Paid Media in 2021

As UK lockdowns continue in 2021, people are spending ever more time browsing the internet and using social media. Below we’ve had a look at what we think the main paid media trends will be in 2021 and how you can adapt your paid media strategies to drive the best results.

Loss of third-party cookie data

The iOS14 update is causing some concern for marketers as we know it will impact digital tracking across all channels. If you’re not yet aware of what this entails, users that download apps (including Facebook) from the Apple store will now be explicitly prompted to opt-in or out of being tracked by the app. 

The main impacts of this is a loss of visibility over the user journey on some channels, limitations to event tracking and less reported conversions. So how do we tackle this? The key things you can do right now are to verify your domains on channels where it is required and prioritise and streamline your event tracking. Longer-term, we envisage server-side tracking to become increasingly important. Improving your first-party data should therefore be a priority.

Google is also continuing to shift away from transparency and limiting the data we have available. We saw this in 2020 with Google limiting access to search query data, thus making it more difficult to make the best decisions for our accounts. Google is forcing advertisers to rely more and more on machine learning and we expect this trend to continue in 2021, already evidenced by the phasing out of broad match modifier (BMM) keywords. On the audience side, with the loss of third-party cookies, we’ll see similar shifts as we are with Facebook. Targeting will move more towards common interests rather than individual identifiers.

So what can we do to gain back control?

  • Focus your efforts on analysing the data that you can see and try to review themes within the search query reports rather than individual search terms
  • Get on board with automated bidding - this will allow Google to do the heavy lifting so you can focus on things like ad copy testing, for example
  • Make sure you nail your ads - the push back towards contextual targeting emphasises the importance of compelling copy and creative
  • Ensure you have robust negative keyword lists

Ayima Takeaway

As marketers, we have always found ways to adapt to the data we have visibility on and push forward. Platform data has always been imperfect, but now it’s more important than ever to educate your clients or wider business on the implications of changes to the platforms, both in terms of optimisation and reporting. By challenging ourselves and developing new tools, we will no doubt overcome any changes in the digital landscape.

New placement opportunities

As new organic placements rise in popularity, these will inevitably open up more ad placements for additional inventory. In particular, Instagram reels is tipped to be the next major ad placement for Instagram, alongside IGTV. 

It’s important to note that different placements are suited to different types of creatives, and reels, in particular, are likely to benefit from more native and highly engaging creative similar to the organic TikTok style content we see there. 

With regards to TikTok ads, advertisers are already seeing fantastic results here, particularly on the ecommerce front. If your brand aligns with the TikTok demographic (60% Gen Z, with 18-24-year-olds accounting for the largest share of users) and you have engaging full screen creative, this is definitely one to consider.

COVID has also spawned more interest in new audio and video-based social networks such as Houseparty and Clubhouse, which have done a fantastic job of connecting people throughout the pandemic. While time will tell if usage for these platforms remains high post-lockdown, we do expect to see more diversification of potential platforms like these for ads.

Mercedes Benz star challenge social media campaign

Ayima Takeaway

With new platforms and placements opening up, now is the time to consider which additional platforms might suit your business and marketing goals. We know that as ad auctions become more saturated, CPMs get driven up and it can become more difficult and expensive to achieve the performance you desire. For this reason, it is always good to allocate some testing budget to new channels or platforms. If you can tap into a new audience or even an existing audience in a different mindset, you could see a real boost in your results and widen the gap between yourself and your competitors.

More automation and omnichannel strategies

In 2021, we expect to see more advancement in automation and increased reliance on machine learning. While this does limit our control as marketers, it does afford us the benefit of continual algorithmic refinement to improve the efficiency of our campaigns in real-time.

With this in mind, it also frees up our time to focus on the bigger picture. Is budget being utilised most effectively across the channel mix? Are there other potentially better-performing channels for the brand and what they are trying to achieve? We can start to address these questions by developing omnichannel strategies. Having a diverse channel mix allows us to be agile and pivot priorities and budget based on where we see the best performance for our clients.

The upsurge of new streaming platforms will also present new programmatic opportunities for brands, lowering the barrier to entry for digital TV ad placements.

Ayima Takeaway

Ultimately, machine learning and automated bid strategies aren’t going away. Therefore the best thing we can do as marketers is to use the algorithms to our advantage. An essential starting point is making sure you are choosing the right objectives in line with your business goals and setting realistic targets for the platform that you can then adjust incrementally.

When introducing new channels it is vital to consider your brand message, aesthetic and tone and ensure that this is consistent across channels, even if the ads themselves are tailored to the respective platforms in terms of style, size, video length etc. This will lead to a more seamless and coherent user journey and help your message cut through.


Lastly, it is ever more important to do your competitor research. You want to ensure you are always in the race on any platforms where your competitors are advertising, or better yet get ahead of the curve and capture audiences on newer platforms where there is less competition.

Rise of ecommerce on social

With social media continually evolving to enhance the user experience, we’re seeing more features and tools aimed at streamlining the path to purchase. We have already seen this through the integration of quick and easy payment methods on social media storefronts, as well as with features such as product tagging on Instagram. This is making it increasingly easy for consumers to go from discovery to purchase without ever having to leave the platform. According to GlobalWebIndex, 54% of social media users use social media to research products and 71% are more likely to purchase products and services based on social media referrals. The impact of social media on the consumer journey is clear, and we need to be taking advantage of the opportunity.

Ayima Takeaway

People are spending increasingly more time online, particularly on social media. Ecommerce sales are also on the rise with COVID-19 speeding up the growth, and as a result of this growth ecommerce ad spend is on the rise too. Therefore, it is crucial that ecommerce brands are maximising their potential through paid social. The seamless path to purchase on social, coupled with the growth of ecommerce fueled by the pandemic, means social media will become a top channel for purchase instead of just awareness and discovery.

Total worldwide ecommerce sales since 2014. 2021 shows 4.5 trillion U.S. Dollars
Graph showing a steady increase in ecommerce sales from U.S. retail for the 1st quarter of 2010 to the 3rd quarter of 2020

Use of Augmented Reality (AR) in digital

With Facebook owning Oculus and other augmented reality patents it won’t be long before we start to see wider adoption of AR in digital ads. Brands are already buying into this trend by creating AR filters to promote new products or encourage user engagement. With in-store shopping taking a hit over the last year, AR has also been effective in driving sales. AR shopping options let you ‘try on’ products or visualise how they might look in a certain environment like a home or office.

Ayima Takeaway

Of all ad formats that we have seen on digital channels, augmented reality ads are arguably the most immersive, presenting a great opportunity to create emotional connections with customers. Creating assets utilising AR can be expensive or seen as a waste of resource if it turns out not to have a significant impact beyond other formats. However, as technology evolves it is becoming cheaper and easier to develop these highly engaging creatives which can help your brand stand out. So, whilst this is unlikely to take off rapidly in the short term, now is the time to start learning about augmented reality and thinking about how it might fit into your digital strategy.

Michael Kors augmented reality app, helping people choose sunglasses

The importance of diversification

A loss of control in Google will likely lead to shifts in PPC budget towards other search engines such as Bing, where advertisers can still obtain the data they need to make strategic decisions. One of the most important things marketers can do to prepare for these changes is to diversify their skill set beyond the platforms they currently use. 

The good news here is that, at their fundamental level, most platforms work in much the same way and are structurally very similar. The key is in understanding the subtle differences in capabilities and functionality. Bing even allows you to upload your Google ads campaigns directly, making it extremely easy to replicate campaigns that you already have success with.

Ayima Takeaway

Whilst shifting towards other platforms might allow for more control over budgets, optimisation and insights to fuel decision making, always keep in mind the end results and shift towards the best performing and/or most scalable channels regardless of the control you may or may not have. The results come first at the end of the day, and there should always be new tests conducted based on variables we can control to maximise performance.

At Ayima we care about driving performance for all of our clients. How do we do that? By utilising our wealth of talented paid media specialists, tapping into our technology and delivering the best possible ROI. We can help you understand where bespoke changes in your paid media strategy are needed to drive big growth. Our team of experts are on hand if you’d like to discuss more. Get in touch with our Client Growth Manager, [email protected] today.

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