FreeWheel Study Finds 75% of UK Consumers Think Brands Should Address COVID-19 in Ads


A new study from FreeWheel, a Comcast Company, and the provider of the industry’s leading video advertising software, reveals 75% of UK consumers think brands should acknowledge the COVID-19 situation in their advertising campaigns. 

The survey, conducted with independent market research provider Happydemics, looked at media consumption and consumer perceptions of advertising in the UK during the coronavirus lockdown. Other key findings include:

  • More than two thirds (68%) of those questioned are consuming more media than before the lockdown
  • Over half (54%) of UK consumers pay more or as much attention to ads as they did before the confinement period   
  • More than half (58%) want to see ads that make them laugh, with the most popular verticals being food, technology, and – perhaps most surprisingly – travel

“The unprecedented situation arising from the COVID-19 outbreak is compelling brands to rethink their advertising and communication strategies,” commented Virginie Dremeaux, executive director, Product and Sales Marketing International, FreeWheel. “This study is designed to support advertisers and answer some of their pressing questions around the habits, preferences and expectations of UK consumers at this challenging time. We hope the resulting insight will help brands make informed choices around ad messaging, tone and delivery channels.”

Most consumers expect ad campaigns to relate to COVID-19 

Whether or not to reference COVID-19 in their ad messaging has been a challenging decision for brands, but the findings of the FreeWheel study make the position of UK consumers on the subject clearer. Three quarters (75%) of those questioned think brands must integrate the context of the pandemic into their advertising. Of those, a quarter (25%) of consumers feel brands should reference the situation if they are involved in it, while 15% think they should incorporate COVID-19 to assist prevention.



Consumers want humorous ads but preferences vary by sector 

The majority of consumers look for humour in ads, with 58% saying they want to see ads that make them laugh. But preferred ad types vary by sector. Given they are currently confined to the house, it is not surprising the most popular ads are for groceries, with 51% of respondents wanting to see ads for food. Consumers want food-related ads to create an emotional connection or to relate to current events. 

The second most popular vertical is high-tech products, with 27% of overall respondents wanting to see these ads. For the high-tech sector, consumers want ads to deliver special offers and promotions. Finally, despite the current climate, the third most popular vertical is travel, with 25% of respondents wanting to see ads about holidays. They want these ads to make them dream or to move them emotionally. 


UK adults consume more media than before the lockdown 

Over two-thirds (68%) of UK adults are consuming more media content than prior to the lockdown, and 35% of those are consuming much more. Broadcast TV is the first most watched type of platform, with more than a third (34%) choosing this option, followed by paid streaming services (26%), and catch-up TV (14%). 

Consumers are still paying attention to advertising 

Although ad revenues are dropping in the UK, consumers don’t perceive a decrease in the volume of advertising. In fact, over a third (35%) of consumers believe the amount of advertising in the media has increased since lockdown began, while 31% think it has remained the same. More than half (54%) of consumers say they are paying more or as much attention to advertising as they did before this period of confinement, indicating advertising remains a viable way to reach engaged audiences.  

Methodology: The study was carried out on 15th-16th April 2020 in partnership with independent third-party provider Happydemics. The survey was completed by 1,141 respondents and results were adjusted for age and gender to be representative of the UK population.