Digital Advertising in 2021 Will Be Surprisingly Normal

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From the pandemic’s impact on budgets and behaviors to Google Chrome eventually axing third-party cookies, this year has been a doozy for digital advertising.

Will next year be the same disruptive environment or will it look different? Here are some thoughts on what themes will dominate adtech and the broader advertising industry.

Covid Aftermath Brings Traditional Back

With promising vaccines rolling out across the country, coupled with extreme device fatigue from quarantine (how many streaming shows have you binged this year?), 2021 will see a revitalized interest in more traditional formats such as OOH and audio. Consumers miss being outdoors, where they spent 70% of their time pre-COVID, and advertiser dollars will follow wherever they go.

Advertisers are already planning for this: VIOOH found that US Marketers are planning on including programmatic digital OOH in 51% of all digital campaigns next year. With measurement advances specific to pDOOH, I think that figure could be even higher.  As I wrote back in 2014 — and it still holds true — measurement drives behavior, and behavior drives results (and spend).

Hello, second “Year of Identity”

Remember when every year was the “Year of Mobile”? Similar to our 10 successive “Year of Mobile” from 2005-2015, 2021 will be the second of likely many “Year(s) of Identity” as more and more players release solutions to address the panic of the loss of third-party cookies. While a few who have real scaled data have legitimate solutions, seemingly every company in the space is continuing to compete to be the 1-to-1 solution for online identity.

Until a solution or two are ironed out, every year will be the “Year of Identity” as a main focus for the ecosystem. There are already several identity solutions in the market that claim to be the silver bullet, but we haven’t even settled on the true definition of identity outside of walled gardens, so we’re still a ways off from unification.

Kicking the can down the road

While this year’s advertising headlines were dominated with the doom and gloom of cookie and IDFA elimination, those critical industry-defining decisions will be pushed off, as marketers want to return to normalcy just as badly as consumers do. Because of the complexity of identity and with so much capital at stake, Google will likely slow-play the third-party cookie phase-out, and Apple will outright delay their IDFA culling.  After this year, we are at a moment where the industry is yearning for a taste of calm and stability, and 2021 will give us time to breathe.

Even with all the drama of 2020 and all the hot-button issues that should create an explosive 2021, I predict an uncontroversial next 12 months instead. 2021 will be a much-needed year of healing for us all. Enjoy it, be well, and let’s get back to a new normal — safely.

Craig Benner is CEO of Accretive Media.

Craig is the Founder and CEO of Accretive Media, a programmatic digital out-of-home advertising platform that empowers brands to become a part of consumers’ everyday lives. He has worked relentlessly to help brands achieve their objectives through addressable and accountable digital media.
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