5 digital ad trends to share with media planners, buyers

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


Hello from London. 

In this newsletter, I will explain the main, current trends in the digital advertising space that I believe could help you stand out from the crowd when dealing with your media planners and buyers within client advertiser companies and/or ad agencies. 

Many planners and buyers rely on experts in the industry to guide their thinking and actions. 

Are you one of the experts they trust and are influenced by? 

I will give you a list of the top trends I think the media advertising industry is now following, which can be subjects you can take away and look at in a deeper dive later.

Plus, I will reveal what one well-established, digital (mobile) service is still massively important and powerful … despite being over 20 years old and being invented way before the invention of the smartphone.

Digital advertising trends that make advertisers buy media differently 

Many ad industry people have focused attention recently on the impact of the pandemic, particularly on changing customer habits and which behaviours will stay with us post-COVID. 

Predictions can be difficult. It is still not evident if people will, for instance, continue to increase their shopping online or go back to enjoying the more immersive shopping experience in-person in city centres due to a need to “get back out there” in a somewhat previously normal environment again. Or both … and in which mix? 

One thing that is clear though is the way digital advertising is changing. There are five major trends that have emerged, which, whilst being around for a while now, have only recently gained momentum. 

Understanding what these trends are fully and aligning our advertising strategies around them will be crucial to continued success in digital advertising. 

I believe these trends could well be useful to appreciate fully when dealing with media planners and buyers — both from our own media sales point of view and from the education of the media planners and buyers we deal with.

If we show we understand the market we all work in, they will warm to us and treat us like the experts we are — or at least, should be.

1. Online advertising that’s disruptive 

Our customers (be it our own news media customers or those of our advertisers), shouldn’t be annoyed or hassled by advertisements. 

Nobody likes a disruptive online advertisement.
Nobody likes a disruptive online advertisement.

That said, the only way we can create a level of awareness is through the disruption of ads at some level. And it’s fair to say Google native ads and social media networks have shown the way forward here for a different way of understanding digital advertising. 

Various industry viewability studies have shown relevance plus context are the main reasons for good reactions to ads. With overtly “pushy” ads, advertisers can run a risk of generating negative connotations. 

The key factors here are data and algorithms that can optimise for specific target audiences and, importantly, NOT formats that are there to disrupt and, in essence, force reader attention.

So, get rid of those annoying pop-up ads, for example. People not only dislike them, but they find them irritating and negatively react to them. Do you really want this?

2. Credible alternatives to Facebook

Analysis of click-through rates (CTRs) and the pricing of Facebook ads over recent years show the platform showed some kind of optimism back in 2016. As a result, ads became more and more expensive and clicked less frequently. The reason is that engagement is now happening elsewhere, too. 

It’s no longer true that there is just one platform that combines/reaches all our possible target groups. Instead, advertisers have a need to diversify/develop more tailored content and specific formats in a range of platforms and channels. It’s gotten more demanding, more complex.

However, things like fake news (the Russian war in Ukraine has been rife with it) and poor moderation to go alongside ensure advertising on platforms with user-generated content (UGC) continues to be challenging for brands with a, now more than ever, huge requirement for brand safety. 

Ideally, diversification should include ads on search, on social, and the open Web to reach all relevant audiences.

Do you educate your advertisers around these factors? There are other ways and issues to think about re: putting all your ad spend with Facebook? Your owned media channels for instance?

3. Ethics as a busines driver 

Brands with a strong stance and commitment to the environment are no longer in the minority. This will intensify even more in the coming years. 

Product features and sustainability should not be mutually exclusive but form a connection between each other.

Brands can no longer avoid diversity and inclusion. eMarketer says that for 61% of customers, inclusion is a “crucial factor” for gaining loyalty of brands, and that brands that include these worthy themes into the fabric of their business can achieve longer-term success. 

Do your advertisers realise this? And if they do, do they know that you know the markets and trends well? Endearing ourselves to them is half the battle sometimes.

4. Traditional ad bookings come to an end 

Traditionally, advertisers booked verticals to reach a target market. At a basic level, women, for example could be reached through our weekend magazine supplements and men through the sports pages/sections. That’s how sexist (and stupidly simple) the advertising world was (and was promoted) in past decades. 

With digital advertising though, the use of data is making traditional media booking somewhat obsolete. However, this hasn’t yet got into the consciousness of all media buyers.

With automated/programmatic media booking, ads find target audiences right across the Web. Relevance (there is that word again) to the individual is now key. 

With the new tech opportunities brings a new appreciation and understanding of the diversity of the huge range of interests. For example, why wouldn’t a female executive be interested in sports scores or why shouldn’t a man be looking for cookery recipes?

There will always be exceptions to the rule. Particularly niche target groups will continue to be found directly on specific platforms/media.

5. Feed me feeds! 

The whole Web is now arranged and organised by feeds. Not only do social media platforms rely on this user experience, but feeds (in which ads plus editorial content are embedded) have also become a standard on the open Web. 

The aim is to give consumers better choices to increase the time they spend on a Web site or platform. Time spent/dwell times — and not just CTRs — are now so important.

As the length of time spent becomes more important, so does the reader's feed.
As the length of time spent becomes more important, so does the reader's feed.

Feeds are increasingly becoming the preserve of Web operators. Also, because many users visit article pages directly (and not via the homepage) through search or social, giving them a large range of topics or features is the way to efficiently monetise. 

And with these feeds, we will see more and more new formats emerge in the future. It’s all about looking ahead and realising the commercial opportunities this all presents us with. 

Do the media planners and buyers you deal with know this fully? Tell them. Make them look good and you’ll reap the benefits.

SMS: a giant that keeps on growing 

In a world of ever more complex ad solutions, there is one communications channel that is still growing and it still so powerful: SMS text messaging — a mobile/digital service that many media planners and buyers might well overlook without your telling them the facts! 

Despite competition from many angles, the somewhat humble SMS is still going strong. SMS is still big business, and it is hard to see other messaging platforms making any inroads into its dominance for some time to come. And this creates so many opportunities for brands to exploit, e.g., messages with e-commerce links, discount coupons, promotions, coupon collections for loyalty, timed informational messages. The list is almost endless.

SMS is an older yet still applicable platform for advertising.
SMS is an older yet still applicable platform for advertising.

SMS has been around now for many years now, long before the invention of the iPhone (which, incidentally, came out in 2007). And I always think of the SMS service in the same way print newspapers are sometimes viewed — an old platform that’s not too relevant in today’s multi-channel, complex digital advertising world.

This perception though is far from the truth.

Our recent INMA master class on print innovation showed print is alive and well — not only still hugely relevant today but, for many, a cornerstone to the offerings we make. 

The same goes for SMS. People use it, like it, and know it well. It is still relevant and useful. And we overlook it at our peril. 

Mobile industry research from the UK’s leading SMS platform provider, TextAnywhere, has shown that more than half of UK consumers, for instance, have no unread messages on their phone at any point in time — meaning, of course, that more than half of people read all their text messages. 

The TextAnywhere survey questioned 1,000 consumers about their mobile messaging behaviours to give an insight into their phone activity. The findings revealed over half (60%) of respondents feel they must open a message once it’s been received, whilst over a quarter (28%) have just one to five messages marked as “unread.” 

It is predicted that users send more than 6 million texts over the course of their lifetime, and so SMS will be a key advertising and marketing tool for e-commerce businesses in the future.

SMS remains an anchor for digital communications: 90% of people open their text messages at some point, with more than half within a couple of minutes of receiving them.

Over 7 billion mobile users by next year.

Add that to the fact that there will be 7.26 billion mobile phones users by 2023, it’s easy to see why SMS messaging remains appealing. Communications giant Infobip, which operate in the SMS, e-mail, voice and Whatsapp arenas worldwide, sent out a massive 4.23 billion messages last year during the Black Friday sales period across all channels. SMS was the most-used channel (1.7 billion messages sent).

SMS is still alive and well … and thriving. The future key to success though will be how creative we can be with the channel as customers become more savvy, more demanding, and smarter on how to opt out of things that don’t catch their attention. 

Just be sure you don’t bombard customers with too many messages. Send your messages at a convenient/relevant time of day and be creative in the call to action and presentation.

Further reading 

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Mark Challinor, based in London and lead for the INMA Advertising Initiative. Mark will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media advertising. Sign up for the newsletter here.

This newsletter is a public face of the Advertising Initiative by INMA, outlined here.

E-mail Mark at Inma.mark@gmail.com with thoughts, suggestions, and questions or follow him on Twitter (@challinor).

About Mark Challinor

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