The Loneliness Epidemic and Media Consumption: What Marketers Need to Know

More so than attention metrics, there is a bigger macro trend that could be affecting today's media investments

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We are still seeing the effects of the pandemic come to fruition, but one thing is very clear: We are all feeling more disconnected. The resulting epidemic of loneliness is well documented by health professionals, with 52% of Americans reporting that they feel lonely and 47% saying their relationships aren’t meaningful.

According to US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, “Loneliness is far more than just a bad feeling; it harms both individual and societal health. It is associated with a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety and premature death.” The mortality impact of social disconnection is comparable to mortality caused by smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. There is even greater than that associated with obesity and physical inactivity.

As marketers, we often rely on technology and data to shape our current and future channel planning strategies: programmatic media helps us buy audiences, retail media helps us find people to market for our products and social media helps us target people based upon vast amounts of walled garden data.

But when something as profound as a pandemic occurs, it’s also just as important to take a step out of the minutiae and look at more macro-human trends to inform our media investments.

Bigger than the attention economy

There are several media channels are the channels enjoying steep growth trajectories and they help everyone feel less lonely and more connected.

The channels that are making people feel more connected to human emotion, real and meaningful conversations and shared live experiences are podcasts, live shopping, gaming, Reddit and subscriber-based content platforms like Medium and Substack.

While there has been a lot of industry discussion around using “attention” as a planning KPI for media, marketers don’t need to capture attention; they need to show up and contribute to these environments where people find companionship and connection. The channels beneficial to everyone’s mental health will only continue to scale in reach and popularity as people move away from other channels that don’t have the same benefit.


As our work experience has become more remote and our lives more virtual, who doesn’t miss feeling a part of long and meandering conversations with friends and colleagues? Those conversations make you think and help you to understand the people you are with on a deeper level.

Podcasts often fill that void. They are intimate and inclusive, so it’s no surprise that podcast consumption has exploded. According to Nielsen, the U.S. podcast listener base grew by 40% from 2020 to 2022. There are close to 70 million people who listened to podcasts in 2023 and this number is projected to rise even further, reaching over 110 million listeners by 2029.

Live shopping

Let’s face it, we have all been waiting for live shopping to reach its tipping point in the US. And I think that time has come.

The pandemic drove record increases in online shopping because of its safety and convenience. Live shopping still provides those same functional benefits but also offers the more emotional benefits of having a live host share their expert opinions and being able to engage with other shoppers in real-time.

In the US, where live commerce is still building in popularity, the total value of livestream e-commerce sales is projected to almost double from 2022 to 2026. This is an opportunity that is especially ripe for marketers in top categories like clothing, skincare, fashion accessories, body care and hair care.


According to the World Economic Forum, the explosive growth of gaming stems from COVID-19 lockdowns, driven specifically by the millions of social and casual gamers who picked up their controllers to escape boredom and isolation.

And there are no signs of slowing. A recent PwC report said that the growth trajectory is expected to continue. The category is estimated to be worth $321M by 2026.

With global platforms like Twitch’s 30M Daily Active Users (DAU) and Roblox (71.5M DAU) connecting people all over the world, its potential to stave off loneliness and galvanize communities is indisputable.


Anyone who has ever entered the world of Reddit knows that there is a subreddit for every imaginable interest or topic. For people who feel isolated, misunderstood or simply out of place, Reddit provides a community of like-minded individuals to have meaningful conversations.

Your brand can become a part of these communities by offering exclusive content, product samples or hosting an Ask Me Anything (AMA). The pandemic triggered Reddit’s extraordinary growth, which directly led to its recent IPO. Reddit’s annual revenue was $188M in 2020 and skyrocketed to $456M just a year later in 2021. In December 2023, Reddit’s revenue was $810M and the global monthly average DAUq was 76M.

Medium and Substack

While part of staving off loneliness is feeling like a part of a community engaging with like-minded people and sharing content, sometimes the desire to share an opinion requires more than a simple social post or comment in a thread.

Sharing long-form perspectives with people on platforms like Medium and Stubstack gives the creator access to an opt-in audience and also enables them to make a little money doing it. At the start of 2019, Medium had 400,000 subscribers who paid to access content on the app and that number increased to 700,000 just two years later in 2021. Substack, a similar type of platform where people pay to access content written by other people, saw site traffic grow by 42% from August 2023 to January 2024.

For brands out there looking for an early mover advantage with their media dollars, try investing in some of these platforms that are in high growth mode. To make the most of these platforms, keep in mind the mindset of these audiences and support their quest for more meaningful connections. Do these platforms offer the scale of other more established media channels? No. But they might in the future. Get in now, do some good and generate some key learnings for your brand.