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Vox Media research shows how the pandemic has accelerated changes to consumers’ preferences and actions

Your brand’s response matters in this moment

Illustrations by Pete Ryan for Vox

The most fascinating element of this pandemic is the abruptness with which it stopped ALL of our current routines and rhythms. As we search individually for ways to reframe and reformat our lives, we surveyed more than 900 Vox Media consumers to determine if the country is moving toward what we are hearing many refer to as the “new normal” – or if consumers are actually looking for familiarity, direction and positive change.

In the first of a two-part post, we’ll break down some of our findings. Today we’re looking at what “normal” means for consumers in terms of their mindset, media consumption, and values. You can find the second part of the series here.


The vast majority are feeling more cautious and risk-averse (87% strongly agree with this) and few are looking to do something extreme (11%). As marketers try to discern “the new normal,” we may be missing signs that consumers are more interested in things staying the same.

Most Americans say several things in life have changed...but no more than 10% say these shifts are permanent. We actually don’t want the change to stick and create a new normal.

Consumers are nonetheless more concerned that society has been forever changed. At the start of shelter-in-place 62% of consumers said their level of concern was medium-to-high about society changing permanently; after 4 - 8 weeks of shelter-in-place, 67% feel a medium-to-high level of concern.


Technology and digital content have been sources of comfort and connection since the pandemic started, but the pandemic also has been a chance to contemplate social media habits.

  • 75% say online content has become a source of comfort since the pandemic started
  • 68% say they’ve become more reliant on their mobile devices
  • 63% say the pandemic made them realize they spend too much time on social media

Consumers are looking to digital content for enrichment and direction during the pandemic, offering marketers strong clues about where they can maximize their advertising investments. Consumers are most interested in content that engages them—learning, staying up-to-date, and going into depth—not content that staves off loneliness.

Consumers’ desire to be engaged also is apparent how online viewing behavior has changed since the pandemic. For example, 47% are viewing more Science & Technology content whereas only 6% are viewing more Gossip & Celebrity content (and 34% are viewing less).


One of the most pressing questions we’ve been asked from advertisers is about tone and messaging. What do you say during this time? The answer isn’t what you say, but what you do that is visible to consumers.

Pushing global growth might be on the minds of CEOs, but local action is what a consumer will remember. This is what will decide the winners and losers.


COVID-19 is a mass event that accelerates changes, preferences and actions; despite the inherent disruption, it has also created opportunities for brands that can help people feel connected, informed, and supportive of companies that are doing good in their communities.

Methodology: Quantitative survey fielded April 28 - May 1, 2020 to the proprietary Vox Media Survey Panel. Total of 939 respondents. Survey error is +/- 5% at the 95% confidence level. | Co Authors: Nichole Becker & Preetisha Sen

Photo: James Bareham / Vox Media

Edwin Wong is Senior Vice President, Insights & Innovation at Vox Media, the leading independent modern media company known for building the best media brands and the technology that enables them. He leads research to identify key trends in consumer behavior and help advertisers capitalize on these trends to effectively connect with their core audiences. He has been studying digital consumer behavior for nearly 20 years and has held previous roles at BuzzFeed, Pinterest and Yahoo.