6 most surprising digital ad trends so far this year

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


The world turns. It turns so fast sometimes that it is easy to get lost or feel left behind.

This applies to advertising, where there are a number of advertising trends accelerating fast in 2023 already (and we are still only in quarter one). 

We would be wise to understand what these trends are so we can see how they could affect us — both positively or negatively — and to be able to provide valuable insights to our agencies and advertisers. 

For example, Gen Z, TikTok, and AI are not only part of our future, they’re here now in the present. And in 2023, advertisers need to pay attention. When it comes to creating a successful, digital advertising strategy, it’s time to start proactively embracing new technologies with the top digital advertising trends.

In this newsletter, I will aim to simplify things. I have distilled the top digital advertising trends into six areas, all of which you’ll need to know about in the rest of 2023 and beyond. They are all trends that have excelled in the latter part of 2022 and are now rapidly gaining momentum in 2023. 

Also, I will dispel a few myths around programmatic advertising. It’s one of the topics I receive e-mails about from INMA members who still think of programmatic as some kind of “dark art.” I tackle here some of the issues head on to hopefully reassure you of what it can (and can’t) do, plus I get into its benefits and considerations.

The six most surprising digital advertising trends so far in 2023

1. Prominent “social impact” strategies 

Advertising brands taking a stand when it comes to their own values is not a new concept. But prominently putting “out there” their impact strategy at the forefront of their digital advertising strategy portrays a shift in how brands are reframing themselves in response to global movements. 

Consumers often want brands to stand for something and to be public about it.
Consumers often want brands to stand for something and to be public about it.

In 2023, many consumers want brands to take authenticity and mindfulness seriously, and many are gravitating towards those who centre themselves around those specific values and morals, which they stand for themselves. 

Putting values front and centre will help audiences connect with what we do and want to portray. 

Some advertisers are finding that, in terms of digital advertising, embedding their social causes into their brand’s overarching mission isn’t even a "trend” as such but a natural effect of what it means to be a values-led company today. Therefore, social content — from graphics to e-mail topics — all need to be influenced by, and fed back into, a social impact strategy.

2. Youth-centered advertising

Gen Z isn’t just the "next generation” of potential future consumers. They’re the “now” generation with huge purchasing power.

They are also trailblazers in terms of how we view and interact with brands, largely through young-dominated platforms like TikTok. They can see through traditional advertising ploys and choose to connect only with the brands that sincerely (there’s that authenticity again) appeal to their interests and the way they communicate.

Gen Z consumers value authenticity in the brands they support.
Gen Z consumers value authenticity in the brands they support.

Gen Zs want companies to be honest, transparent, down-to-earth … and authentic.

An increasing trend with younger generations is they don’t like to feel like they’re being sold something. They want it to be more “experiential” or imaginative. They like short-form video content (media content strategists take note) with eye-catching visuals, i.e more subtle, video-based campaigns that appeal to their values. 

Advertisers seeking to infiltrate the Gen Z audience need to position their brand identity around their tastes.

3. Authentic, branded content

It’s not just Gen Z who are looking to connect with brands on a different/deeper level. Given the most recent world events, e.g. pandemic, Ukraine war, inflationary highs, etc., many people seek some “light relief” in their everyday lives  … and that includes how they align themselves with brands. 

Creating advertising with some humour, perhaps vulnerability, honesty, and everything else we look out for in our own personal relationships (as a parallel), is suddenly one of the best ways to build brand loyalty currently.

One effective way to create these bonds is by maybe featuring characters or mascots throughout the digital advertising campaigns. Of course, they need to feel relevant (and, again, authentic) to the brand, but they are a fun/friendly face the target audience can relate to. It’s a great way to create loyalty through digital advertising.

Ultimately, consumers want reminders that the people behind the brands are all going through the same experiences as themselves  … in the same (not other) world. They want to align with brand personas on a more personal and more meaningful level before they buy into the advertised brand. Realism over aspiration, perhaps?

4. Audio advertising 

The impact that TikTok is having on the world of digital advertising is huge. But one of the more novel effects it’s had on us is in the rise of audio content. This is from TikTok’s positioning as not just a social platform for video, but for audio-based content too. 

Research shows 81% of U.S. podcast listeners are influenced to take action from their favourite hosts.
Research shows 81% of U.S. podcast listeners are influenced to take action from their favourite hosts.

Podcasts have opened new channels for personalised advertising customers can relate to. 

Many users now consider sound to be a crucial part of a platform’s experience. Being focussed on audio as part of a digital advertising strategy is driving many ads we’re now seeing online, e.g. “how-tos,” product highlights/teasers, behind-the-scenes insights, etc.

In a recent U.S. survey, 81% of podcast listeners take action after hearing audio ads on their favourite shows. This “action” could be following up on what they heard with online research, liking the brand on social media, and discussing what they’ve heard with those around them.

Allowing the podcast hosts themselves to record the ad makes the content feel genuine to listeners. Audio content can really help promote authenticity in advertising. Whether it’s on a podcast or TikTok, hearing the comforting tone and voice of your audience’s favourite influencer as they describe your product means the audience will be more likely to believe in it and trust you as a brand.

The trick as an advertiser brand is not to have fully typed out, word-for-word scripts adopted by radio hosts but to give them room to “play.”

5. Audio-visual (AV) product advertising

Regarding immersing consumers into ads, exploring audio visual (AV) technology with your digital advertising strategy is becoming a key feature.

In a world of static imagery online, branded visuals that engage with multiple senses create a much more memorable and immersive experience for the consumer. A brand can experience being noticed more and can garner brand loyalty with those consumers who look forward to seeing the content. A holy grail for some perhaps? 

So how do we incorporate AV tech into digital advertising content?

With increasingly sophisticated tech becoming more accessible, consumer’s expectations are being raised. It’s becoming more common for brands to go an extra mile to get noticed. This means creating things like more immersive and interactive mini-Web sites or apps that users can have some fun with. They often would include gamification, meaning designers reward the user as they navigate around the site and reach specific goals or calls to action. 

As we move more into 2023, it’s often now not enough to rely just on static digital advertising anymore.

6. Realistic influencing 

Influencer as an advertising and marketing concept is no longer something new, but the way brands invest in and work with influencers to reach their audiences is constantly changing. As 2023 progresses, we should expect to see a move away from the “classical” (aspirational) influencer.

TikTok has altered the way social media users view one another, giving anyone a platform to gain (and influence?) a huge following without the need for perfectly curated feeds on the likes of Instagram or long-form content creation like on YouTube. Now, audiences are seeing through the highly paid ads with celebrities and high-profile influencers and are turning away in favour of more trustworthy sources: i.e., each other! 

Brands can now work with “micro influencers” to promote their products via TikTok. So in 2023, we might see a drop in expensive celebrity endorsements and a rise in TikTok’s micro-influencers. Brands are learning that even users with the smallest followings can have a big impact. If the content is fully aligned with the brand, the followers will trust the content … and take action.


With these six trends, you should be well-prepared for knowledgeable conversations with advertisers and agencies. All part of getting closer. All part of a consultative sell. All part of gaining trust and driving our ad revenues. 

These big new trends — like AV, AI, and immersive experiences — aren’t going away. So if you get ahead of these tech advancements in the rest of the year ahead, you’ll be ahead of the curve in 2024 and beyond. 

Just make sure every digital advertising campaign you create for your advertisers or adapt on their behalf in 2023 feels authentic, engaging, and as relatable as possible to the targeted audience.

Be sure those audiences are embracing future trends … and you are, too.

Common questions about programmatic advertising

And now, the mysteries around programmatic advertising. There are a lot of misconceptions and untruths around this still fairly new form of digital advertising. It’s here to stay so we better understand it, right? 

Let me highlight some of the issues/questions INMA members have asked about:

Is programmatic advertising actually any different from traditional display advertising?

The main difference between traditional display advertising and programmatic is inventory. If an advertiser, for example, buys ads on the Google Display Network (GDN), they can only earn placements on the Google Display Network. Makes sense?

However, in that scenario, “only” is a bit of a red herring, as the GDN includes over 3 million Web sites. The point is there’s a limit. 

The other big difference is the pricing model. Advertisers buying into display networks like GDN can be billed when ads are viewed, clicked, or even when users convert, depending on preference. Advertisers buying into programmatic networks are charged based on the number of consumers who see the ad.

Programmatic advertising is not new nor is it going away, yet industry team members still have questions about it.
Programmatic advertising is not new nor is it going away, yet industry team members still have questions about it.

What kinds of things can programmatic do for media companies and our advertisers?

  • Traditional placement: Programmatic is used by some advertiser brands to add to their existing display placements. As programmatic is network agnostic, advertisers who want more impressions (or better, more intelligent ones) often divert to programmatic to help grow audience. This inventory isn’t always on the best quality sites (or indeed in the most viewable of locations), but because of this, they’re often really cheap, sometimes costing fractions of a penny. Taken as an add-on tactic to existing advertising, we can use programmatic to earn more traditional display placements.
  • Real-time bidding (RTB): RTB is what many think of when they think about programmatic. Rightly too, as it’s what much of programmatic actually is. Most programmatic placements are bought/sold in real time (i.e., in the time it takes a Web site or app to load) via the ad exchange, which in turn allows brands to earn the most appropriate placements in front of the best possible audiences.
  • Hyperlocal: If it’s done well (intelligently), all digital advertising is geographically targeted. But targeting a country or a maybe a region or state isn’t always the best way to get in front of the most ideal audience. Hyperlocal, geo-fenced, or geo-targeted ads allow advertisers to bid on inventory being served to consumers within a small geographic area. It’s a good way to serve a customised message to consumers maybe attending an event or boarding a flight and many other scenarios.
  • Digital out-of-home (OOH): More and more, OOH ads are turning digital, from TV to billboards to taxi screens. Like much other inventory, this ad space is very often sold programmatically, meaning there are lots of opportunities for brands to reach specific audiences even when they aren’t looking at their phones or computers.
  • Connected TV (CTV)/over-the-top (OTT): The growth of over-the-top (OTT) viewing platforms like AppleTV twinned with the ubiquity of digital streaming services like Netflix has created a brand new world of opportunities for advertisers. Cable services generally have embraced smart advertising, opening even more advertising placements for users watching “standard” TV programming. Premiums on CTV campaigns often start at much higher rates, meaning programmatic may offer opportunities to access cable inventory at a more reasonable cost.

What are common concerns about programmatic from media companies?

  • Viewability: Because programmatic is sometimes used to sell inventory that exists at the bottom of Web pages or indeed buried deep within apps, there have been concerns about how many programmatic placements are viewable by audiences. Over recent years, many more checks — particularly a billing model around viewable impressions — have been put in place by programmatic platforms to ensure higher levels of ad viewability. As a result, viewability rates are increasing globally.
  • Ad fraud: Up to now, spam and bot-clicks have made ad fraud a real concern for digital advertisers. And while some platforms, e.g. Google, have teams set up to review fraudulent clicks (and refunding advertisers where appropriate), programmatic platforms have been somewhat slower to recognise the requirement for fraud analysis and, ultimately, prevention. This doesn’t mean there aren’t measurers in place to try to prevent fraud, but because programmatic is so common now, the issue around fraud will possibly always be a worry. Just as it’s always been a worry for any digital ad network.
  • Brand security: Programmatic has chiefly been a “managed” service, yet self-service programmatic is becoming more and more ubiquitous (self-service being part of what seems to be a global shift to ad automation in media houses, where appropriate; see module 1 of the forthcoming INMA advertising master class). One of the drawbacks to any managed service and to programmatic is the inability to control placements that could be blacklisted through other tools, e.g. Facebook or Google. This means advertiser brands could be buying ad space on Web sites where audiences are contradictory with the types of products/services they provide or whose content is generally questionable to start with.

What are the advantages of programmatic?

  • Guaranteed volumes: Viewability and the quality of some impressions may sometimes be in question, but a huge benefit to programmatic campaigns is knowing how many impressions a campaign will be generating before the campaign launches, which of course, is never a guarantee with standard display, search, or paid social campaigns. This helps to control client cost commitments and to plan other components of the advertising budget with the comfort of knowing that at least one channel won’t require incremental budget to meet its goals.
  • Better audience insights: Because programmatic campaigns require data management platforms to run, every impression means audience data is reviewed, evaluated, and optimised against. This information is available to the advertiser so they may get a better understanding of the audience, including what types of messages and creatives the audience is more likely to react to.
  • Reporting in real time: Of course, with much bidding happening in real time, results are also available in real time for both advertisers and publishers. Typically, data in Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and other platforms is delayed by at least a few hours, but programmatic data can be reviewed within seconds of a placement being earned. While this is a positive, it can also be a negative in that strategic reports should, of course, be compiled from data gained over a period of time, not just maybe an hour or day. However, having real-time insights into whether a certain placement, or creative, or message is, or isn’t performing well can be useful to advertisers.

I hope the above gives you an insight into what programmatic can do for your advertisers or at least gives you some useful knowledge to be able to have an intelligent conversation around this type of advertising with our agencies and advertisers. 

It’s not a dark art ,and it’s not going away. We need to embrace it, not be afraid of it, and experiment with it.

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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