Digital marketing spend on leading platforms bounces back to pre-pandemic growth

GDPR Adtech

Global marketing spend has been “making back lost ground” since September, reaching its highest growth in 15 months in March – according to analysis of spend on seven leading tech platforms.

Ad spend in March 2020 – the month when the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 was a pandemic, the stock market crashed and the UK went into lockdown – was down 9% on the year before and down 1% on the month before. March typically grows on February’s figures following a post-holiday lull.

However, March 2021 was up 31% year-on-year and grew by 19% compared to the same month in 2019.

Advertising platform Mediaocean, which analysed ad spend from more than 300 advertisers with a collective spend of more than $3bn across Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snap and Twitter, said the figures showed a “pent-up energy” from businesses who have regained confidence.


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The tumult of 2020 saw year-on-year drops of 22% and 7% in April and May respectively.

Despite many businesses beginning to open up for the summer, spending was down 18% and 17% in June and July due to advertising boycotts conducted by hundreds of brands putting pressure on Facebook to tackle hateful content on its platforms following the Black Lives Matter protests.

The negative trend finally began to reverse in August, which saw the UK Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme and Covid-19 restrictions relaxed in many countries around the world.

Mediaocean chief marketing officer Aaron Goldman said: “We’re looking back on an incredibly tumultuous year for businesses, during which marketers have had to balance financial cautiousness with innovating new routes to the consumer, all while reacting to an unpredictable and risk-laden media cycle.

“Throughout, we’ve highlighted the opportunity to rethink media buying and taking an omnichannel approach to communication with customers. It’s good to see that the industry agreed, making back lost ground in the second half of the year.”

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The golden retail quarter leading up to Christmas saw 20% more spent on platforms than in 2019.

Mediaocean, which calculated the trends using the closed ecosystems optimisation solution it acquired from 4C last summer, said that this combined with a strong start to the year before the pandemic hit meant 2020 finished 6% higher than 2019.

Goldman said the growth seen in 2021 so far – including 9% and 10% in January and February as well as the jump of a third in March – was partly down to renewed business confidence but also because advertisers are placing more focus on closed ecosystems.

“It’s important to remember that, as marketing budgets are opened up, we’re not returning to a pre-pandemic normal,” he said.

“Consumers have been heavily reliant on digital and social commerce for the last year, of course. Smart businesses will be investing to ensure that they have the data to track these behavioural shifts, are agile enough to adapt to them, and ultimately make sure that they’re selling where buyers are buying.”

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