Despite the sharp decline in ad spend as a result of COVID-19, affiliate publishers have continued “business as usual” throughout the pandemic with 57% seeing stronger performance despite the challenging circumstances.

Rakuten Advertising reached out to affiliate publishers across content, loyalty & rewards and shopping & comparison sites throughout APAC to understand the effects of COVID-19 on their business.

Nearly half (42%) of affiliate publishers reported an increase in site traffic over the past month and a further 34% said traffic had held steady.

61% of respondents stated that growth was organic, and 42% indicated traffic referral from social media had increased, corresponding with the large numbers of people at home increasing their digital interactions.

Promotional offers showing good signs

While investment levels from retailers have been affected during the pandemic across all channels, 58 per cent of affiliate publishers say they are seeing stronger performance from brands that are actively providing offers in the market and promoting these via their affiliate partnerships.

However, affiliate publishers haven’t been relying solely on their retail partners to innovate and appeal to sustain share and drive growth. 42% of those surveyed said they have made changes to their marketing and promotional messaging to adapt to new consumer demands and behaviours.

Steady on inventory

While overall the ad industry has experienced reduced demand and decreased inventory costs, affiliate publishers who traditionally work on performance models have largely kept costs the same, with brands continuing to see demand, conversion and effective ROI via the channel.

66% of respondents said that they have not made changes to the cost of inventory available to affiliate advertisers.

Budget cuts

Not all affiliates have been immune to COVID-19’s impact though with 30% of respondents saying they have been cutting business operation costs where possible, while 24% have reduced their own marketing spends and 19% have been forced to make staff and salary reductions.

Tracking significant and rapid shifts in consumer behaviour, many affiliate publishers have identified an opportunity to reimagine the way they meet customer’s needs, with 27% of affiliate publishers stating they have responded to the crisis with new inventory or campaigns.

In addition, 37% said that they are now providing new services and content to site visitors, while 24% of publishers have invested in different channels to meet new consumer activity.

“This survey shows that there remains clear resilience and opportunity with channels able to pivot nimbly to the changes in consumer behaviour induced by the Coronavirus crisis,” said Stuart McLennan, senior vice president, APAC at Rakuten Advertising.

“The fact that so many of the publishers surveyed have been able to maintain the cost of inventory on their sites is testament to both the strength of the channel and the ability of affiliate publishers to adapt to the increased role of social as consumers look for engagement, information and best deals on the web,” he concluded.