Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Dismiss the power of big and bold ad formats in 2021 and prepare to pay the price

By Gary Taylor, Deputy Managing Director, tmwi

The WARC Global Ad Trends report last week made slightly depressing, if predictable, reading. It will take at least two years for the industry to recover from the $63bn lost from the global advertising economy. Only 59% of the losses incurred in 2020 will be recouped.

And then there were the channel forecasts. Investment in cinema advertising will rise by only 6%. Out of home (OOH) investment will fall 37%. Online video will lead growth in 2021 and beyond.

That final point is one with which I don’t disagree, but the other findings among which it was nestled are something I contest.

The 1,360 advertising experts surveyed for the report stated that they anticipate investment falling in every traditional media – aside from the OOH stat above, print is projected to be the biggest loser, down 54%, cinema down 46%, audio 23% and TV down more than a quarter at 26%.

These predictions are something I am struggling to believe will be proved right. Indeed, we are actually expecting to see inflation in TV spend next year, with a surge in TV advertising occurring across our client base, as prices return to a parity with 2019. Over the coming 12 months – all things being equal – we will see both the UEFA EURO football championships and the Tokyo Olympics take place, both rescheduled from this year. Two events that under normal circumstances would draw in the viewers, but after a year bereft of not only sport but entertainment in general, I predict an insatiable appetite for the thrill of live sporting events.

Add to that the resumption of the filming of original content across linear TV, which can be commercialised in a way the oft-favoured subscriber TV of lockdown could not, and those who prefer scripted drama to sporting drama will also be tuning back in to the television.

Whether the WARC survey respondents were considering the year’s sporting calendar or anticipating the public mood is not clear, but I am willing to call summer 2021 as a bumper year for TV ad spend.

Elsewhere I would also urge brands not to be so quick to dismiss the power of other traditional media. Cinema has long been upheld as one of the most emotive, powerful mediums – the undivided attention combined with the fully immersive sensory experience of darkness, big screen and surround sound, make it an unbeatable broadcast ad medium in the right context.

So too OOH which, given the power of the large format premium digital screens that adorn our city centres and major thoroughfares today, cannot fail to grab the attention of passersby.

This is, of course, all subject to the lifting of lockdown measures that will allow people to get out to the movies, return to city centres in any great number, hold sporting events or film original content once more. Far be it from me to count any metaphorical chickens, but everything is pointing to a return to normalcy by the spring and once that happens I am confident advertisers and their agencies will once again turn to traditional media channels and in doing so be furnished with the multitude of unique benefits each one offers.

And, like a father refusing to choose a favourite child, I must also take a moment to acknowledge those channels that have been declared fit for investment in 2021, according to the WARC panel. Online video, mobile, search and display are all expected to see the smallest declines in investment with projected increases of between 70% and 49% respectively.

Because there is a time and a place for all advertising channels. To strip out TV, OOH or cinema from a media plan – in the right circumstances – would be inherently foolish. In the same way that to opt only for above the line would also be an unusual decision. Omni-channel, complementary campaigns that speak to each platform’s merits, working together to a united goal, is the key to great advertising.

Online is perfect for agile, targeted, lower budget campaign work that can be optimised live and traded programmatically. For small businesses, those who don’t have a lot of money to spend, or brands whose audience lives online, these are the perfect avenues to take. But marketers who dismiss the power of big formats do so at their peril.