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JULY 19, 2021 //     

Digital Advertising - What's Hot and What's Not?

By Dan Whitney and Jess Docherty

Digital advertising is an important part of any integrated campaign, but with a media landscape that's changing almost every day, it can be hard to keep up.

From the impact of streaming services to the emergence of new social media platforms, how do you get the most from your budgets?

A+P London's Dan Whitney (MD, Content Strategy) and Jess Docherty (Digital Director) explore the key trends for the future, outdated tactics to ditch and how brands can exceed their digital advertising goals this year.

When we talk about digital advertising at Allison+Partners, what are we specifically talking about?

Dan: Digital advertising covers a very broad range of outputs but it's essentially the action of putting marketing messages in front of the consumer. At A+P we manage campaigns for our clients covering display, social, native, search, and email. But more recently we’ve seen a big uptick in our clients needing help running and managing paid social across multiple European markets, and we’ve also seen an increase in lead generation strategy and implementation work for many of our B2B clients.


What kinds of things do we do for our clients in the digital advertising space?

Jess: Marketers have looked to digital channels including social media with increasing interest as the events of 2020 forced more digital communication. How we use social media is changing though, within the UK alone, ad spend is projected to reach £5.2bn in 2021 and increase to £6.5bn by 2025. More businesses are using and benefiting from strategic advertising on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Twitter which means they are becoming more saturated. This had led the platforms themselves to prioritise posts from family and friends over marketing content, making it harder for business posts to get much visibility without allocating budget to them. We help our clients to create compelling integrated campaigns that leverage the platforms for the best end results for their business.


What do you see as the biggest digital marketing trends of 2021 so far?

Dan: I think for me over the last 12 months we've become more connected than ever before. And being forced to spend more time online has made us evaluate what is and what isn't important to us from a digital perspective.

Digital interaction is on the increase massively across all age groups and there is much more willingness to try new tech. During lockdown, online classes, live streaming, and video chat became the norm and as restrictions ease this user behaviour is here to stay. I think before there was a fear of technology but now there is more appreciation for it as it’s allowed us to stay connected to each other.

One of the biggest trends that encompasses this is the need for personalisation and the fact that people are more mindful of their media choices now. People value advertising that feels relevant to them and what they are doing. Social media continues to divide and dominate the landscape, but TikTok for example grew its users base by 75% in 2020 and this is only set to continue into the second half of this year.

Brands that can speak directly to the customer will engage and have a much better relationship than those that don't. Conversations around purpose, sustainability, and wellbeing are all top of mind across the digital landscape and the consumer has never had as much choice. It’s very competitive for brands to gain share of voice and cut through.

In 2021, technology will further evolve, allowing marketers to better convert leads, generate personalised content and track results.


What has become outdated that clients need to move away from?

Dan: I think ad breaks and the trust in ads has taken a hit. The increase of services with no ad breaks has increased over the last 18 months and we've just not been as bombarded by ads during this time.

The proliferation of streaming and on-demand services has shifted us from wider traditional broadcast targeting to a tighter data-driven approach. If not supported with an integrated digital marketing activation plan, that hero 30sec spot will only exist for a single moment in time, a “look at me” moment without any real long-term marketing value. Obviously, your hero ad spots, such as Christmas or the Superbowl, will still be crucial, but these are much more appointment-to-view moments as opposed to the norm now.

How about community-led platforms?

Dan: There has been and continues to be a trust issue with some community-led platforms but if you put that to one side for a minute, the power of the online community over the last 12 months has been phenomenal.

Social media has been a force for good with a number of examples hitting the headlines last year from supporting Black Lives Matter, to Marcus Rashford campaigning for better school meals. We’ve seen the emergence of Clubhouse and how conversations and being part of something still continue to drive usage and allow everyone to have a voice. I feel like that is only going to grow further.


TikTok is a hot channel but many are still getting to grips with it. What are our recommendations for advertising on the platform?

Jess: We've all lost hours to this platform recently and TikTok's popularity is still set to rise, with predictions expecting the app to reach 13 million users in the UK by 2021. TikTok allows you to engage with users who are at the forefront of the latest trends and movements. Connecting to your audience this closely allows you to create content that answers key pain points and has a clear call to action. Our advice is to resist the urge to make ads and try to work with real users and creators to develop TikToks that stay in your mind long after you've watched them. 


Why is it important to have digital advertising integrated across other comms streams including media relations and organic social media?

Dan: Nothing works in siloes. We are in the business of communicating to customers but as we've talked about today, our customers have more choice and more platforms than ever before in which to engage or to turn off.

We must have a consistent channel-agnostic approach to digital marketing, and shouldn't approach this by the old school 'campaign by numbers' style: what’s the PR brief, what’s the social brief, what’s the search brief, etc. We should be turning this around and starting with the customer, asking, 'Where is our customer and what channels are they on?', followed by ‘How are we could to reach them to engage and have active relevant conversations with them?’

At A+P we consistently approach our briefs in this way and as a result deliver more rounded, successful campaigns for our clients, but I do think we are in the minority in terms of the agency model and approach to integrating digital advertising across the wider channel mix.


Can you share an example of your favourite recent digital advertising campaign and why?

Jess: Last year, Starbucks UK partnered with Mermaids, an organisation that supports transgender and gender-diverse youth, on the #WhatsYourName campaign. After learning that only 0.3% of ads feature a transgender person, despite the community making up around 1% of the population they set to work on creating this campaign.



Starbucks combined TV and social placements in this heartwarming campaign that invited users to share more through the #WhatsYourName hashtag and they leveraged their scale to draw attention to the support services needed within the transgender community raising awareness and money (more than £100K) in the process. Purpose-driven campaigns like these have real power in 2021 and for good reason. 

Dan: For me, KFC have done a great job over the last year with some of their campaigns.

Their campaign, #UntilWeCanFingerLickAgain was a stroke of genius. They removed their tagline at the start of lockdown and cheekily added other brand lines to continue to drive the conversations.

Image - 287x287 - KFC image 1.PNG

They ran billboards and social posts with the "new tagline" and generated loads of likes, shares and I expect a decent engagement rate. It just shows how a brand can adapt, have fun and be culturally aware of current situations affecting their audiences.

Dan, Jess and the team build and run digital advertising campaigns for clients across industries and geographies. Click here to learn more about how we could help you.

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