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Customers have just become a captive audience. Here’s how to make the most of it

Siri can be a judgmental b_ _ _ _. On Sunday, out of nowhere she hit me with the fact that my screen time was up nearly 100 per cent on last week to a whopping average of 5 hours, 9 minutes per day.

Surely this isn’t normal, but what is? According to a recent Vox article using data supplied by Zenith, American adults spent about 3.5 hours a day using the mobile internet in 2019.  They expected that time to grow to over 4 hours in 2021. Thanks to COVID-19, I’m well ahead of that bell curve and I’m not alone.

Apple is yet to release its screen time data for the COVID-19 period, but we only need to look to Twitter to appreciate that that we’ve become a truly captive audience.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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The behaviour of the captive audience

Last month, Facebook reported that people are spending 70 per cent more time across their apps (Facebook, Facebook Messenger,  Instagram and WhatsApp ); group calls were up 1,000 per cent and messaging was up by more than 50 per cent during March.

And it’s not only social that’s experiencing a massive surge:

  • According to self-reported data, NewsCorp print mastheads recorded their best readership numbers ever during March 2020;
  • Broadcast Video On Demand audiences grew by 159 per cent from March 8-24 across all networks; and
  • Total metro TV audience reach increased by 6 per cent from the first week of March to the last.

The captive audience has also defied pre-COVID-19 trends in terms of behaviour, with March seeing a massive surge in browsing between 7am and 4pm, when activity traditionally dips.

Capitalising on the captive audience

The interesting thing about the current media environment is that the surge in audience numbers across print, digital and TV have been met with a sharp decline in advertising spend. This opens up one of the most interesting marketing opportunities of our generation. And a handful of retailers are capitalising on it.

Barbecues Galore launched a series of short films encouraging people to #BBQforAustralia, which taps into cultural insights that are relevant to life during COVID-19. At the time of publishing, the three posts have reached a whopping 1.3 million people (that’s a similar sized audience to Master Chef), website traffic has boomed and online sales have more than tripled. A strong result for films shot in isolation on iPhones, with amateur agency talent and a media spend of less than $3,000.

Meanwhile, Freedom released a collection of video conferencing backgrounds that feature their stylish furniture ranges. The backgrounds were promoted with a funny short film that ended up on channel 10’s online news platform The Daily as part of a larger story around hacks for working from home, delivering a significant national reach and a surge in online sales.

Three key learnings on the captive audience

There are three key things we can take away from these examples:

  1. With screen time booming and advertisers retreating, we have one of the biggest marketing opportunities of our generation;
  2. COVID-19 has thrown up a plethora of cultural insights that can be easily leveraged to better connect with audiences;
  3. You don’t need phenomenal production values to get a result in the current climate. 

One of the great challenges of modern marketing has been the dwindling attention spans of audiences. COVID-19 has changed that, and brands that leverage this moment in time will be rewarded when their audiences finally emerge from captivity. It’s time to get out there and make impressions.

So bring it on Siri, let’s see what records we can break this week.

Maddie Livesey is partner and COO at retail strategy and creative agency, The General Store.

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