Industry Pulse 2021: The Most Unexpected Predictions

IAS looks at the most surprising predictions for digital advertising trends in 2021

02/04 By IAS Team
digital advertising trends 2021

Last year, a global pandemic took the world by surprise and led to massive changes in all aspects of life. Together, we adapted to a turbulent year and have arrived in 2021 with both uncertainty and hope. In December, we released our annual Industry Pulse report, which surveys industry experts about the trends and challenges they predict for the upcoming year. This time around, respondents were faced with the unique challenge to predict what’s to come after an unexpected year. While some predictions were straightforward, there were a few surprises.  

As we kick off the new year, let’s take a look at some of the most surprising predictions found in our 2021 Industry Pulse.

Surprise #1 The Accelerated Rise of Connected TV and OTT

Like any good list, we’re starting with a technicality. With more consumers at home than ever before, it’s no surprise that connected TV (CTV) and OTT skyrocketed in the last year. This rise in adoption has been paired with a rise in ad spend. In the Industry Pulse, nearly 9 in 10 respondents said that advancements in digital video/OTT and CTV technology will accelerate the shift in ad spending from linear TV to digital.

However, the sudden jump in priority from 2020 to 2021 caught our attention this year.  In 2020, CTV was ranked as the 4th highest priority for U.S. digital professionals surveyed in the Industry Pulse. This year, digital video/OTT (57%) was the highest industry priority, followed closely by CTV (54%). In the span of only a year, digital video/OTT and CTV have become the new standard for reaching consumers as they stay at home. This rise in prioritization will be met with an increased allocation of resources. In 2021, CTV ad spend is forecasted to reach $11.35 billion, while OTT subscription revenue is forecasted to hit an all time high of $38.15 billion.

As consumers continue to stay home, media consumption devices will continue to gain importance to meet growing needs.

Surprise #2: The Deprecation of the Cookie 

As the industry continually changes, digital precedents are routinely replaced with new and improved technologies. Nearly half (49%) of industry professionals stated the top industry challenge for 2021 was third party cookie deprecation. In response, tech giants like Google are actively looking to replace the cookie with new approaches to identity resolution. And while cookie deprecation has been anticipated for some time, the shift in focus comes alongside increased data privacy legislation implemented by governments around the globe. 

With cookie deprecation listed as a top challenge by industry professionals, it’s surprising only a third of respondents (29%) selected data privacy legislation when asked the same question. Despite being deprioritized as a challenge, data privacy legislation has the potential to continue greatly impacting the digital landscape. As data privacy becomes increasingly commonplace, marketers must continuously adapt and invest in new ways to accurately measure their digital campaigns.

Surprise #3 TikTok’s Future in 2021

One app that has had its fair share of popularity and attention is the social media platform, TikTok. However, when asked about which social platforms respondents would run ads or monetize content with this year, only 21% of respondents chose TikTok. Although this question was asked when the fate of TikTok was threatened by legislation, it’s surprising to see a low percentage of marketers planning to leverage the app in some capacity. This is especially unexpected, considering the scale of the TikTok user base. A new estimate forecasts that TikTok will top 1.2 billion active users by the end of 2021.

Given the current perseverance of TikTok in the U.S., it’s possible that this prediction will prove false. Whether TikTok witnesses increased ad growth likely hinges on advertisers’ ability to reach users and accurately measure success in campaigns, all while navigating privacy legislation.

Surprise #4 Marketers and Consumers Disagree on Brand Safety

Brands often align their priorities and tactics to complement or align with the needs and opinions of consumers. So, it’s surprising when brands and consumers disagree on a subject or priority.

In our November 2020 report, The Ripple Effect 2, we asked consumers who they thought was “most responsible for the type of content brands appear alongside.” In response, 51% said brands were most responsible. However, when we asked industry professionals who was “most responsible for mitigating brand risk,” 47% said publishers were most responsible, 39% said it was verification providers, and 38% said supply side platforms. 

Compared to consumers, only 24% of digital experts surveyed in the Industry Pulse thought brands were most responsible for mitigating brand risk. Whether it’s a gap in education or misplaced responsibility, marketers and consumers disagree on accountability for brand safety and suitability. While partners like verification providers play important roles in risk mitigation, consumers are ultimately looking to brands to control their content adjacencies. 

The Year Ahead 

There are always a few surprises in our Industry Pulse responses, and, as always, the upcoming year will undoubtedly bring some developments no one could have predicted. But, when developing your marketing strategy, it’s important to account for the expected while remaining flexible to unexpected.

Download the 2021 Industry Pulse Report to read the less surprising, but equally compelling responses and predictions by industry experts. 

Download report