Programmatic Advertising Trends 2021: What to Watch For?

David Kaplan
Jan 20, 2021

Looking back at 2020, the words “unexpected” and “unpredictable” come to mind – and no less for marketers! The world turned more digital this year than ever before, and that has created definite challenges and opportunities. For those of us in the programmatic space, it can feel like our industry is moving fast. On the brink of 2021, we are bracing ourselves for what lies ahead. 

What are the top upcoming trends, where will brands spend their money, how are consumer behaviours going to shift next, and what will be the best way to tackle the changing landscape?

Let’s take a shot!


Bye Bye Cookies

As the demise of the cookie continues, marketers will need to re-think their strategies for reaching the right audience. According to Epsilon, “83% [of marketers] anticipate moderate to significant impact on their digital advertising efforts” due to cookie deprecation.

For those who want to continue data targeting, implementing a system that connects a brand’s data with publishers’ first-party data will be key. Another option is contextual targeting. 

By the way, prior to 2010, just about all advertising buys were based on contextual targeting and audience indices. Now, 54% of Epsilon’s panel responded that they’ll be shifting their digital strategies to contextual targeting. The best part? It’s a turnkey solution, so there’s no need to build out first-party data strategies or rely on walled gardens. 

This also means that campaign goals are going to have to evolve. It’s not enough to rely on frequency and viewability, even if you can do so. After all, what’s the point in relying just on viewable CPMs if you don’t know who you’re engaging with?


OTT is Hot, and Getting Hotter 

Connected TV and OTT are now in the mature stage. In fact, according to AdWeek, total U.S. OTT revenue…[is] expected to nearly double – rising from $35 billion [in 2020] to $68 billion by 2025. Also, “by 2024, traditional linear pay-TV subscribers are expected to decline by 27 million, down to less than half of all occupied U.S. households.” 

Furthermore, consumers are watching OTT on Connected TVs, not other devices. Take Netflix, for example:  “Over 70% of the time, Netflix is viewed on Connected TVs”, and “just 15-20% of OTT is viewed on mobile devices.”


Making Budgets Work Harder 

Increasingly, marketing dollars are going to have to pay for themselves. This includes relying more on machine learning and AI to focus budgets so they become more efficient, and shifting to results-oriented lead generation and direct-to-consumer advertising. For instance, according to eMarketer, advertising on e-commerce channels grew by close to 39% in 2020 and will increase in 2021 by a further 30%. This represents 13% of the total digital ad spend in the US. Why the drastic shift? Because e-commerce advertising provides better measurability of ROI, which is going to be absolutely critical for marketers in the coming year.


The Programmatic Takeaway

Shifting consumer behaviors during the global pandemic, the slow-mo fall of the cookie, and new technological capabilities in ad serving and consumption were the defining features of 2020. Now, they all point to an increased reliance on programmatic as a powerful solution for the two questions that advertisers never stop asking: where should I place my ads, and who should I serve them to?

Written by

David Kaplan
VP of Client Development at Zemanta ∙ “I am responsible for Zemanta’a global client development and new business for the Americas. I always have my finger on the pulse of the programmatic ad industry.”

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