Tips and Advice: Top Digital Advertising Trends for 2021

MediaGo Staff | 10/14/2020

2020 has been an unusual year for many reasons, including the COVID-19 outbreak. Many businesses have been forced to reevaluate their advertising strategy as consumer behavior rapidly – and perhaps permanently – changed. How can advertisers, marketers and publishers even begin to plan for 2021 when everything was thrown into such disarray this year? To get a grasp on what the new year might hold, we’ve scoured the web to give you our best insights into what the digital advertising landscape will look like in 2021. We focused on three main areas: e-commerce and retail advertising, brand and content advertising, and consumer behavioral trends. Get out your notebook – it’s time to start planning.

E-Commerce and Retail Advertising

There’s no question about it: brick-and-mortar retail has been one of the hardest-hit industries by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some retailers have reacted by adjusting their media buy strategy away from offline ads to focus more on e-commerce. According to research from eMarketer, U.S. retailers have spread out their advertising dollars in a very balanced way across different formats in 2020. And although there was little change in display and search ad spend from 2019 to 2020, video ad spend increased by 11.8% YoY. Display and search ad spend are both projected to increase by 27.8% and 24.6% respectively in 2021 – which is good news for publishers.

The technology industry was predictably the fastest-growing digital ad spender in 2020. B2B service providers, software companies that enable remote work, and video games all stand to gain from the current work-from-home environment. Tech firms, including consumer and business technology, will account for 8.6% of digital ad spend in 2020. And in 2021, ad spend from tech is expected to grow to an impressive 9.2% of the market. 


All things considered, 2021 is looking good for digital publishers. Publishers should continue to keep a close eye on these trends, and perhaps consider opening up more placement options to take advantage of the predicted influx of display and video ads.

Brand and Content Advertising

Native advertising proved popular in 2020, and it’s likely that this trend will continue into 2021. For example, The Business Journal found that B2B branded content in the category of “how to” business advice increased by 25% during the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly B2B marketers were thrust into an unfamiliar position in 2020 and some saw an opportunity to become thought leaders in their field. Furthermore, this content was effective, with a 12.5% increase in clickthrough rates YoY. Although the publishing of this type of content has already declined back to pre-pandemic numbers, the lessons learned by marketers won’t soon be forgotten. We may very well see a resurgence in thought leadership style native ads in 2021.

Likewise, when it comes to content advertising, native ads are a natural fit. Because content advertising is generally written in the format of a news article or story, it makes sense to present your ads as articles (which is how many native ads are positioned). MediaGo found content ad campaigns to perform very strongly in 2020, and we expect more growth into 2021. Fun topics like celebrity gossip and funny/cute pets are some of 2020’s biggest winners. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the increased interest in fun articles is due to the relentlessly negative news cycles this year. We can only hope that the negative news won’t continue into 2021, but regardless, we certainly see a great future for content advertisers.

Consumer Behavioral Trends

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has left an indelible mark on consumers’ shopping habits. For starters, many older, tech-savvy consumers have finally made the leap to purchasing things online – and it would appear that they enjoy the convenience. A Bain and Forrester study projects e-commerce to grow by double digits in the ASEAN region in the coming years. It’s not unreasonable to expect that this trend will extend to western markets, too.

When it comes to entertainment, the big winners in 2020 are subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) and video games. 

Movie theaters were hit hard from the pandemic, with many people in the U.S., Europe and Asia eschewing trips to the theater in favor of watching movies at home. Some big movie studios have since jumped on the SVOD bandwagon. Universal’s Trolls World Tour went straight to VOD in April 2020, and ultimately outperformed the original 2017 film. Since the Trolls World Tour digital release, a number of other films have tried to replicate this approach to varying degrees of success. But one thing is for sure: it will be more difficult to draw people back to the theaters in 2021. Marketers and advertisers for SVOD platforms would be wise to keep this trend in mind as they plan their 2021 media buy strategy.

Video games – and esports in particular – have similarly gotten a boost from the work-from-home, social distancing world of 2020. And there are many reasons to think that this is no passing trend. Game advertisers working across all forms of media, from desktop to mobile to in-app, should definitely start charting out their plans for future campaigns over the coming months and years. Demand is almost certain to increase in 2021.

There you have it: MediaGo’s 2021 digital ad landscape predictions! We hope that this guide will be useful to digital advertisers, marketers and publishers as we head into next year. And we wish all of you the best in 2021 and beyond.