According to dentsu’s recent AdSpend report, in 2021 global ad spend is set to recover to 5.8% growth. And while this might not be a significant enough increase to recoup the 8.8% drop suffered in 2020, it represents a positive outlook as we grapple with the post-COVID world.

As we enter Q2 2021, we’re moving into a critical phase of the year when it comes to growth. In fact, due to the severe impact of lockdowns during the same period last year, we’re looking at the potential for 12% Q2 YoY growth. This promises a key opportunity for brands, but it isn’t without its challenges.

What we of course all know from 2020, is that it was a year of uncertainty. From this uncertainty, embryonic trends accelerated to the fore, while the great shift to remote working and ongoing lockdowns changed the way we consume media. The big question that many brands will be grappling with this year is to understand which consumer behaviours will be here to stay and which will only be temporary[1].

Here we investigate just what the rest of 2021 could bring with five key trends for advertisers.

Digital will continue to grow

For the first time, digital will reach half of total advertising expenditure in 2021, powering overall growth at a rate of 10.1%.

So, how is consumer behaviour driving this? First and foremost, we’re seeing 92% of people using their smartphones and 73% using tablets to access the internet. A cross channel approach for advertisers is therefore key. And with 67% tending to visit the same sites when they go online, this predictability of behaviour highlights the ongoing importance of targeting.  

Yet while an increasingly demanding consumer requires personalisation and consistent brand experiences, 63% are concerned about how much personal information they share online. Around 42% are also using ad blocking software. And with the impending cookie apocalypse nearly upon is, navigating this new landscape is key for advertisers.

Social, search and video are the leading sources of digital growth

Social is the top source of digital growth at 18.3%, followed by search (11.%) and video (10.8%).

When it comes to social, differentiation is key. Consider your target audience and where they spend their time. Overall, 74% of consumers visit social media platforms at least once a week, while this jumps to 86% of 18-24s.

This differentiation is also seen by the platforms of choice. Across the board, Facebook is top of the pile for weekly use at 70%, followed by Instagram and Twitter. But when we dig down into the demographic data to the most avid social media users, things look a little different. For the 18-24s, the dominant channels are Instagram (75%), Snapchat (67%) and Tik Tok (50%). A tailored and targeted approach is therefore key for advertisers.

TV growth is set to be powered by rescheduled sporting events

Traditional TV ad spend is set to grow by 1.7% to reach a 30% share of total ad spend.

The streaming giants may have benefited hugely from the lack of real-world experiences over the last 12 months, but traditional TV isn’t dead in the water just yet, with 1.7% growth predicted this year.

And it’s our love for sport which is driving this growth – 62% of us are passionate about one sport or another, with football of course the top pick across the country. With 23% of people having access to Sky Sports (up from 14%) and 14% with a BT Sport subscription (up from 9%), the return of Premier League football was a key driver in establishing ongoing growth.

This is only set to continue into the year. With the rescheduled Euros, Olympics and Paralympics set to hit our screens later in 2021, sport will continue to be a key driver of the growth of this traditional channel.

Radio’s resilience resurgence is set to continue

Radio overtook traditional newspaper’s share of ad spend in 2020 and is expected to grow by 4.7% in 2020.

With the daily commute currently a thing of the past, radio did initially take a hit in 2020, but with government spending and the ongoing popularity of podcasts it’s set to continue its resurgence throughout this year.

For advertisers again this represents a significant opportunity with engaged listeners across key demographics. Specifically, while around one fifth of people in the UK listen to and download podcasts at least once a week, this rises to 35% of 25-34 year-olds. Close to one third of people also continue to stream the radio online (28%). Advertisers take note.

Consumers are desperate for experiences once again

Cinema ad spend is forecast to recover by 41% in 2021.

Following the news of the government’s proposed path to June 21st, we’ve seen much needed movement in the UK’s experience sector. Festivals that are now confirmed to go ahead towards the end of the summer sold out in minutes, while our cinema lovers are predicted to be back to the silver screen in their droves.

And while the predicted 41% growth represents a real step in the right direction, there’s still some way to go to recover from the 58.3% drop in 2020. So, what does the consumer appetite mean for advertisers? In the UK we love our film, with 44% of people passionate about cinema, rising to 57% of 25-34 year olds. With 40% of people also agreeing that cinema ads are more enjoyable than their TV counterparts, this is a real opportunity for advertisers. This opportunity also extends to the potential for more immersive movie-going experiences.

In June 2020 we saw Fortnite announce a Christopher Nolan-themed movie night on their platform illustrating the potential to attract a new generation of consumers to a more immersive cinematic experience in our post-lockdown world.

So, while for many of us the current landscape may feel a little like the back end of 2020, as we hit spring and enter this critical phase of 2021 there are real opportunities for advertisers.


  • Dentsu Global Ad Spend Forecasts January 2021
  • Dentsu CCS Survey January 2021

[1] Dentsu CMO Survey 2020: Into the Unknown