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Digital ad spend soars 41% to hit record high in 2021

Digital ad spend saw the biggest full year growth for 15 years in 2021 with investment up 41% year-on-year to £23.5 billion, according to IAB UK’s Digital Adspend report, released today.

Digital ad spend soars 41% to hit record high in 2021
Jon Mew: “Ultimately, while growth on this scale is truly brilliant to see, what matters most is how we sustain investment in the long-term.”

The report, which is conducted with PwC, shows that 2021 spend was also up 50% on 2019, the last full year in which the pandemic did not have an impact on activity.

With the market having seen modest growth in 2020, the latest Digital Adspend report shows that advertisers’ confidence rebounded in 2021 - a year which started with a full lockdown and ended with work-from-home advice reissued. Search attracted the largest share of overall spend, up 38% to £11.7 billion. For the first time, Digital Adspend has captured advertisers’ investment in search shopping ads, which totalled £3.5 billion in 2021 - reflecting the blossoming ecommerce market.

Meanwhile, spend on display ads was up 53% to £9.7 billion, with both social and non-social display up by more than 50%. Video continued to drive the majority of display growth, up 58% to £5.5 billion. Spend on banner ads surged by 60%, suggesting that advertisers are reevaluating the value of standard display formats as part of their campaigns, says IAB UK.

Mobile accounted for 60% of total spend, up 43% year-on-year to £14.13 billion. Significantly, this year’s results reveal that digital ad spend grew across the board with the total market up 33% excluding the industry’s five largest companies.

Comparatively newer formats, such as podcasting and gaming, saw huge percentage growth, albeit from a much smaller base than more established channels. Podcast investment was up 61% year-on-year to £54 million, while digital audio’s annual growth rate multiplied from 17% in 2020 to 58% in 2021. Static and dynamic in-game advertising totalled £9.8 million, as advertisers tapped into the opportunities to reach engaged and diverse audiences.

Commenting on the results, Jon Mew, CEO of IAB UK, said: “After a 5% rise in digital ad spend in 2020, we were confident that 2021’s results would be much stronger, but for the market to be up 50% on pre-pandemic spend is incredible and testament to the resilience of our world-leading industry. It’s particularly exciting to see emerging formats such as in-game advertising and podcasts continue to gather pace and offer new, untapped opportunities for growth.

“However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that 2021 still wasn’t a normal year. We spent half of it in some form of lockdown - bringing with it an increased reliance on digital channels - while the return of large-scale events such as the Olympics and Paralympics in H2 will also have impacted spend.

“Ultimately, while growth on this scale is truly brilliant to see, what matters most is how we sustain investment in the long-term, beyond recovery and in the face of growing regulatory scrutiny. As an industry, we should take confidence from the results announced today and channel that into pulling together to ensure a sustainable future for digital advertising.”

Stephanie Claxton, Senior Manager, Digital & Programmatic at PwC, added: “This year’s Adspend results reflect the extraordinary shifts of the past couple of years as advertisers have rebounded from the uncertainty of 2020 with strong digital investment in 2021. What’s more, the growth has been felt by so many different facets of the industry from traditional display to video, podcasts to in-game. Clients appear to be diversifying their investments and working with a wider range of formats and suppliers. It’ll be incredibly interesting to see if this trend continues in the year ahead.”

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