the e-commerce conversation will be one of investment versus expense. Moving into 2021, businesses will need to integrate behavioural sciences in their marketing efforts to better engage with consumers online and invest in techniques that deliver on sales and growth targets.
Despite the best efforts globally to predict the unpredictable, one thing is for certain. Evolving and innovating to keep up with trends will be the key to survival during these turbulent times. While there is no Navigating Media Through Covid-19 Handbook available yet, for now we can focus on agility, adaptability and transformation as the three key pillars to help steer us through this global challenge and transition into 2021.
Eisha Salim is Business Lead, Mediavest, Brainchild Communications Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org