Medialab COVID Tracker: September

Covid icon 4-01-01

Welcome back to the Medialab COVID-19 tracker. A lot has happened since our last update in July.

In that short period you might have signed-off from home-schooling, stay-cationed, eaten-out-to-help-out, supported a loved one though the cluster-shambles of A-level and GCSE results and paid constant attention to your hands, face, and space.

Economically speaking, the tough times are set to continue. The latest government restrictions signal that we have reached the limit of ‘easy’ economic gains that can be taken before COVID-19 cases rise. The end of the CJRS ushers in a potential unemployment shockwave, and Brexit lurks around the corner. But whilst things might feel gloomy, 11 vaccines have progressed to Phase 3 trails and, should these trials proceed successfully, economic growth is set to return in 2021, with GDP growth potentially, according to KMPG, of 8.4%.

But as Grace Kite from Gracious Economics comments, “It’s an uncomfortable truth that the right answer to big questions in marketing strategy is nearly always ‘it depends’.” And that sets up this month’s COVID tracker, as we explore the ways in which COVID-19 has impacted different audience groups, categories, and media.


It is clear that the pandemic has affected people in different ways, many for the worse. For example, households on lower incomes are more likely to have run down their savings, whilst those who have managed to supplement their savings are more likely to be in a higher income bracket. (Bank of England, Ipsos MORI and Bank Calculations, Aug 2020). Another gap emerges between generations. The employment prospects of the young have been most damaged as they were the likeliest workers to be furloughed. This same group were more likely than older adults to experience depression during the coronavirus pandemic. (Office for National Statistics – Opinions and Lifestyle Survey).

A disparity also appears between the sexes, with women having borne a greater burden from COVID-19 compared to men. According to the Pew Research Centre (23rd August), “Women around the world typically do more unpaid work at home than their male counterparts, such as child care and housework, and this may be amplified by closure of schools and day care centers to combat the spread of COVID-19.” In addition, the huge job losses experienced have disproportionally affected women over men.

Yet despite the financial pressure on households, regular giving to charities has remained resilient. A recent survey commissioned by Medialab with YouGov revealed that most people who give regularly to charity have maintained all their regular charitable donations without reducing any amounts, especially at older age ranges. Therefore, given the economic pressure on younger audiences that has been created by COVID-19, a focus for charities on driving regular giving, through core products, amongst older audiences seems sensible.

Bias to online

  • Commerce and Giving

Due to the restrictions of lockdown and social distancing, the early stages of the coronavirus crisis has pulled forward an enormous amount of online adoption; amazingly, 10 years growth in e-commerce usage in three months. What has become apparent over the last 6 months, is that organisations who have a business built for online will have fared better than their bricks and mortar competitors. Whether it will all stick is another question.

In the not-for-profit sector, new lockdown restrictions will accelerate the upwards trend of donating online, but this could come at the cost of ‘give and forget’ phenomenon. A concerningly large number of donors can’t remember the name of the charity they donated to, which could be attributed to ‘the use of online giving platforms which put their brand ahead of charities’ (Enthuse Autumn 2020 Donor Pulse). This highlights the importance of clear branding for charities, and the need to drive a strong emotional connection with the cause where possible.

Although moving online feels like an obvious pivot, there are other innovative approaches happening in the not-for-profit sector. For example, Oxfam partnered with Selfridges as part of their Second-Hand September initiative; all of the clothes worn by Michaela Coel in marketing materials will be available to buy from their pop-up shop in Selfridges. NSPCC partnered with The Financial Times to raise enough money to fund Childline for 100 days. Gaining share of voice can always be a challenge for charities and yet, as Oxfam and NSPCC have shown, partnership can be a powerful way of driving extra reach and driving support for specific products or propositions.

  • Media

What has been extraordinary in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis, in terms of consumption, is the big increase experienced in AV viewing. Subscriber VOD in particular saw the biggest rise in usage compared with the previous year, compared with other video formats. An estimated 12 million adults subscribed to SVoD in lockdown, 3 million of those for the first time (Ofcom). However, it has not been such a straightforward journey for audio streaming services, as providers like Spotify, YouTube, Amazon Music, Soundcloud and Audible have had to deal with increased churn in subscriptions, possibly thanks to the reduced numbers of commuters.

For OOH, the ride has also been turbulent. With glimmers of hope as we moved out of lockdown quickly followed by revised Government guidance asking people to work from home where possible, it is worth bearing in mind that schools, colleges, and shops remain open, and the school run will still happen. Out of Home is a valuable medium for reaching those audiences, and even the 10pm hospitality curfew will have little impact on OOH delivery, as 95% of roadside OOH impacts are delivered between 5am-10pm.

Having made huge changes over Spring and Summer to adapt to the first wave of COVID-19, we now all find ourselves in the position of needing to adapt further to the risk of a second wave in Autumn. With Brexit, the end of the CJRS, and the risk of localised or national spikes in the virus, how Q4 unfolds will be fascinating to observe.  

This is a summary from a more detailed COVID Tracker. If you would like to access the full version, please contact our Integration Director, Nick Parker, at


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