What happened: A 2020 adtech retrospect

December 21, 2020 | 6 minute read
Kori Wallace
Content Manager
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When any year closes out, it’s a fitting time to reflect on the previous 12 months. But 2020 wasn’t just any year. And although many people would like to march forward and forget it ever happened, we think a proper lookback is an appropriate way to usher in a fresh and fruitful new year.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the pandemic and its extraordinary influence on nearly every part of our lives. The adtech industry was no exception to the economic ramifications of a world facing a crisis. Although the year started out with uncertainty around a cookie-free future and shifting consumer behaviors, the reality of true unpredictability and adaptation quickly took hold.

But even dealing with the vast effects of the coronavirus, time and industry marched on. There was more to the past year than the health crisis, and every win deserves highlighting, as much as every loss needs its lessons.

So, beyond some of the obvious situations that occurred in 2020, what are some other themes that we can take away from the year—those we can celebrate or learn from and use to look forward into 2021? Here are our top seven:

1. The media industry felt the effects of outdated brand safety tactics with pandemic coverage

Kicking off our lookback is a long-standing adtech challenge that gained new and appropriate attention, thanks to the coronavirus. This is the practice of broadly using brand-safety keyword blocklists, which not only limits campaign scale but more detrimentally contributes to the defunding of the news.

Keyword blocking misses a vital ingredient—context—which is critical when defining suitable inventory versus isolating damaging content. Thankfully, a more nuanced approach is becoming the norm, and industry leaders are pushing for advertisers to break up with blocklists.

2. Consumer privacy and the future of identity continued to be top of mind

While some industry commentators have done their best to paint a bleak picture of our “cookie-free future,” we see it as a natural evolution of digital media and one that has long been in the cards. The way we reach people, and thus, monetize inventory, is undoubtedly changing; but with a particular focus on data science, and advanced technologies such as contextual intelligence, there’s still opportunity to increase quality and drive scale.

Eliminating universal identifiers like mobile ad identifiers (MAIDs) and 3rd party cookies will impact multiple stages of the digital advertising supply chain and has already contributed to a rise in 1st party data usage, but suggesting that it’s going to be a death knell to the industry is misleading. Making every impression more effective is still of paramount importance, and moving beyond personal identifiers means that advertisers need to diversify their approach to data-driven targeting and measurement—and there are still many opportunities out there with the right portfolio of solutions.

Bottom line: stakeholders from all corners of the industry—brands, agencies, platforms, publishers, and technology vendors—need to collectively work together to ensure that the solutions that are developed serve businesses and advertisers while also respecting the privacy and protection of consumers.

3. Adoption of streaming continued to rise, and watch patterns shifted with consumer behavior

The continued growth of connected TV (CTV) was already a trend to watch at the beginning of 2020, but little did we know how much of a hot topic it would be. With huge swaths of the population staying home, viewing numbers rose, and new watch patterns emerged across streaming platforms.

But hold the cord, because for the first time in years, linear TV ratings also saw an increase, highlighting the need for advertisers to refine their cross-channel strategies.

4. Ad fraud was still an expensive problem, as it targeted emerging formats and capitalized on seasonal trends

Ad fraud is considered one of the peskiest side effects of digital advertising. Data from Moat Analytics gave us insight into how much of the ad traffic we monitor is actually invalid.

We observed fraudsters exploit adtech’s newer technologies, especially those with the possibility of making large sums of money. This was evidenced in the discovery of StreamScam, the largest CTV ad-fraud scam to date.

But thanks to sophisticated invalid traffic (IVT) technology, wasted ad spend and lost revenue due to ad fraud is becoming much less of a concern for brands and publishers.

5. Podcast listening took a hit earlier in the year but is on the rebound, highlighting a key need for audio measurement transparency

Podcasts have emerged as a dominant form of entertainment over the last several years. Although there was a decline in podcast listening in the early days of the pandemic because of waning travel and a decrease in commuting, it quickly bounced back over the summer.

Regardless, this medium is seemingly indomitable, and advertisers are continuing to invest in it. But currently, there’s no standard around what constitutes an audible impression, so the industry is working to close the gap in transparency and provide standardized metrics to measure the quality of audio ads.

6. Viewability and consumer attention across all digital advertising formats remained steady

Since digital advertising industry trade groups introduced ad verification guidelines, marketers have been measuring media performance based on valid, viewable, brand-safe impressions. Our Oracle Moat benchmarks saw steady viewability with a slight increase across most formats (display, video, and mobile) from Q4 2019 to Q2 2020.

However, by optimizing beyond verification, and focusing on consumer attention instead, marketers can get performance indicators that reflect how an ad is impacting real business outcomes.

7. eSports temporarily replaced live-action athletics, solidifying its place as a media powerhouse

Get your game face on, because 2020 was a great year for eSports and online gaming. As live-action sports were put on pause for the pandemic, networks and consumers took to video games to get their competitive fix. The amount of investment being poured into the industry is no surprise.

This increased attention, and the realization of gaming’s diverse audience, has positioned the format as a mainstream digital advertising medium. Similar to digital audio, 3rd party measurement will be essential to validating methodologies and promoting an understanding of in-game media environments.

What will 2021 bring?

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is inescapable, and we must always be prepared for the unpredictable. This year accelerated inevitable industry changes and emphasized the need to be consumer-centric. The customer journey has become truly dynamic, so all adtech stakeholders should expect a need for more refinement as technology evolves and life happens.

Because if nothing is certain, then anything is truly possible, and in an industry so adept at change, we can count on rising to any challenge that lies ahead.

Kori Wallace

Content Manager

Kori Hill Wallace is a content specialist for Oracle Data Cloud. She loves appetizers, animals, athletics, and alliteration. (She what she did there?) 

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