Are you prepared going into 2021? With 2020 being a challenging year for many, digital marketing has seen a shift in what was initially predicted thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Google Marketing Platform Sales Partner providing technology licenses, training & enablement, outsourced operations and digital maturity solutions for the industry-leading Google Marketing Platform, we saw a range of different responses and strategies to the uncertainty, giving us a unique perspective on what to expect in 2021.

In this article, we explore some digital marketing & ad trends that we are expecting in 2021 as a Google Marketing Sales Partner and how you can maximise performance for your organisation or clients.

1. Increase in Ad spend for 2021, particularly digital

With the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affecting economies, industries and business across the globe, many organisations saw their advertising budgets reduced due to the uncertainty in the market, resulting in a global drop in spend by 6.8% in 2020.

During the pandemic, many countries have experienced prolonged lockdown periods, with many in fact ramping up their use of digital. AdNews reported that the Australian advertising market will recover 11% in 2021 after declining 6.2% last year. Importantly, digital ad sales actually increased by 6% in 2020 with social media (+12%), digital video (+13%), and search (+7%) some of the best performers.

Across Asia, Taiwan (+2%) and China (0%) have been the best performers during the pandemic, compared with Hong Kong who was one of the hardest hit in 2020. Despite an overall 21% drop in overall ad sales in Hong Kong, digital ad formats increased similar to Australia with 8% growth as social media (+15%), video (+14%) and search (+8%) lead the way.

According to Marketing Interactive, Singapore and Indonesia followed similar trends declining 6.1% and 16.5% respectively overall but managing to grow in the digital category (12% and 6.5% growth respectively), also powered by social media, search, and digital video.

“Leading companies are 1.5X as likely…to have an integrated marketing and advertising technology stack”

2. MarTech & Ad Tech Consolidation

With the pending demise of the 3rd party cookie, it is becoming more and more important for organisations to integrate and consolidate the capabilities of their Ad Tech and MarTech. While it may seem simple for many organisations, consolidation and integration of technology is far from that, and that is where the benefit of integrated ecosystems such as the Google Marketing Platform are effective in improving performance. 

Recent research by Google and the Boston Consulting Group around what makes organisations digitally mature specifies that in the early stages through the Digital Marketing Maturity Framework, organisations must use automated and integrated tech to enable them to improve the efficiencies and effectiveness achieved through their Ad Tech and MarTech.

With data from Google, identifying that 61% of marketing decision makers say that they struggle to access or integrate the data they need, by simply consolidating your digital marketing activities in a solution such as the Google Marketing Platform can give many organisations a competitive advantage over the competition.

“Advertisers spent 29% less on setup and ongoing campaign management (for Programmatic Guaranteed deals)”

3. Programmatic Guaranteed

With the growing capabilities of platforms such as Display & Video 360 (DV360) to support programmatic guaranteed deals, we’re expecting many advertisers to increase use of it as a buy type. Programmatic Guaranteed deals provide a number of efficiency benefits to go along with the security of knowing exactly what you’re paying for.

Back in 2018, the Boston Consulting Group specifically looked at the rise of programmatic guaranteed in APAC, identifying that “the programmatic guaranteed process was more than 50% more efficient than traditional approaches for publishers and almost 30% more efficient for advertiser and agency buying teams.”

Further to this, Google and Boston Consulting Group research identified that Programmatic Guaranteed allows advertisers to reach 11% more people for the same media investments.

You can learn more about Programmatic Guaranteed deals in Display & Video 360 (DV360) in the help centre articles.

4. Changing applications of privacy

As part of our recent blog on privacy changes, we highlighted that “32% (of people) – who said they care about privacy, are willing to act, and have done so by switching companies or providers over data or data-sharing policies.” Further to this, research from the Pew Research Centre identified that 47% of consumers would sacrifice privacy to get a better deal, reflecting a fundamental shift in the way that consumers think about and value their privacy.

As part of the changing privacy landscape in the industry, Google have a number of initiatives to address the changing privacy regulations and browser restrictions, including the following:

  • Google Analytics 4
  • Global Site Tag (gtag.js)
  • Server-side Tagging (see trend #10)
  • Privacy Sandbox 
  • Consent Mode

For more information on how Google and the Google Marketing Platform are addressing privacy concerns, check out our recent webinar or speak to your local FiveStones team.

“Digitally mature brands who were able to engage with the consumers in a personalized manner were able to achieve an average of 11 percent annual incremental revenue uplift and 18 percent cost efficiency”

5. Personalisation & Customisation

With the benefits of personalisation well-documented, it comes as no surprise that the latest round of research from the Boston Consulting Group reinforces the development of Digital Marketing Maturity for leaders to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness through personalisation of their marketing.

Importantly, with 70% of campaign performance coming down to creative, our recent case study with a printer & ink cartridge provider shows how we were able to develop a custom dynamic remarketing feed that incorporated highly personalised creative.

Whether you have a Display & Video 360 (DV360) account, Campaign Manager 360 (CM360) (and Studio) license or both, the Google Marketing Platform has advanced Data-driven Creative capabilities to drive personalisation at scale for your display advertising.

6. Mobile-first mentality

Despite the fact that 15-30% of web traffic being from those with Ad blockers, the surge in mobile is continuing to grow. Research from the Boston Consulting Group, has identified that globally, spending on mobile online video has doubled year on year since 2011. Additional BCG research highlighted that mobile is driving “an average of more than 40% of their revenue – in industries that traditionally have depended much more on sales than marketing to generate revenue.”

Importantly, as we explore earlier, digital ad spending growth is expected primarily from mobile devices which will see spending increase by 6% in 2021 says Marketing Interactive.

Based on these market trends, organisations and agencies must continue to focus on mobile as part of their advertising mix, ensuring they are developing creative that is complementary to mobile users and looking at mobile inventory in Display & Video 360 (DV360) such as in-app to hit their audience with the right message at the right time in the right way.

7. Continued Growth in Video & YouTube

With online videos expected to make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic by 2022 according to Cisco, there is no surprise that growth across video and YouTube is predicted to continue. With eMarketer saying 75% of all video plays is on mobile devices, it highlights how marketers must also focus on making their video ads mobile-friendly (see trend 6 above).

Importantly, as the world’s second-largest search engine, second most popular social media platform and second most visited site after Google, YouTube and its many users are a key reason behind the success of video and video advertising, particularly here in APAC. A 2018 Think with Google article has revealed that South East Asia’s (SEA) YouTube users drive 20% of all video consumption around the world and 83% of users in SEA watch online video daily showing just how big the platform is in the region.

Display & Video 360 (DV360) has exclusive access to Youtube inventory allowing you to consolidate your YouTube spend with the rest of your Digital Marketing spend within the Google Marketing Platform. Further reinforcing the need for cross-channel consolidation, recent research from Think with Google identified that “ROIs for both TV and online video are 35% higher when they’re strategically integrated and…25% ROIs when combining TV with paid search.”

There are also advanced video strategies you can use such as sequential messaging, which is available in Display & Video 360 (DV360), to further drive engagement and conversions from the already strong results achieved across the board from the channel.

From our perspective, video and YouTube inventory is expected to go from strength to strength in 2021, with Google investing in video capabilities for Campaign Manager 360 (CM360) and beyond, meaning now is the time to start looking at it as a medium to reach your audience. Contact your local FiveStones team to find out how we can support your video and creative solutions.

8. Increased digitisation of traditional channels with Audio, Connected TV, Over-the-Top (OTT) & Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH)

As we explored earlier, despite challenging market conditions, digital ads have continued to grow in many of the major countries we operate in, despite lower overall advertising spend. With much of those declines coming from the reduction of traditional media such as TV, radio and Out-of-Home (OOH), we are now seeing a shift to the digitisation of these types of budgets, a trend which has been very much sped up by the pandemic.

With a growing urban population and developed infrastructure, Asia-Pacific is considered one of the largest markets for the Digital OOH, expecting to register an annual growth rate of 18.14% over the forecast period from 2020 to 2025 says Mordor Intelligence.

Furthermore, research highlighted by Marketing Interactive shows that in APAC, 68.5% of consumers regularly watch over-the-top (OTT) (mainly through mobile devices) as well as Connected TV gaining in popularity in markets such as Singapore and Australia.

“47% of brands are looking to increase OTT spend in Southeast Asia between 10% to 20% through May 2021”

In particular, Google has continued to develop and drive audio capabilities in Display & Video 360 (DV360) throughout 2020 to correspond with the increased budgets expected in the digital audio market over the next few years.

9. Migration of marketing to the cloud

With more efficient, cost effective methods for managing the data your marketing and advertising produces, cloud for marketing is the next big step for the industry. In 2020, Gartner forecasted that Cloud Services revenue would grow to nearly $365 million globally, up from around $243 million in 2019 (+50.2%). Google has already invested millions in its ‘Cloud4Marketing’ solutions and its Google Cloud Platform was recognised as a leader within Gartner’s 2020 Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure and Platform Services report, with data capture, storage & application capabilities available for marketers who migrate their marketing operations. 

For the Google Marketing Platform, it’s native integration to Google Cloud Platform products, such as Google BigQuery and Ads Data Hub, allows marketers to work with data scientists in running advanced statistical measurement and attribution solutions that can then be used to activate audiences back within the media stack, with these kinds of capabilities also being a development focus throughout 2020.

Google’s recent launch of Google Analytics 4 also reinforces their focus on marketing in the cloud, with new functionality being made available for free such as up to 1 million daily event exports to BigQuery as one example, highlighting the focus Google is placing on the cloud.

In addition to this, Server-side Tagging, where you essentially host and manage your web containers and web tags on cloud servers rather than your site and the user’s browser, is a fundamental change in the way marketers store and manage their data so stay tuned to find out more about this.

“>50% of leading performance agencies that were able to reallocate time thanks to machine learning shifting more than 30% of their time to more strategic activities”

10. Efficiency from machine learning and automation

With leading performance agencies 74% more likely than mainstream ones to use machine learning to process data signals to better understand consumer intent, we are again expecting an increasing focus on machine learning and automation.

This was reinforced by the results of our recent Digital Marketing Maturity in Asia Pacific survey, nearly a quarter (22%) of those in the region said that digital automation was their top priority, followed by an additional 11% who named it as their second top priority.

Within the Google Marketing Platform, there are a range of automation features the suite of products has to offer, including automation of bidding, data imports, audience strategies and media buying through programmatic. Further to this, one of the quick wins many organisations can achieve is the automation of their creative capabilities through Data-driven Creative.

With automation considered more of a multi-moment capability within the Digital Marketing Maturity research, it’s important to consider what automation is realistic and useful to implement within your information.


For organisations and agencies that want to start off strong in 2021, it’s important to take into consideration the digital marketing & ad trends, and how you will address them across your campaigns and overall strategy to maximise results. The Google Marketing Platform provides comprehensive solutions for many of these trends, in particular, through its consolidation and integration of platforms, so that organisations that are focused on improving the Digital Marketing Maturity of their organisations see the efficiency and effectiveness benefits in 2021 and beyond.

For support on any of the trends discussed above or more information about how you can use the Google Marketing Platform to leverage these trends in your advertising mix, speak to your local FiveStones.