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Top digital advertising trends for publishing executives in 2020

December 11, 2019 | By Tim Bourgeois — Digital Media Auditor and Consultant @ChiefDigOfficer

It’s that time of year – time to close the books, conduct annual reviews, and plan for the future. When it comes to online advertising, here’s what publishing executives should be monitoring in 2020.

Digital advertising is still a growth industry

In the U.S., advertisers increased spending on digital formats by 17% during the first half of 2019. That’s a net increase of more than $8 billion, far outpacing total advertising growth rates of approximately 5%. Digital is appealing because of its ability to target, comparatively low cost, and general ease-of-use. To capture more digital ad dollars, publishers need to simultaneously educate the market on the core value proposition – i.e., higher quality audiences – and make it easier to buy their products. Digital is a growth market, while growth in the overall ad business is expected to slow.

Podcasts are all the rage

Researchers from Reuters describe podcasting as a “worldwide phenomenon.” In the US alone, 90 million people are regular listeners, double the number as compared with 2015. Their appeal to established publishers is obvious: Podcasts offer an opportunity to repurpose and extend offline content into a new format, and generate new revenue opportunities along the way. The market is increasingly competitive and producing quality shows requires investment and talent. However, the ad appeal of podcasting iso longer in question. Marketers spent $479 million on podcasts ads in2018 and are projected to spend over $1 billion by 2021. We covered the topic of podcast advertising in March, and the underlying fundamentals have only strengthened since.

Creative is making a comeback

The mushrooming marketing technology industry and companion programmatic advertising sector of recent years allowed advertisers to target and scale at unprecedented levels. And brands invested aggressively on both fronts, to the point where the market is arguably oversaturated today. A byproduct of this situation is a subtle refocus on creative. What was once the cornerstone of the ad business – Why worry about creative when reach and scale was so cheap? – got shoved aside is re-emerging. But now that everyone is deploying adtech, it’s no longer a differentiator. Thus, market influencers are talking about the economic implications of creativity. And any advertising discussion that centers on quality favor publishers. It’s a talking point that can be exploited.

Brand safety: the rock in the industry’s shoe

No one really wants to discuss brand safety, or ad fraud, or transparency. It’s like planning for an economic downturn. Sure, it’s prudent, but the act of doing it feels like an avoidable self-fulfilling prophecy. Conventional wisdom says “the market is growing, benefiting both brands and platforms; let’s just keep plowing forward.” But this topic isn’t going away. And it could get more attention as market conditions soften and dollars become scarce.

During lean times, corporations reflexively look for cost-savings opportunities, and digital advertising is perfect target, as a growing and bloated line item. In recent years, brand safety, transparency and fraud initiatives have been molting; it’s no longer front-page news, as was the case with FBI investigations in 2018, but there are pockets of focus and expertise poised to emerge. This year, for example, we saw the launch of “data transparency labels.” And Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, has been a vocal advocate of identifying problem areas and offering solutions. This could be the year that these issues break out and get priority treatment, and it will favor publishers – who haven’t really been ensnared in these controversies to date – in a big way if it happens.

The future is bright

Though more than a decade old – Facebook was launched in 2004, Google in 1998 – the digital advertising category continues to evolve rapidly and offer myriad opportunities to established and upstart publishers alike. Sure, the duopoly will continue to dominate the category for the foreseeable future. However advertisers are exploring alternatives in a more meaningful way these days.

Advertisers are tired of being at the mercy of a couple of big platforms. They also have more infrastructure and know-how to wean their dependencies. Additionally, the biggest platforms are caught up in hailstorm of noise and distraction related to politics, privacy and governance. With the ability to offer compelling content, brand safety, and high-end audiences, savvy publishers are well-positioned to be prosperous in 2020. 

About the author

Tim Bourgeois is a marketing advisor who helps brands optimize ROI on advertising, technology and agency investments through digital marketing audits and strategy engagements. 

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