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YouTube Advertisers and COVID-19: How Top Advertisers Are Spending

July 14 2020 by Sarah Fleishman

We’re nearing the end of the second quarter of 2020, the first period to both begin and end in the midst of global concern around spreading COVID-19. By the beginning of this quarter, shelter-in-place orders had taken effect across most of the United States. 

We’ve already explored the immediate responses from advertisers in the fast food, travel, leisure, and pet industries on this blog, so today we’re zooming out to get a longer-term look at the impact of COVID-19 on YouTube’s top advertisers. You can see a table of the platform’s top 10 YouTube advertisers by spend below.

Top Advertisers on YouTube

Paypal, Disney, and Procter & Gamble make up the top 3, with total spend for the quarter ranging from about $37 to $63 million. By contrast, in the first quarter of this year, YouTube’s top advertiser—also Paypal at the time—spent just over $39 million. It’s clear advertisers understand that consumers are watching more YouTube during quarantine. So what are they using all of the additional airtime for? 

Paypal set its sights on quarantined online shoppers

Ever since acquiring the online shopping coupon app Honey on January 6 this year, Paypal has been YouTube’s largest advertiser in terms of both ad spend and impressions. But, the company’s YouTube ad budget jumped from $39 million to a whopping $62 million (and counting) from the first to second quarters of 2020.

Paypal is incredibly focused on YouTube—the company’s total ad spend across all channels stands at about $67 million so far for the quarter. That means about 95% of its advertising budget goes to YouTube. Two of Paypal’s top creatives indicate the company is aware of the ways COVID-19 is pushing consumers to indoor habits—like video gaming and ordering delivery instead of eating out. 

Screen Shot 2020-07-01 at 3.05.46 PM

This ad for Nintendo Switch coupons speaks to the frenzy for these consoles and over the popular game Animal Crossing: New Horizons that have dominated many Americans’ quarantine experiences.

Of course, online shopping in general has been on the rise as consumers avoid shopping in stores where COVID-19 risks can be great. That said, the rest of Paypal’s top creatives are not particularly crisis responsive. These eight creatives were first aired before news of the virus took hold in the United States, but don’t appear to have been swapped out for more relevant options.

Screen Shot 2020-07-01 at 3.06.49 PM

The creative above first aired in August last year, but still ran heavily throughout the height of COVID-19 concerns throughout the country. It’s surprising because the video features a woman searching for a good price on a dress online after catching flack from friends at a party for wearing an out-of-season trend. While many brands have pulled creatives featuring people gathering in groups, Paypal spent over $7 million on this video ad for Honey.

Disney promotes its streaming platform to a newly captive audience

Unlike Paypal, Disney has a primary advertising platform other than YouTube. That role falls to Facebook at about 38% of ad spend over the quarter, though YouTube takes a close second at 35%. Each one of Disney’s 191 unique video ad creatives shown this quarter promotes its streaming service, Disney Plus. 

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Like Paypal, Disney’s primary offering is already so relevant to the quarantined consumer they haven’t felt the need to tailor the messaging of their creatives to respond to COVID-19. Each one of the almost 200 video creatives Disney is serving on YouTube focuses on Disney Plus content, including the Mandalorian Star Wars TV series, classic movies like Toy Story and Aladdin, and newer offerings like Onward.

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Disney’s top creative at over $5 million spend promotes the live action Lion King movie available to Disney Plus subscribers, and received over 280,000,000 impressions.

Procter & Gamble Focuses on its Bread and Butter

Similar to how Disney landed in YouTube’s second spot of top advertisers while allocating the second largest chunk of its advertising budget to the video platform, household good producer P&G also rounds out third place following the same pattern. As shown in the Pathmatics pie chart below, P&G spent more over the quarter on Instagram and Facebook ads, but still had over $37 million in the 20% of its advertising budget that was ultimately allocated to YouTube. 

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Looking into the creatives P&G has served over this period, another pattern remains consistent between it and fellow top YouTube advertisers Paypal and Disney. The messaging in the company’s top creatives doesn’t appear to respond to COVID-19 concerns, even though P&G produces many household sanitation items that seem relevant to this moment. 

In fact, although five out of the company’s top ten creatives since April were first seen after shelter-in-place orders began in mid-March, not one of these new creatives addresses the pandemic. These evergreen creatives for products ranging from skincare to diapers to paper goods are likely a better long term investment for P&G than more timely messages. That’s because P&G strategists understand that demand for the company’s goods is not flexible with respect to concerns around the pandemic. In other words, P&G trusts people will need its products just the same.

P&G - Olay digital ad

The newest creative on P&G’s list of top ten YouTube creatives features a line of Olay skin care products. The ad was first seen as recently as June 12 of this year and already has had over $1.6 million in spend to support it. 

Overall, the biggest players in the YouTube ad space have certainly responded to shifts in consumer behaviors catalyzed by COVID-19 by increasing their budgets for the platform. But, their desire to continue to reach a wider, more captive audience of quarantined consumers largely hasn’t translated into ad messaging that addresses the times.

It’s important to remember that video ad creatives are significantly more expensive to produce than social, display, or paid search ads. Brands like Paypal, Disney, and Procter & Gamble have offerings that are already relevant to consumers rain or shine, pandemic or not. This allows them to create evergreen video ad creatives at a time when other brands might be scaling video ads back. Such a choice opens up the budget for more agile ad campaigns on other platforms where they can serve a more timely narrative without risking it becomes irrelevant before demonstrating ROI.

All data visualizations in this post were pulled from Pathmatics Explorer on June 26, 2020 examining the period between April 1, 2020 and June 25, 2020.

About Author
Sarah Fleishman

With over a decade of experience across digital marketing, content, creative, and PR, Sarah is a creative and dynamic thinker who loves to delight clients with unique and relatable content. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology.

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