How Affiliate Marketing Responds to Customer Needs During the COVID-19 Crisis

Mar 25, 2020
Written by Paul Tibbitt, SVP, Business Development & Kelly Merkel, VP, Publisher Development

In this historic time of disruption and uncertainty, it's more important than ever to help customers meet their rapidly changing needs. 

The affiliate channel is uniquely situated to help consumers, brands, and publishers. The channel’s performance-based model offers a safe-haven for marketing spend during a time of disruption and uncertainty as our brands are able to invest and see real results. Additionally, our publishers are well-poised to be able to rapidly adapt and provide valuable information to consumers so that they are able to quickly evaluate and understand which brands offer what they need, when they need it, and at the right price point. These unique capabilities exist only in affiliate, which make this channel adaptable, yet accountable, during this highly volatile time.

Our goal as a channel and network is to provide you with guidance so you can continue to effectively respond to consumer needs.

We’ve been closely watching network performance over the past month. Soon we’ll be publishing digital insights that show how advertiser verticals are performing as consumers respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, we’ve put together a preview on the verticals that are resonating with consumers, followed by best practices for both advertisers and publishers in an effort to help you determine where you may need to shift your strategies, or the areas in which you may already be well-positioned.

Sectors that Meet Stay at Home Needs

While economic news may seem bleak, there are businesses that are seeing growth as consumers seek resources to keep themselves and their families healthy, educated, and entertained while practicing social distancing. Here is a sampling of the categories that consumers are gravitating towards within the network:

Home & Business Services

  • Entertainment & Streaming
  • Productivity Tools
  • Education


Health & Wellness

  • Online Workout Services
  • Vitamins & Supplements
  • Beauty Products
  • Athletic & Sporting Goods


Financial Services

  • Mortgage Refinancing
  • Tax Preparation
  • Stock Trading


Food & Drink

  • Wholesale Stores
  • Commodities & Staples
  • Fresh & Prepared Food Delivery


Home & Garden

  • Hardware
  • Office Supplies
  • DIY


How Advertisers and Publishers Can Further Help Meet Customer Needs

In addition to shifting focus to high-demand categories where feasible, here are a few other ways advertisers and publishers can proactively address customer needs.


Supporting Businesses who are Currently Closed

As businesses have had to temporarily close for public safety reasons, consumers are looking to support their favorite restaurants, movie theaters, retail shops, and more by purchasing gift cards that they can use once those businesses reopen. Publishers who want to help connect advertisers with these consumers can promote gift cards for purchase. Advertisers can change program terms if they are paying 0% for gift card purchases and offer a commission on these card purchases during this time.


Recommendations for Publishers

  • Express value through awareness. Now is the time to continue to demonstrate to your customers that you care about their current need states by adapting to provide relevant recommendations and offers.
  • Get creative. Consider anything that you can do to meet consumer and brand needs during this time. For example, some cash back publishers have supplemented consumer cash back rates by passing their commissions directly to consumers for brands that are in-need.
  • Review campaigns and content. We recommend reviewing current campaigns, creative and copy to ensure that your communication tone is consistent with customer sentiment. Many of us use templates or have pre-planned engagements that were designed before the current pandemic and may need some adjusting to remain relevant.
  • Organize content in a convenient way. Structure homepage content, email offers, and media placements to highlight what is resonating with consumers now.
  • Be where your consumers are. Communicate using the channels that your customers are more engaged with now that they are staying at home. Think social media, email, mobile.
  • Communicate even more with your advertisers. Understand the nuances of the efforts they are taking to adapt. For example, is there a particular business offering an advertiser is focusing on right now, and others that should potentially be avoided?
  • Review your current rate cards. Ensure they are still competitive and realistic considering the financial situation that advertisers may be in now and in the near future.


Recommendations for Advertisers

  • Create content with awareness. Ensure that your creative assets, copy, and offer language/restrictions are appropriate based on current sensitivities and the state of social dynamics. For example, consider changing creative that shows people gathering or that otherwise violates current health-related guidance.
  • Be proactive with publishers. Ask them what they recommend to ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward with their shoppers and what’s resonating.
  • Get creative with offers. Now is the time to try new promotions, partnerships, or commission structures to best meet consumer demand. If you’ve never offered a % off offer through the affiliate channel, now may be the time to entice consumers to buy.
  • Consider shipping and inventory. Where possible, offer free shipping or expedited shipping as an incentive. In either case, be transparent about shipping times and inventory.
  • Evaluate loyalty and incentive offers. These publishers can drive consumer demand by shifting more rev-share to consumer pass back.


This is a historically unprecedented point in time, and we anticipate that the market will continue to adapt to ever-changing consumer needs as the situation develops. While the market will eventually normalize, this will take time. As an industry, affiliate is well-positioned to continue to adapt and meet consumer needs. We encourage everyone to remain flexible and cognizant of consumer demand, behavior, and sentiment—this is the best approach for the long-haul.

If there is anything we at CJ Affiliate can do for you during this challenging time, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We're here to help.

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