While subscription-based digital media (think Netflix, Spotify, Disney+) have captivated investors, good old-fashioned advertising is poised for a major comeback. The trend began during the initial depths of the pandemic as marketers ramped up digital advertising to reach homebound consumers shopping online. Now with expectations of a post-pandemic “Roaring Twenties” economic boom, marketers are looking to capitalize on pent-up demand among consumers ready to get out of the house, travel, eat out, and sit down at a bar.
“Ad spending is red-hot right now,” Henry Blodget, a co-founder of Insider (formerly Business Insider), tells New York Times media columnist Ben Smith. “The economy is cranking up, travel and leisure are coming back, and consumers are emerging from their pandemic cocoons.”
Already, a handful of privately held publishers have said their first quarter 2021 revenues were up by significant percentages. As reported by the Times, they include Business Insider (more than 30%); Bloomberg Media (+29%), Vice (+25%) and Bustle Digital Group (more than 25%). Quarterly revenue at Axios nearly doubled.
“The venture capital world spent a decade betting against advertising, and it’s about to blow up in their faces,” Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg told the Times.
Although digital behemoths Facebook, Google and Amazon are expected to benefit the most, they’re not the only ones riding the wave. Podcasting is helping provide some “sizzle” to radio and that is one reason GroupM thinks radio should experience “significant growth” during 2021 and “return towards the prior trajectories.” GroupM is projecting radio advertising will grow 7.6% this year.
While it’s difficult to predict with accuracy the pace of the COVID-19 ad recovery, senior executives at iHeartMedia in late February said that their business is on track to return to 2019 performance levels by the end of 2021. “We continue to see pent-up consumer demand across the country and we expect that the vaccine rollout and the easing of restrictions on businesses and consumers will set the stage for a rapid economic bounce-back and we believe that radio advertising will benefit materially from this,” CEO Bob Pittman told investors during the company’s fourth quarter and full year 2020 financial results call.
Mark Read, the head of ad giant WPP – whose holdings include media buying shops such as GroupM, Mindshare and Mediacom – is expecting a “sharp rebound” in advertising in 2021. He expects to see advertising and marketing budgets grow 12.3% this year.
In January, Jaime Robinson, Chief Creative Officer at the agency Joan Creative, told the Wall Street Journal that she too thinks the coming year will see marketing budgets snap back. “The ‘Roaring 2020s’ are about to be upon us, and with it, explosive business growth,” she said. "With the vaccine here, we’re looking at a global tidal wave of pent-up demand, especially in the areas of travel and hospitality, entertainment, experiences and fashion.”