Opinion

People watching in a pandemic

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Emotion is driving media changes, except be cautious about how you rationalise the numbers according to MediaCom’s Global CSO, Chris Binns.

We are all well versed in the idea that data represents the new oil, soil, gold and so on. Or we can use data to observe that order values are higher at the weekends, to see that View Through Rates are skyrocketing year-on-year, or that site X works better than site Y. Things we can act on. Things we can optimise to. Things we can rationalise.

But what about the other side? The expansive view of data. Data as an opportunity to increase effectiveness. Data to describe the emotions behind the behaviours. To understand that at the weekend I am dreaming of being able to explore again; to see that people are so bored they are paying more attention to certain ads.

We are emotional beings. We post-rationalise decisions we make. Especially when we are in focus groups and feel we need to say something. Maybe we should start listening more intently elsewhere.

We have at our fingertips the largest database of human intention in history, the largest database of conversation, the largest database of personal passions. Maybe these represent more than rational opportunities to optimise, maybe they represent an opportunity for expansive thinking, an opportunity to increase emotional effectiveness, because in an era where context is going to increase in importance, then we need to be able to understand the context rather than simply describing it.

In the US, in 9 months, Mar-Dec last year, 9bn commuter hours were lost. 51% of those hours went on more work. Then add another 18bn hours of digital media consumption on top, it’s no wonder people were feeling a little boxed in, a little emotional. Even without a global pandemic this would have been quite some shift. The net effect being we are at a time of increasing emotional variance.

So, what are these emotions?

Well, we’re bored. We are watching more ads (View Through Rates are indeed up to 50% higher year-on-year, in fact B2B has seen further increases).

Boredom leads to exploration. We used the word beginner in YouTube searches 7bn times last year as people look to new hobbies. We also see a shift to generics in a number of categories as people with more time search around more.

Exploration leads to a boom in learning and education. As #learnontiktok and the ad campaign they have just launched suitably highlight.

Doing more we also seek clearer breaks; serenity becomes more central as sleeping app, Headspace, demonstrate with their incredible year and wellness apps have become a key part of many corporate welfare packages.

With everything so serious around us, we seek levity and laughter and optimism. Reruns of Friends, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Parks & Recreation and The Office ring through homes. 54% of people watch comedy to cope and thus TikTok explodes.

Given we are no longer in an office. Sound has seen a resurgence. Volume is turned up on laptops, headphones have had massive peaks in sales and podcasting comes of age as exploration and learning come to sound.

We dream of parcels arriving. We dream of sneakers, and T-shirts. We realise shopping is a leisure activity, it is excitement and promise, not just an act of warehousing. eCommerce product searches fragment across platforms.

We crave for a simpler time. Nostalgia playlists spike, older packaged goods remind us of a time less menacing.

More than anything we pine for connection. Discord is worth $10bn, the metaverse is only getting started but Roblox and Minecraft are cities, worlds like no other on earth, and watch parties, a new way for people to watch videos on together in real-time, boom.

These are all emotionally driven changes of media context. We can see it in the numbers. But maybe, just maybe, numbers aren’t as rational as we once thought. Maybe they are a guide to this thing we call life.

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