Will adspend in 2021 really surpass 2019?

Is advertiser confidence bouncing back harder than we previously thought?

Clockwise from bottom left: Bainsfair, Golding, Moser, Forde, Din
Clockwise from bottom left: Bainsfair, Golding, Moser, Forde, Din

Numbers don't lie, but they can be misleading.

Tell someone that the ad industry will grow by 15% this year and they might think "wow, that's rather good". 

But if the market shrank by 7% the year before (which the latest Advertising Association/Warc estimates say it did), then 15% growth is as much about clawing back what was lost in the pandemic recession. 

Perhaps this is still a decent showing given the scale of last year's collapse, but it will likely provide little comfort for all of those who lost their jobs, were furloughed, or who have suffered in so many other ways during an extremely difficult time for the industry.

Nevertheless, there are increasingly clearer signs that the UK ad industry is not just recovering to get back to where it was before the pandemic, but will surpass it. Yesterday ITV, the UK's biggest commercial broadcaster, forecast 85% annual ad revenue increases for May and June, which is higher than media buyers had previously estimated when asked by Campaign two months ago. 

The wider narrative suggests that there should be reasons for more advertiser confidence compared with January: the UK's Covid-19 vaccination programme has been deployed successfully, social distancing restrictions are being eased in stages while deaths have come down considerably; and, in March, some of the weightier Brexit trade impediments were postponed until January 2022. 

So are things bouncing back harder than we might have previously thought? 

Sarah Golding

Chief executive and partner, The & Partnership London

This year UK adspend almost certainly will accelerate beyond 2019 levels, fuelled by a new confluence of supply and demand. In 2020 we saw an increase in supply, with accelerated digital behaviours and people being at home meaning it was easy to reach audiences. Now we are seeing that supply sustain but the demand has returned. The vaccine roll-out, plus the return of events like the Olympics and the Euros, are giving brands and consumers confidence to spend again.

However, we might not be entering a crazy new age of consumption. Many people have rediscovered life’s simpler pleasures like socialising, travelling and turning their screens off. And maybe that’s cause for optimism too!

Jim Moser

Chairman, BBDO Europe

There are a lot of positive movements in the market right now that provide greater confidence for advertisers. While that enthusiasm certainly influences commercial activity, my feeling is that the Warc estimates are way too optimistic. Naturally we will see a significant improvement in ad spend from 2020, however we’re going to be lucky to match the 2019 numbers, let alone surpass them.

Cautious optimism is my feeling today but I suspect that we’re in for some continued uncertainty as Covid infections increase exponentially in countries around the world like the tragedy we’re seeing in India. There is no doubt that this virus is not going away any time soon and that will lead to an uncertain future.

Rachel Forde

Chief executive, UM London

We’re looking forward to a strong recovery in 2021 and all the signs are there, at least certainly from our clients, that adspend could hit higher than those 2019 pre-crisis numbers. We are seeing a renewed energy from brands to futureproof themselves and from consumers ready to spend again after a long lockdown.

Digital is still the frontrunner, not hampered by Covid, and is still surging forward. TV and radio are recovering and we expect to see the same with print, out-of-home and cinema as restrictions ease further in the coming months

Bobby Din

Investment partner, Goodstuff Communications

This is a welcome headline for the industry and a positive indicator for the economy coming out of lockdown. The relative resurgence in adspend in Q4 2020 gave us a strong signal that budgets were ready to be unlocked, only to be stymied by the lockdown of Q1 2021. This put the handbrake on growth for 2021, most severely in OOH and cinema, but also suppressed anticipated growth in other media.

We will see growth versus 2019, but this growth is almost exclusively driven by digital. Broadcast may tip into growth with a following wind, but a more realistic, and widely accepted, ambition is that it will be 2022 for channels outside of digital when we'll see adspend return to 2019 levels. 

Paul Bainsfair

Director-general, IPA

As we commented in the release of our April Q1 Bellwether, the signs look "V" encouraging. And by that I mean we witnessed what looks like a sharp bounce back in terms of UK marketers revising their budgets upwards in Q1 (albeit remaining in negative territory for now), coupled with soaring confidence levels regarding UK companies’ own and their industry-wide financial prospects. Equally, our Bellwether adspend forecast for 2021 is into positive territory, at 3.5%, based on the prediction of a 3.7% expansion of GDP in 2021.

With confidence levels heading upward, marketing spend intentions heading upward, with UK life opening back up, and with ongoing mass vaccination, there is indeed hope for a strong and quick recovery and a hefty rise in UK adspend.