There were many things about 2020 that no one could have predicted. From the global pandemic that completely changed our way of life, to the arrival of murder hornets, and even the unlikely comeback of QR codes — the constant change of last year forced advertisers to step back from their well-planned marketing strategies and adjust moment-by-moment.

Despite there being many unknowns, there were several trends impacting the state of consumer behavior and the advertising industry that help us predict what we’ll see this year and allow advertisers adjust accordingly.

Here are six predictions for what advertisers can expect in 2021:

1. Exponential ecommerce growth will continue.

 While ecommerce was already crucial for advertisers, last year’s quarantine lifestyle led to an influx of online shoppers. Looking at Criteo’s own data across 14,000 retailers globally, we found that online retail sales were 30% higher ​in the Americas from June 15-28 compared to the pre-pandemic average from February 2nd-14th.

This increase is driven from both existing online shoppers buying more, as well as new online shoppers who were pushed out of their “in-store comfort zone” due to necessity. According to our “Peak to Recovery” Survey of more than 13,500 consumers worldwide, 39% of respondents purchased from online stores for the first time during the peak of COVID-19. These new digital shoppers represent the massive opportunity for advertisers to expand their existing audiences on digital channels.

2. Advertisers will increase investments in digital advertising.

Given that 53% of shoppers have discovered at least one form of online shopping during COVID-19 — and are likely to continue with it, we can ascertain that advertisers will follow suit and invest more in online advertising. Our “Peak to Recovery” Survey also shows that 85% of shoppers say they’re likely to keep purchasing from the new stores they discovered during the pandemic. This lets advertisers not only encourage purchases, but also build customer loyalty for years to come.

To do this, advertisers will increase their spend across digital marketing channels such as virtual events, paid display, and content marketing this year. In our recent COVID-19 Impact on Marketing Survey, we asked 100 US senior marketing executives about how they adapted in the wake of the pandemic and found that 47% plan to increase their marketing spend for paid display advertising and retargeting in the next six to 12 months, compared to the last six months. This number will likely grow if lockdowns persist much longer.

 3. Connected TV will become a marketing mainstay. 

 Like the steady rise of ecommerce, the use of connected TV (CTV) and over-the-top (OTT) devices has been trending upward in recent years, but the pandemic accelerated this growth and showed how vital it is for advertisers to engage consumers on these devices. This becomes more urgent when you also consider the 6.6 million US households that eMarketer cited cut the cable cord last year.

The bottom line for advertisers is that consumers are migrating to CTV and OTT — and advertisers need to meet them there. More people using CTV and OTT devices means more hours of content watched on those platforms. According to Nielsen, the number of total hours spent with CTV devices began to rise once people started quarantining at home (by March 30, 2020), showing an 81% increase year over year, which amounts to nearly four billion hours of CTV use per week.

 4. Brand safety will stay front and center.

2020 saw many advertisers focus on brand safety by taking a stand against platforms that failed to manage the spread of misinformation and hate speech by becoming more intentional with where they invest their advertising dollars. In our COVID-19 Impact on Marketing Survey, three out of four American marketers say that their brand not showing up next to hateful/fake content is very important to them, showing that this is a top priority for advertisers.

These findings are reinforced by a recent Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) study, which concludes that over 77% of industry professionals cite brand safety as a key priority. That is why advertisers will leverage solutions that help them better control their ad placements to safeguard their brand’s image and stay true to their brand values.

 5. Industry collaboration towards new identity solutions will kick into overdrive. 

One of the paramount initiatives for the advertising industry is the development and adoption of a future-proofed solution for online identity that does not rely on third-party cookies. What’s unique about this endeavor is that it affects the entire industry — advertisers, publishers, ad tech partners, and consumers, so everyone is invested. Therefore, in this year we’ll likely see various advertising players come together, similarly to our recent collaboration with The Trade Desk, to stand behind unified solutions, which advertisers and publishers can begin testing.

6. In-store shopping experiences will become even more seamless.

While ecommerce trends took center stage in 2020, in-store shopping is still a priority for consumers, and thus will continue to be a focus for advertisers. Our “Peak to Recovery” survey found that 33% of European consumers and 41% in the US said they felt more comfortable shopping in-store in the fall than they did in the spring, showing a growing confidence in physical shopping.

What will change about the in-store shopping experience, beyond increased sanitation, is that it will be optimized for consumers to spend less time inside with features such as digital transactions, “buy online, pick up in store”, and cashier-less checkouts. According to eMarketer, May 2020 data, US click-and-collect ecommerce sales will jump 60.4% to $58.52 billion this year, so advertisers will want to partner with retailers who can leverage these types of features that are becoming popular with their customers.

As we begin a new year, it’s comforting to look at how much we already know (and can prepare for) to make a strong start to 2021. The key for leveraging these predictions will be to keep strategies nimble, leaving room to adapt to the unexpected. There is a lot to look forward to in 2021, and I’m confident that advertisers will be able to stay strong and succeed, no matter what happens.

For more insights from David Fox, read on to find out how Cyber Week transformed into Cyber Season in 2020.

David Fox

David Fox is Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Development Officer at Criteo. He’s responsible for overseeing the growth of our Marketing Solutions among agencies, brands, and channel partners, in addition to corporate development and strategic partnerships at Criteo. Prior to this, David spent 25 years working at Fortune 500 companies and start-ups and sits on several boards of directors and advisory boards. David has deep international and marketplace experience having lived abroad for several years for Akamai Technologies and also founding two successful technology platforms in the business aviation and supply chain industries, Stellar Labs and Agistix. David graduated from Denison University and holds an MBA from Santa Clara University. He has been a member of YPO since 2007.

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