Investor view: Five questions to ask if you’re investing in 2022
A view from Ian Whittaker

Investor view: Five questions to ask if you’re investing in 2022

Rather than make predictions, Campaign’s investor view columnist asks some pertinent questions about the year ahead in advertising.

When I was working in investment banking in the City, this was the time of year when analysts gave their top tips for the year.

While I would do the same on occasion (sometimes you just had to show your face with these things), the problem I found was that, firstly, focusing on just the 12 months ahead blinded you to the longer-term trends and, secondly, it led to (on occasion) scrambling for anything relevant to say to meet an artificial criterion.

So, no predictions from me but instead some questions to ask yourself as we head into 2022:

Why should advertising growth slow down?

All the major forecasters are predicting that the absolute increases in advertising spending will moderate in 2022 and thereafter.

Leaving aside US political spending, Group M forecasts just under $75bn (£55bn) in additional global ad spending in 2022 versus an estimated $140bn increase in 2021.

Yet there are no signs that the drivers of this massive ad increase – the aggressive campaigns of new D2C businesses, traditional advertisers fighting off competition and/or justifying significant price increases, the flow of cheap money, etc. – will tail off.

And to counter the obvious answer of “it’s the 2020 comparisons, stupid” (to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s election strategist, James Carville), global ad spending only fell about $20bn in 2020.

The growth of 2021 advertising spend was driven more by structural factors, not a cyclical bounceback, and there is no reason this should change.

How much visibility is there in the advertising market?

It is unfair to target any organisation or grouping but it is fair to say that predictions on advertising spend for 2021 wildly exceeded expectations.

Again, there were several curveball events last year but the main one should have had, if anything, a negative impact on the advertising performance, namely the longer-lasting nature of the Covid pandemic and its effects.

Investors need to ask themselves what is it that needs to change (for example, more certainty about the power of vaccinations to bring the virus under control) to better pick up the likely trends in client spend going forwards.

Is there any reason the demand for staffing in agencies – and the subsequent shortages – should end?

If both advertising strength and the flood of new advertisers fuelled by cheap capital continues, then it is very likely there will be increased demand for agency services.

In fact, there is an argument the shortages may intensify as advertisers increasingly look at how to monetise their own data as well as deal with structural concepts such as the elimination of cookies and the growth of the metaverse.

This will raise fundamental questions for agency groups, the main ones being “where do we find these people?” and, if not, “what can we do to offset these shortages?”.

Should we expect changes in the agency-client relationship to intensify?

One of the most positive developments over the past 12 months appears to be the growing realisation by advertisers that advertising is strategically far more important to their businesses than they had realised pre-pandemic.

As consumer behaviours change and opportunities/threats arise, seeing advertising as merely a cost is looking increasingly short-sighted.

However, if that has had a positive effect on advertising spend, it also means that advertisers are likely to examine more closely their relationship with agencies. Will that turn out to be a plus or a negative for agency groups?

Finally, from a bigger picture standpoint, will there be any “grey swans” in 2022 that could impact the market?

The rise of Covid in early 2020 showed us that left-field events can blindside things very quickly. To quote Donald Rumsfeld, we have “known unknowns” such as whether the Russia-Ukraine crisis will turn “hot” and whether it will escalate.

However, we may also have other ones which are less obvious. If I had to predict one, I would look at the potential for rising political tensions in the US political landscape as we approach the 2022 mid-term elections in November, with the Republicans looking increasingly likely to capture perhaps both Houses of Congress.

There are obviously many more questions that could be asked but, for brevity’s sake, I will stop there.

No one knows the future and that easily includes me. Yet perhaps by asking more questions, organisations can be better prepared to both meet the upcoming challenges and grasp the opportunities.  

Ian Whittaker is founder and managing director of Liberty Sky Advisors. He is writing a regular column for Campaign about the advertising landscape from a financial standpoint. For further insights and articles, subscribe at www.ianwhittakermedia.com

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