A notoriously recession-prone and inefficient business is getting up to snuff
They are more reluctant to trim online adverts. Whereas old-school formats are taking their customary beating this year—print advertising will fall by 32%, expects MAGNA, a research arm of Interpublic, another big agency—digital will be flat, or even tick up. The internet draws in new advertisers and persuades existing ones to spend more. Smaller firms that cannot pay for pricey television clips can afford to experiment online. The 100 biggest advertisers on American network TV account for more than 70% of ad sales but in search and on Facebook the top 100’s share is 26% and 20%, respectively. Companies are also diverting their “below the line” marketing budgets—for things like direct mail and in-store promotions—online. The analytics offered by technology giants have encouraged buyers to keep running commercials until the return on investment shows signs of decline. And the growing number of firms that only exist on the internet cannot easily cut online ads. For them, digital advertising is “the new rent”, says Mark Shmulik of Bernstein, a research firm. Online retailers save on physical shopfronts but must maintain a visible virtual presence, recession or not.
Meanwhile, everyone is at the mercy of a near-duopoly. Two landlords, Google and Facebook, control 60% of worldwide digital-ad real estate. Investors long for Google to introduce ads to its Maps app. Their calls may grow louder as Google’s net advertising revenue in America is expected to fall by 4% this year, according to eMarketer, a research firm. Facebook could put more on Instagram. WhatsApp, also part of Facebook, is “the most under-monetised app in existence”, says Bernstein.
There is one final—and vital—reason for the resilience of digital-ad spending. Whereas a decade ago it bore little relation to people’s actual media habits, today it is closely aligned with how they while away their time, notes Mary Meeker of Bond Capital, an investment firm (see chart 3).
数字广告支出如此抗跌还有最后一个、也是至关重要的原因。投资公司Bond Capital的玛丽·米克尔（Mary Meeker）指出，十年前数字广告与人们实际使用媒体的习惯无甚关联，如今却与人们打发时间的方式密切相关（见图表3）。
Those habits’ further evolution will also favour digital ads. Mobile screens have overtaken TV as the biggest grabber of people’s attention. Even before the pandemic more Americans were cancelling cable-TV contracts each year. Now cash-strapped consumers are switching en masse to cheaper streaming services such as Netflix. In the next few years TV advertising, which has held up reasonably well, “will finally start to crack”, predicts MoffettNathanson.
As more ad dollars migrate online, an even bigger wodge will end up with Google and Facebook, which last year hoovered up 90% of new online ad spending, according to Bernstein. They are on track to increase their share of the worldwide digital-ad business to 70% or so within a few years, and still have ample capacity to display more ads (see chart 4).
If the flood of online ad spending continues, however, current digital-advertising space may reach “a point of saturation”, warns Andrew Lipsman of eMarketer. Ads will then seep to other digital media.
One is gaming, which has come a long way since 1993, when Electronic Arts showed pitch-side ads in its first “FIFA” football game. Last year King, which makes the “Candy Crush” games, took $150m in net ad bookings. Today gaming firms make ads more engaging by, say, letting players earn power-ups in exchange for watching a commercial. King claims that consumers are 18% more likely to remember an ad they see in “Candy Crush” than one viewed while streaming or using social media. Jonathan Stringfield, head of marketing at King’s parent company, Activision Blizzard, recalls how six or seven years ago he had to persuade sceptical advertisers that Facebook, where he worked at the time, was a serious place to market their brand. “This really feels like history repeating itself [with gaming],” he says.
其中之一是游戏，自1993年艺电（Electronic Arts）开始在其首款《FIFA》足球游戏中展示场边广告以来，游戏广告已经取得长足发展。去年，制作《糖果传奇》（Candy Crush）系列游戏的King获得了1.5亿美元的网络广告预定。如今，游戏公司还设法让广告变得更加吸引人，比如让玩家观看广告来换取威力升级。King宣称，与使用流媒体或社交媒体时看到的广告相比，消费者记住《糖果传奇》中广告的可能性要高出18%。King的母公司动视暴雪（Activision Blizzard）的营销总监乔纳森·斯特林菲尔德（Jonathan Stringfield）回忆说，六七年前自己在Facebook工作时，还得费劲说服心怀疑虑的广告主相信Facebook是一个可以正经营销品牌的地方。“现在真的感觉到历史在（游戏上）重演。” 他说。
Video-streaming, if anything, looks ready for an even bigger bonanza. Netflix insists it will never run commercials. But other streamers, including Disney’s Hulu and NBCUniversal’s Peacock, are already supported by advertising. As the streaming wars heat up, subscription-based services may decide to sell commercials in order to fund their investment in new content.
Then there is Amazon. The e-empire is still a distant third in digital ads but growing fast. It has bitten off a chunk of Google’s search business: more than half of all online product searches now happen on Amazon.com. Its advertisements are particularly effective: shoppers come to the site ready to buy and its purchase-history data allow it to target consumers minutely. It has yet to run commercials on its Prime Video service. But if it does, advertising dollars will pour in, says Mr Lipsman. A viewer shown an ad could place an order on Amazon without leaving the app—or, with voice control, lifting a finger. Mr Lipsman expects Amazon to sell commercials on Prime Video within two or three years. Its two big-tech rivals hope, with Facebook Shops and Google Shopping, to crack retail faster than it can expand in advertising.
再者还有亚马逊。这个电子帝国在数字广告领域仍远远落后于走在前头的两家，但正在迅猛扩张。它已经夺走了谷歌搜索业务中的一大块：现在超过半数的线上产品搜索都在亚马逊网站上完成。它的广告也尤其有效：购物者来到网站时已有买东西的打算，而亚马逊可以根据其购物历史数据做精准营销。目前亚马逊还没有在视频服务Prime Video上投放广告，但利普斯曼认为，一旦它决定这么做，广告资金就会源源涌入。用户在亚马逊app上看到某个广告时，无需离开app即可下单购买商品——或者通过语音控制下单的话，甚至连手指头都不用抬一下。利普斯曼预计亚马逊将在两到三年内开始在Prime Video上销售广告。它的两大科技对手希望分别通过Facebook Shops和Google Shopping，赶在亚马逊大举扩张广告业务之前在零售业务上打开局面。
The tech giants are stealing business from the admen, too, by making it easy for advertisers to create their own ads. In Britain only 13% of online search adverts and 44% of online display ads go through the five largest agencies, which handle most of TV advertising, according to Enders Analysis, a research firm. The share prices of the big five—WPP (which owns GroupM), Omnicom, Publicis, Interpublic and Dentsu—have been flat or sliding for at least three years; all have dived in the pandemic.
The agencies are fighting back, offering more data analytics and pitching themselves as broader brand consultancies. Since 2006 Publicis has spent $15bn buying specialist firms in those areas. Mr Tobaccowala estimates that only 35-40% of the group’s business is now conventional advertising. Consulting firms have expanded in the opposite direction; Accenture has acquired more than two dozen advertising agencies in the past ten years. Mr Tobaccowala believes his industry can dodge the asteroid. “Agencies are like cockroaches and not like dinosaurs,” he says. “We scurry around, we figure out the new world.” Nowadays this counts as optimism. ■