Looking back: Top digital advertising trends in 2020

IAS takes a look at the trends that defined this year and what we predict for the next

12/22 By IAS Team

At last, the year is coming to a close. While many have long anticipated these final days of 2020, we would be remiss not to discuss the top digital advertising trends we witnessed during this unforgettable year. Don’t worry—we’re looking ahead, too. This month, we released our annual Industry Pulse report, which surveys industry experts about the trends and challenges they predict for the upcoming year. Check out the top trends for 2020, and what IAS and the industry predicts will happen in 2021.  

The digital landscape adapts to new technology and legislation

Data privacy legislation takes effect 

As of January 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) took effect, limiting data collection practices. Governments around the world have begun to follow suit, but consumers still look to brands to ensure the quality of digital ad experiences. In an IAS study, 63%  of U.S. consumers hold brands accountable for the content that appears next to their ads.

What to expect in 2021… Last year, data privacy legislation was listed as the top challenge for 2020. Next year, the focus has shifted away from legislation and toward some of its effects, like cross-device attribution. Still, data privacy legislation remains in the top five challenges for 2021.  

Cookies begin to deprecate 

Google Chrome’s promise to dissolve cookies by 2022 sparked new conversations between publishers, advertisers, and tech providers. While the change poses challenges to identity resolution, it creates opportunities for the industry to work together to develop a new standard and incorporate contextual advertising solutions into their marketing strategies. 

What to expect in 2021… Nearly half of industry experts say that cookie deprecation will be the top media challenge next year. All eyes are poised on developing a new industry standard for identity resolution in the future. 

5G is introduced to the world 

The highly anticipated release of 5G feels almost inconsequential in light of global developments and crises since its announcement. Still, the technological advancement creates space for further innovation, specifically on mobile devices. 

What to expect in 2021… Industry experts look forward to the ways 5G will expand horizons for mobile. 48% of respondents said mobile will be a priority in 2021, and 58% of them agree that expanding 5G adoption will improve the mobile gaming experience, opening new advertising opportunities.

Coronavirus changes communities, industries, and the world 

The global coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the daily routines of people around the world—where commutes, shopping excursions, or dinner dates once kept consumers connected to the outside world, technology has stepped in. While the world faces larger and more pressing issues than solving for advertising industry challenges, IAS has surveyed both consumers and industry experts to better understand how to navigate these unprecedented circumstances.

Consumers stay home and streaming skyrockets

As stay-at-home orders took effect, consumers adjusted by leveraging technology to stay connected, read the news, explore new hobbies, and consume content. While CTV adoption was already on the rise, these behaviors paved the way for an unexpected surge. This spring, IAS found that 90% of consumers have access to a CTV device, and 63% of them prefer CTV devices for streaming. As of Q2 2020, eMarketer found a 239% increase in time spent with smart TV devices worldwide, and a 61% increase in time spent on CTV devices, specifically. 

What to expect in 2021… The future of TV is digital and experts agree: digital video, OTT, and CTV were listed as the top media priorities for 2021. Additionally, 62% said that CTV, digital video, and OTT have the greatest potential for innovation in the upcoming year.  

Advertisers halt campaigns, change creative 

As marketers navigated brand safety amid the bourgeoning pandemic, they understandably faced uncertainty about how best to respond. Some campaigns were halted altogether, while some brands were quick to pivot their creative toward tailored messaging about the evolving situation. In March 2020, eMarketer shifted forecasts to reflect potential coronavirus impacts, noting a probable $6.85B decrease in display advertising, $12B decrease in TV advertising, and $4.7B decrease in search. 

What to expect in 2021… Good news: Advertising is expected to bounce back. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said that the pandemic will either maintain or increase their expected media budget and revenue in the next year. 

Publishers are impacted by sweeping keyword blocking 

In the response to coronavirus, publishers were directly impacted. Whether by inventory loss or binary keyword blocking approaches to brand safety, publishers saw both decreased revenue and increased fear of brand risk. IAS, among others, spoke out about the importance of a pragmatic, holistic approach to brand safety and suitability. Namely, a successful strategy should avoid excessive keyword blocking and take a more nuanced approach that considers other variables, such as context, sentiment, and quality of a given environment. 

What to expect in 2021… Buy- and sell-side experts agree that brand risk mitigation will be a priority for their organization. For coronavirus specifically, 73% of respondents said that the suitability of coronavirus news and content will depend on the brand. In other words, the industry acknowledges the nuance with which brand safety and suitability strategies should be applied. 

Trending news topics challenge advertisers to take a stand  

Social justice movements and the presidential election sparked conversations about brand safety 

Coverage of movements for social justice and the 2020 U.S. presidential election prompted age-old conversations about brand safety and suitability to resurface. And, more than simply considering advertising adjacencies, many advertisers took a stand against inequality and racism. Rather than simply blocking all news, advertisers instead sought to appear alongside content that aligns with their values. At the same time, publishers worked to ensure marketers could understand the content they were publishing. Between adapting to new legislation and responding to evolving news, the industry became increasingly positioned toward contextual advertising practices. 

What to expect in 2021… Transparency is the name of the game. Specifically, advertisers are looking to social media platforms that specialize in user-generated content for increased visibility into media quality. Insight will be key to success given that consumers are increasingly sharing and reading news through social media. In our survey, 59% of respondents said that insufficient transparency into media quality metrics will impact their social media spend.

Want to know more about what the industry predicts for 2021? Download the IAS 2021 Industry Pulse Report below.

Download report