Understanding the habits that consumers are adopting in the face of COVID-19, and the activities they believe will outlast the pandemic, is essential for marketers. WARC’s Stephen Whiteside outlines the headline results from a new study on this topics.

The Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the trade body, polled 1,000 adults in the United States to assess the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on their current habits – and the behaviors they anticipate will stick once the threat finally recedes.

Marketing in the COVID-19 crisis

This article is part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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In all, the study covered a vast range of topics, and the insights reaffirmed the pool of knowledge that numerous other pieces of research have yielded:

Digital technology

Many consumers have increased their usage of digital technology, as shown by the number of people engaging more often in the following activities:

  • Streaming video: 73%
  • Watching TV: 68%
  • Texting: 67%
  • Video calls: 64%

Content consumption

Drilling down into the figures related to streaming, the leading platforms among respondents were:

  • Netflix: 63%
  • YouTube: 50%
  • Amazon Prime: 43%
  • Hulu: 35%
  • Disney+: 26%
  • Apple TV: 5%

An interesting nugget from the analysis involved the potential for paying to watch new movie releases at home. With theaters closed, studios are relying on this approach to deliver much-needed revenue. The bad news? Forty-nine percent of Americans would not spend over $5 to view the latest films from the comfort of their sofa.

News and ads

Cable television networks – think CNN, FOX and MSNBC – served as the primary source of news about COVID-19 for 22% of participants, ahead of local TV stations (16%), online sites/apps (15%), broadcast network news (15%), online searches (9%), and newspaper websites (9%). Daily printed newspapers, however, were a negligible presence (1%) on this metric.

Thirty-four percent of interviewees stated that advertising in news programming was supporting this material, and 39% agreed they would disable online ad blockers – “at least selectively”, the IAB/USC study noted – to support news providers.


According to the survey results, only 7% of Americans had not bought anything online before the pandemic. And 32% of this audience are now making ecommerce purchases for the first time.

Turning to consumers who were online buyers prior to the crisis, fully 44% are utilizing this channel to acquire items they had never bought through ecommerce services before. This was true for 36% the panel when it came to buying food, for example.

One depressing insight from the poll: 45% of the sample had experienced price gouging during the pandemic.

What’s next

When discussing the behaviors they expect to maintain post-Coronavirus, survey contributors pointed to a wide range of possibilities that hint at a new normal:

  • Spending more time with family: 56%
  • Working from home more: 42%
  • Increased online purchasing: 39%
  • Reduced face-to-face contact with others: 37%

The activities they had missed under lockdown suggest a widespread yearning for many of the day-to-day fundamentals of pre-crisis life, too:

  • “Being able to go where I want and do what I please”: 94%
  • “Visiting relatives and friends I see regularly”: 90%
  • “Visiting friends I see occasionally”: 90%
  • “Dining in restaurants”: 89%
  • “Shopping in brick-and-mortar stores”: 88%