Is Traditional Media Advertising Dead in the Water for 2021?

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By Boris Dzhingarov

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. Other than a select few businesses and industries that have managed to flourish in the face of coronavirus, most sectors are experiencing a significant contraction. Against such a dire economic background, it is probably no surprise to learn that traditional media has been struggling somewhat.

Traditional Media Decline

It is no secret that digital media presents an existential threat to traditional media channels. Numerous industries and businesses have already fallen to the wayside because they failed to adapt to the digital age. But print media have continued to survive while streaming services have not yet destroyed the traditional television industry. In recent years, traditional media have had a lot to feel optimistic about. That came to an end when covid-19 really began to bite.

There has been a significant shift away from traditional media throughout 2020. Marketers are moving their budgets away from conventional TV, radio, and other forms of traditional marketing mediums. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, some of these traditional media channels have witnessed a decline of more than 30% in the last year.

Strong Digital Spending

Lockdown and quarantine have very much been the themes of 2020. These unprecedented conditions have presented significant challenges for conventional media – challenges that digital media has mostly escaped from. With everyone locked in their homes for extended periods and minimal opportunities to go out and socialize, digital advertising channels have become even more valuable than they used to be.

Both social media marketing and paid search marketing are expected to end the year in a significantly stronger position around a started. In paid search, yearly growth is expected to hit 26%, while social media marketing has grown by 25%. This is good news for digital marketers, who suddenly find themselves inundated with opportunities.

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While conventional television marketing has experienced a steady decline that mirrors the rise of online streaming services, connected TV marketing presents new opportunities for marketers who have had to change tack. Connected TV marketing encompasses marketing delivered to the audience via their smart TVs. As more and more consumers switch from their old digital TVs to newer smart TV models, advertisers who have seen their returns from conventional television marketing slump can potentially recoup some of their losses. Connected TV marketing is expected to grow by 19% this year. Both digital video and online display marketing are also experiencing increases of 18% and 15%, respectively.

What to Expect in 2021

Making any plans for the future right now is a proposal. There are many uncertainties regarding the global and national economy. Every business will have to be careful about approaching their planning for the next 12 months. Despite the challenging market conditions that persist, the IAB expects media buying budgets to grow overall by 5%. However, according to the businesses themselves, 70% said they aren’t expecting any clarity on their 2021 budget any time soon. Only 30% of companies the IAB surveyed said that they were very clear or somewhat clear on how the 2021 budget was shaping up.

Given the figures revealed by the IAB report, it seems prudent for marketers to cut their traditional media budgets in 2021 and give priority to digital marketing. With so many industries currently in a state of flux, even audiences who conventionally respond well to traditional marketing may find themselves increasingly embracing digital media.

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Any business that can offer its services remotely is now doing so. This has meant that entire companies and their customer bases have had to adjust to doing things digitally. These customers may no longer be reachable through the same traditional media, and they might never be again.

While traditional media marketing is experiencing an unprecedented contraction, digital marketing has continued to enjoy strong growth.

Social Content

Controversial content on social media is nothing new. However, in recent years, there has been a growing awareness of this content amongst the general public. Objectionable and controversial content is no longer squirreled away on hard to find and obscure special interest pages. It is now commonplace to find this kind of content publicly visible on social media. This is an ongoing source of tension between social media platforms and marketers.

Media buyers are increasingly expressing anxiety about the possibility of their ads appearing alongside controversial content. No marketing firm wants to be responsible for placing their clients next to racist or sexist or otherwise offensive content. More than 90% of media buyers surveyed by IAB professed to feeling at least slightly concerned about questionable content appearing next to the ads. 41% expressed extreme concerns about this possibility.

2020 saw the largest yet advertiser boycott of Facebook. Many brands paused all their social media spending and pulled their ads from Facebook. However, the report noted that 63% of the businesses surveyed affirmed that they would be resuming their spending in Q4 2020.

The Takeaway for Digital Marketers

Traditional media channels continue to present challenges for marketers and media buyers. Digital media has been encroaching on the traditional media space for decades now, slowly eroding the latter’s importance to media buyers. The IAB’s report doesn’t contain many surprises. On the whole, digital marketing is performing stronger than most analysts expected, but not shockingly so. Conversely, the impact on traditional media has been worse than anticipated. However, with so many businesses transitioning to digital for the first time, some of this impact can be put down to businesses witching from conventional channels to digital ones.

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Traditional media has been struggling to attract advertisers over its digital cousin. The IAB’s report will come as little comfort to marketers who rely on traditional media marketing for their income. Media buyers should be looking to take advantage of the unique opportunities covid has created in the realm of digital marketing.

Traditional media advertising isn’t quite dead yet. However, it is clear that the sector is in trouble. 2021 will be crucial in determining the long-term sustainability of traditional media marketing. If media buyer budgets for traditional media continue to decline, it’s hard to see how traditional media can survive.