In This Era of Meaningful Media, Marketers Must Lead With Empathy

You now have consumers’ undivided attention; what will you do with it?

In the school of “be careful what you wish for,” advertisers now have what they’ve always wanted—a captive audience.

With more platforms, ads and ways to avoid those ads, consumer attention has grown fragmented, prompting marketers to seek out rare moments of undivided focus. Those instances, however, have become increasingly difficult to find as marketers seek to identify what media matters most to people.

Now, the moment for meaningful media has arrived. From pandemic to protest, people have turned to media not just as a distraction, but as a lifeline to the world outside their homes and a means to join in conversations that are changing the culture. As marketers, we must rise to the challenge. How can we leverage this undivided attention in the most meaningful way?

Covid-19 and media consumption

First, you need to understand how consumption has changed. According to recent Havas Media research, 93% of consumers say that media is more meaningful to them now than before Covid-19. Likewise, the TVB, a trade organization for local stations, found that four out of five Americans trust local TV news over national because it provides more localized information related to the pandemic.

With both kids and adults seeking escape and distraction, time spent with video games has increased 45%, per Nielsen. Netflix reported a 32% increase in paid subscriptions during a single week in March.

Meanwhile, cable news has experienced a spike in viewership, especially during daytime hours, as people want to hear the latest updates and get answers about the ongoing crisis and political turmoil. Who thought that daily briefings from a state government (we see you, Governor Cuomo) would become must-see TV, or that parents would hop on the TikTok bandwagon with such ease and eagerness? Or that news would begin to feel even more urgent and important, and social media would become a place where a truly impactful movement is created?

The way forward starts with empathy

Every day, marketers help clients understand what they should do, as well as when and how to do it. They don’t have crystal balls, but can carefully analyze the data coming in to try and understand what’s happening and develop empathy that will help determine how to act.

For example, during the pandemic, Disney+ use went up, even among non-parents and young adults. From that information, you can surmise that people want comforting entertainment with stories of good triumphing. On the other hand, Bloomberg Media has seen a dramatic increase in site usage. We can use our knowledge of financial professionals to understand the extent to which they are looking for expertise, answers and a path forward as their clients seek guidance and reassurance.

As we move forward, we’re having conversations about how to support causes, create change and scrutinizing imagery and language in a way we haven’t in the past. It’s crucial to listen, learn and have conversations about improving how we portray life, communicate with consumers and use the attention we’ve been given for good.

Putting the lens of empathy on behavioral data allows you to help your clients and make decisions about how they can show up in a way that will help them tomorrow and beyond. Right now, people might not be doing much buying outside of a few categories, but they are watching and paying attention to what companies are doing. In this moment of uncertainty, brands can and should create meaningful media experiences and show up in ways that will help them to weather this crisis and navigate what’s to come.


Cate Evans has extensive experience working in various facets of the marketing industry including media strategy, integrated marketing, brand strategy and PR. She started her career working in PR for food and beverage clients before transitioning to the media world in 2010. She has worked on brands in the U.S. and globally such as Johnson & Johnson, ExxonMobil, Bacardi International and TD Bank.