These 5 digital ad trends should influence media buying

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


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.

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About Mark Challinor

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