Given the regulatory spotlight on ads for gambling, alcohol and food and soft drinks high in fat, salt or sugar, it’s easy to forget that the public’s exposure to them forms just a small part of their overall exposure to ads. With reference to previous years’ data, our analyses provides a rich picture of the diverse nature of TV ads that we see in the UK. And, through a focus on the extraordinary period of lockdown, it reflects the changing fortunes of different advertising sectors, the prevalence of public health messaging and how quick advertising is to respond to our evolving needs and wants.
In recent weeks we’ve published articles looking at trends observed during lockdown, including the complaints we’ve received and the findings of our focused review of gambling ads. Through this article, we take a look at wider trends in exposure to television advertising over this time.
During the Covid-19 health crisis, and period of lockdown, we found ourselves in unprecedented times. The majority of us, young and old, were housebound with few opportunities, other than the shopping of essentials and our daily exercise allowance, to leave the house. As a result, home entertainment became an even more integral part of our leisure time than in ‘normal’ times.
Ofcom’s recent Media Nations 2020 report found that, in April, we spent an average of six hours and 25 minutes each day watching TV and online video content. BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – the public service broadcasters – saw their combined audience share rise to its highest level in six years, driven by the demand for trusted news sources.
It’s therefore inevitable that, along with an increase in television viewing, we’d expect a rise in the number of TV ads we’ve seen. Our analysis of trends in exposure to TV advertising provides a detailed look at the amount and types of ads we saw during lockdown.
It’s important to note that we report on exposure to television ads across specific product categories, on an annual basis. These reports provide reliable, longitudinal analyses of ad exposure over time, allowing robust year-on-year comparison. Our analysis of trends during the first seven weeks following the Government’s initial work-from-home announcement on 16 March 2020 is based on a short and extraordinary period of time, which must be treated with caution and should not be interpreted as indicative of longer-term trends.
Analysis of trends during these seven weeks, from 16 March – 3 May 2020, compared with the same weeks in 2019, found that:
- Exposure to TV ads rose by 15.6% during the first seven weeks of lockdown.
- During this period of increased viewing and changes in advertiser activity, many of the trends observed are intuitive. For example, we saw a significant drop in exposure to ads for sectors adversely impacted by Covid-19, including cinema releases (from 5.9 ads to 1.5 ads for adults and from 4.0 ads to 0.8 ads for children), bars & restaurants (from 7.8 ads to 2.2 ads for adults and 2.5 ads to 0.7 ads for children) and travel brands (from 18.7 ads to 1.3 ads for adults and 4.9 ads to 0.3 ads for children).
- In contrast, we saw an increase in exposure to government/social campaigns (from 8.5 ads to 25.2 ads for adults and from 2.1 ads to 5.6 ads for children) and food- related brand building ads (from 5.9 ads to 23.7 ads for adults and from 1.2 ads to 6.4 ads for children) driven by increased corporate responsibility activity by supermarkets.
- Some trends demonstrated the way in which we adapted to Covid-19, with increased exposure to ads for haircare, oral hygiene and household cleaning supplies.
- The analysis also highlighted some trends that, while noted, must be viewed through the prism of a brief and unprecedented period.
In addition to insights into how ad exposure changed during lockdown, this analysis of the entire television advertising market shows that, while our work often focuses on particular sectors, audiences, including children, are exposed to a wide-ranging mix of advertising messages from necessities to luxuries. We’re also able to see the informative role advertising can play, with the significant increase in public health ads, and the reassurance that advertisers were able to give their customers during uncertain times.
See our report