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Survey: As Ads Make Their Slow Return, Regionalism Will Reign.

Flexibility, an emphasis on short-term planning, and the ability to tailor messaging to meet changing conditions in different regions will play a major role in ad-buying decisions for the rest of 2020 and into 2021, according to Advertiser Perceptions.

The new data is the latest in Advertiser Perceptions’ six-wave survey of hundreds of marketing and advertising decision makers, and it reflects findings from March 17 to June 15.

Comparing responses over time, it shows how planning has evolved as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread farther, lasted longer, and given businesses more setbacks than many first expected. And while “a look at total budget impacts by quarter shows a market moving toward its recovery,” the report says, “the only certainty is uncertainty.”

Among its conclusions: Advertisers in all media are wary of long-term planning; a majority have yet to finalize their strategies for the immediate future; ad buyers are putting a premium on flexibility; and insights on consumer response to reopening and regional conditions will drive ad spending.

“Buyers, sellers and ad tech partners must be ready to tackle regional challenges,” the report says. “Creative and budget limitations aside, the variability in reopening guidelines across the country poses real challenges for advertisers.”

Social distancing rules and a reduction in COVID-19 cases will influence spending decisions for all parts of the U.S. But the report finds the trigger to resume spending varies between regions with stronger social distancing practices (NY, CA, IL, MI, WA, NJ, CT, OR) and the rest of the country.

In stronger social distancing regions, the report finds advertisers are waiting for the coronavirus to stop dominating the news and for a return to live sports to up their spending. In other U.S states, more companies say they’ll resume ad spending once they have achieved a quarter of stable revenue and a reliable product supply chain.

It’s worth noting that conditions have changed in many of the states in the “less social distancing” category since the last survey was conducted June 15, with infection spikes reversing or complicating reopening plans in Arizona, Florida, Texas and more.

“Contingency planning will be key, as will companies’ abilities to rely on region-specific insights, geotargeting capabilities and being sensitive to sentiment in these areas can help advertisers make the most of this challenging time.”

While still down compared to 2019, ad budgets are expected to increase in Q4 2020, the report says. Overall ad budgets for Q3 in 2020 were down by 12% compared to 2019; the year-on-year difference will be -7.5% for Q4.

But even before the Sunbelt spike, advertisers were wary of planning too far ahead. “With uncertainty being the only certainty,” the report says, “advertisers now plan media no more than three months out.”

Average planning timelines for linear TV showed the biggest reduction — from 5.34 months pre-pandemic to just 2.71 months now. But planners are also tightening timelines for broadcast radio (from 4.07 to 2.34 months) and digital audio (3.63 to 2.02).

“The majority of advertisers are still finalizing their post-COVID-19 strategies,” the report adds. Only 29% say they had a new strategy in place. Fifty-nine percent say they were still in the planning stages (though 52% say they were making progress); 12% say their strategy hadn’t changed since before the pandemic.

Asked how media brands can assist in spending decisions, 64% say “be flexible” and 87% assert that advertisers will negotiate for greater flexibility in media contracts.

“Work with us in rescheduling,” one respondent says. “Be a good partner. This too shall pass, but this is when you find out who the partners are that you want to continue giving money to in the future.”

The report compares data gathered in six survey waves from March 17 to June 15, with 150 interviews per survey. Marketers made up 35% of respondents; 65% were from agencies. All were 100% involved in media brand selection decisions.

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