The Evolution of Advertising and What It Means for 2021


Technology has accelerated the change in the advertising landscape over the last decade. Then, 2020 crammed decades-worth of evolution within a few months, which forces brands to ask, “what does advertising mean in 2021?” Faye Liddle-Moore, commercial director Northern Europe, Outbrain, answers this question.

 The ever-changing advertising landscape is something we’ve all become accustomed to. Over the last decade, technology has fast-tracked its progress as we’ve never seen before. Its purpose has evolved from being used as a tool to sell products to a more complex form of consumer influence by placing products within a shopper’s set of choices.

As we very well know, 2020 changed the game, with an unprecedented decade-worth of evolution crammed into mere several months. Consumer needs and values have changed, and so have the advertising practices that go along with them, making 2021 undoubtedly a turning point for the media landscape. But the question becomes, how should brands address these changes?

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Brand Interaction Is More Than Price and Product Quality

Consumers are won and lost through brand interactions that deliver the kind of message that keeps them coming back. However, the factors that have them interacting, embracing, and spending with a brand have changed. No longer is offering quality products at an affordable price the most important factor.

Across the globe, today’s consumer wants to feel represented in advertising. This is evidenced by the fact that 56% want to engage with brands that support their needsOpens a new window in a post-pandemic world. They want a relationship that is more than transactional, under the expectation that brands reflect their values when it comes to environmental sustainability and social good. For an industry that spends time, money, and effort in targeting consumers, it’s more important than ever for brands to understand and align themselves with these changing consumer values.

Brand purpose in 2021 should reflect the two initiatives of demonstrating eco-friendliness while showing empathy in consumer interactions by communicating how products are convenient and helpful for people’s needs. As a result of the pandemic, brands have the unique opportunity to demonstrate the value they create, reposition their messaging, and advertise helpful products — not just a money-maker.

And Then There’s the Experience

The global spike in ecommerce — and 50% dropoff of in-store shoppingOpens a new window — is not temporary. Ecommerce’s growing popularity is not just a result of new online shoppers either. Existing online shoppers are buying more products online than they did from brick-and-mortar locations before the pandemic. It’s also not just shoppers with the intent to buy, as the browsing experience is also shifting from physical window shopping to the online discovery of products. COVID-19 has even led older generations to adopt digital media for their consumption habits, opening up advertising to both ‘older’ and ‘younger’ demographics.

Moreover, the vast majority of consumers plan to maintain their current increased use of online channels, and leading retailers are already aligning their business. Inditex — the world’s largest fashion retailer and owner of the marquee brand, Zara — is closing 1,200 of its storesOpens a new window worldwide to prioritize online sales. That means there won’t only be more activity online, but competition will be stronger and just a click away.

Understanding consumers’ preferences in their online experience will bring just as much opportunity to stand out from the crowd. On top of connecting to a brand that is reflective of its values, 29% of consumers want their experience to be entertaining. This is especially true for high-income earners (32%) and millennials (33%), making interactive advertising experiences key moving forward as these generations look to spend big.

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Advertising Shifts Natively for Marketing Engagement

In an era where purpose marketing is on the rise, brands benefit from native advertising experiences because they resonate with audiences.

That’s how trust is built in the first place. While it has eroded over the years in traditional and social media, consumer trust in news sources has reached an all-time highOpens a new window . It puts the spotlight back on the importance of independent, quality journalism, as native advertising on premium publisher sitesOpens a new window is more likely to be trusted (44%), clicked on (21%), and lead to future purchases (24%) compared to ads on social platforms.

Native advertising experiences have likewise evolved, with formats that replicate showroom and in-store shopping trends. For example, native video ads combine the power of video storytelling and the efficiency of Native Advertising to bring a product to life. This helps shoppers compare and contrast their options and experience the product in a way that few other ad formats don’t allow. Carousel is another interactive format that spotlights different products or elements of a brand’s offer.

Such formats are built around engagement, and brands need accountable media platforms that hold to the right standard where they actually pay for results. Native advertising on the open web raises the bar on what experiences should look like, with consumer preferences as the golden standard.

Ultimately, advertising is meant to strengthen the interaction consumers have with brands. And as the industry turns to its next chapter, 2020 should be a reminder of the importance of building the most meaningful connections with those who matter most – consumers.