2021’s Media Events and Trends to Watch

Key takeaways:

  • In 2021, important media “tentpole” events, like the Grammys, Oscars, the Super Bowl, and the Olympics, will likely deliver large audiences.
  • The adoption of at-home virtual assistants like Google Home and Alexa will continue to increase beyond the pandemic. Healthcare marketers should include these devices in their media strategies; the most turnkey method is to incorporate smart speakers as part of audio media plans.
  • Social media, already a crowded landscape, is getting more complicated as Facebook faces legal challenges

Part One of this blog series explored the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted consumers’ media behaviors in the past year. Healthcare marketers, like most people, are hoping that COVID-19 will not dominate the entirety of 2021—and with the distribution of vaccines already in progress, things are beginning to look hopeful. Although the pandemic will continue to have influence in 2021, there will be other trends and events worth paying attention to, as well. Looking ahead, what major media events and trends should marketing teams be aware of as 2021 begins?

First, the start of a new year and award shows such as the Grammys and Oscars are considered media and marketing tentpole events in ‘normal’ years. They will look a bit different in 2021, but are still important for media teams to consider, as they tend to deliver strong audiences. Also, we’ve spent much of 2020 watching sporting events from our couches instead of the stands, but the successful deployment of vaccines might allow the return of spectators to sports in 2021. However, even with the vaccine rollout, there is still some uncertainty around these events, especially the Super Bowl and the rescheduled 2021 Olympics; experts say that both events will likely include COVID-19 testing for all participants and attendees.

For Super Bowl LV, airing on February 7th, marketers are betting on the event delivering audiences. As of November, CBS sold out of its A position ad inventory for the Super Bowl; A Position is the first ad placement that airs in each commercial break. And as of early December, 75-80% of inventory was sold. The few remaining spots are costly—a 30 second national ad unit is roughly $5.5 million dollars (slightly less than last year’s price, but still high historically); local rates are much lower and vary by market.

In regard to the 2020 Olympics, postponed to summer 2021, marketers that were planning to activate sponsorships during the original Games are rethinking their approach. Many are still planning to sponsor, but their messages are shifting. For example, the Games’ five most prominent sponsors, Procter & Gamble, Intel, Airbnb, Coca-Cola, and Samsung, began working on their 2020 Olympic message back in 2019, and in some cases even 2018; those messages may no longer be relevant to consumers in 2021, and brands are thinking of how to refresh or even restart their marketing communications strategies.  

Outside of tentpole events, there are other “trends” to continue to consider as part of a media plan. First, the SPM media team predicts that the adoption of at-home virtual assistants such as Alexa and Google Home will likely continue to grow. In the U.S. alone, the number of people who use voice assistants and smart speakers has grown by double digits this year—a trend largely fueled by consumers staying at home, but one that will stick with us beyond the pandemic’s end. Furthermore, eMarketer estimates that 128 million people in the U.S. will have used a voice assistant regularly in 2020; this is up by 11% from last year and represents nearly 40% of the total U.S. population.

Millennials are the heaviest users of voice assistants, but use is rising among all age groups, especially as more people work, study, and consume entertainment from home. Healthcare marketers should heed these new trends and habits as part of their media approach; the most turnkey way to do this is to incorporate smart speakers as part of all audio media plans. For example, when someone asks Alexa to tell them today’s news, a healthcare organization can sponsor the NPR news briefing that Alexa answers with. A less turnkey option is to incorporate a health system’s content and expertise into Alexa’s “skills”—this would allow health system to be at featured in Alexa’s answers.   

Another interesting trend are the shifts happening in social media. Facebook is typically a partner that most of SPM Group’s healthcare clients have success with. But in early December, the federal government and dozens of states filed lawsuits alleging that the social media giant has violated antitrust rules. The suits could result in Facebook divesting from Instagram and WhatsApp or being broken up altogether—an outcome with large implications for marketers and media teams.

Media is only going to continue to become more complicated with more options available for consumers. But before it switches from complicated to completely overwhelming, healthcare marketers should do target research to understand the platforms their audience is using and how they’re using them. A strong media team like SPM’s can help navigate this ever-changing landscape.