The IPA Bellwether Report for Q4 2023 has revealed a UK marketing sector flying in the face of a shallow recession, delivering the strongest growth since 2014.
So we asked our media, marketing and adtech leading lights what they made of the latest industry pulse-reading…
Zaid Al-Zaidy, Founder and Group CEO, The Beyond Collective
“It’s good to see some optimism for once, and clients’ faith in the power of investing through the pain of a soft market.
However, there remains some unknowns with more wars afoot, the ongoing raging of climate ‘boiling’ and the uncertain outcomes that come with half of the world’s democracies prepping for an election and consequent change.
“So, whilst marketers state their intention to invest, they will approach their plans with caution, consciously hover over their handbrake and we know that when budgets are pulled, it can happen very fast.
“Agencies need to grow their client portfolios and capabilities significantly to mitigate against this enduring uncertainty.”
Anne Coghlan, Co-Founder and COO, Scope3
“It’s encouraging to see advertisers cite ‘sustainability improvements’ as an opportunity rather than a threat, a sentiment that must persist regardless of how budgets shift this year.
“AI, another perceived opportunity, could be used to accelerate these improvements, but broad and untamed use also has the potential to threaten any progress made towards reducing emissions.
“Until sustainability standards are crystallised, it will be on advertisers themselves to consider the environmental impact of their operations and partner with companies that can help them reach their sustainability goals, the best of which can do so in a way that also drives business growth.”
Piero Pavone, CEO, Preciso
“The latest Bellwether is mostly very encouraging: total marketing budgets in Q4 2023 saw their strongest upward revisions in almost a decade, with video and other online advertising up, and almost 30% of panellists planning to spend more on marketing this year.
“But given the frailty of the economy, advertisers need to make sure they invest their money sensibly, deploying tools and technologies that minimise wasted ad spend, particularly in the sometimes opaque programmatic arena.
David Shaw, Co-Founder and CEO, Cedara
“It’s great to see the market bounce back following a turbulent twelve months, however it’s crucial that marketers keep sustainable practices top of mind, particularly with overall marketing spend set to continue to rise.
“While the report notes the importance of making sustainability improvements, this should sit at the top of the agenda.
“The marketing industry has a huge impact on the environment, with emissions amounting to double those of the aviation industry.
“As a result, marketers need to be mindful where they place their budgets to ensure that they go to vendors that are investing in reducing their overall emissions.
“The first step towards sustainability is for media suppliers to start measuring the CO2 across their entire business operations, including their media supply chain. Only then can a business, marketers, and the industry as a whole accelerate the path towards reduction.”
James Hanslip, CEO Content Ignite
“It’s good to see the report strike a generally optimistic tone, with noticeable budget expansion in certain sectors.
“However, for digital publishers, specifically the Published Brands, who are generally positioned on the receiving end of these marketing budgets, there’s a contrast between factual data and perceptual sentiments.
“This is largely driven by the diversification of budgets across various channels such as retail media, CTV, and social.
“This is backed up by the fact that, despite the headline of increased marketing spend, Published Brands saw contractions of -1.4%, from +0.8% in the last three months.
“Even if budgets start to increase in the short- to mid-term, current challenges – such as the ICO warning, cookie deprecation, and sustainability – will stem some of the flow of this marketing spend as the industry gets used to new norms and establishes updated business practices.
“Once we’ve dealt with these issues, I anticipate an upward trend to return for Published Brands.”
Mike Khouri, CEO, Tactical
“With marketing budgets on the rise, we expect to see brands embrace immersive tech to create increasingly personalised brand experiences.
“The goal however is never innovation for innovation’s sake, it’s about creating moments and narratives that resonate with your audience wherever they are.
“This may mean testing new platforms for the first time or incorporating new technologies, such as Augmented Reality (AR), into creative campaigns, but should always be done with an eye on driving value through tangible results today.”
Ian Liddicoat, CTO & Head of Data Science, Adludio
“With marketing budgets reaching growth levels not seen for almost a decade, the industry’s confidence in the face of prevailing economic headwinds is grounds for celebration.
“The confluence of artificial intelligence and marketing, highlighted by the report’s respondents as a key opportunity, is likely at the heart of this upswing.
“Having arguably been the poster child of marketers last year, we can expect the integration of sophisticated, proprietary AI-based technologies to continue in 2024 and beyond.
“Of particular note will be those that can support ad creativity. Indeed, despite budget increases, the spend allocated to digital campaigns will need to be working even harder – to cut above the noise of others and gain the attention of receptive UK consumers who remain in the grip of the cost of living crisis.
“AI-based technologies offer a solution here – especially those that can determine which creative elements, and what combination of these elements, are driving engagement and attention.
“This provides brands with not only the best-performing ads, but also creative intelligence that can be leveraged in future campaigns.
“To ensure long-term competitive advantage, these expanded marketing budgets should be channelled appropriately into these types of technologies.”
Mateusz Rumiński, VP of Product, PrimeAudience
“It is great to see in today’s report that marketing budgets are looking so strong. 2024 will be a significant year for the industry and all corners of the ecosystem will be adjusting to the loss of cookies.
“With the first 1% of third-party cookies having now been deprecated, and more to come later this year, I expect that budgets will be centred on privacy-focused approaches to advertising to maximise their money in the most effective ways.
“Capitalising on Google’s solutions, including the Privacy Sandbox, will ensure that brands stay on top of any further changes as the depreciation of cookies continues.
“PrimeAudience research with Censuswide found that 30% of senior marketers across the UK and US surveyed were still unsure how to use Google’s Protected Audience API, with 27% feeling the same about Google Topics.
“As such, marketers have an opportunity to focus their attention and well-earned budget on cookieless for 2024.”
Phil Acton, UK Country Manager, Adform
“Although facing lingering economic uncertainty, including the cost-of-living crisis that continues to put pressure on customer purchasing power, the latest IPA Bellwether results indicate that brands are not backing away but are doubling down.
“Now, brands need to make sure that these expanded marketing budgets are really changing the game and driving results.
“This means making meaningful investments in sustainable and outcome-driven technologies.
“Especially those capable of tackling the opportunities and challenges of the multi-ID world, providing privacy-compliant access to addressable audiences no matter the channel chosen. It is encouraging, therefore, to see technology listed by the IPA as a key area of growth.
“As the industry moves away from soon-to-be-deprecated cookies and burgeoning channels like CTV continue to accumulate users, brands who have already investigated such solutions are ahead of the game.”
Julia Bielecka-Dąbrowska, Head of Sales Development & Efficiency, RTB House
“The insights from the last quarter suggest a promising outlook for marketing budgets, defying initial recession predictions.
“Unsurprisingly, AI features heavily in anecdotes from businesses looking at key themes for 2024. It is no secret that the technology is evolving quickly and this will only continue, so while it may seem overwhelming to know where to best invest in AI, my advice is to begin with using it to better target audiences.
“As we enter the cookies-less era of marketing, new and innovative approaches to reaching audiences will be key. Education around how AI and deep learning technology can support this, allows marketers to decide the most efficient method of implementation for marketing budgets.
“With the right tools, marketers can maximise impact and target precisely with personalised ads, while keeping brand messaging front of mind. I expect to see more of this as we navigate the 2024 landscape with more fruitful budgets.”
Dominic Woolfe, UK Managing Director, EXTE
“Despite initial recession predictions for 2024, this report provides grounds for optimism, indicating a robust year ahead for marketers.
“One of the driving forces behind the renewed positivity in the industry has been the proliferation of AI and how it is transforming advertising beyond recognition.
“Through 2024, we’re going to see the dynamic interplay between creativity and advanced technology really break new ground, to offer an unparalleled user experience with endless creative opportunities.
“Future-gazing brands will be the ones that bring their products and services to life by combining beautiful and exciting AI-enhanced creatives with privacy-safe precision targeting that can place ads in the perfect context to capture the eyes of relevant consumers.
“With better creatives and improved placements and targeting, the effectiveness of ad campaigns will be boosted substantially.
“Ultimately, in 2024, we’ll enter a new era of digital advertising where creative executions start to truly connect with consumers and start becoming more engaging and enjoyable; in turn, deliver better ROI.
Hugh Stevens, Managing Director UK, LiveRamp
“Despite the economic turbulence of the past 12 months, online and main media marketing budgets across the previous few Bellwether reports have displayed a buoyant resilience.
“With the marked increase in this latest report, it is clear that brands have learned a key lesson: reducing marketing spend in the face of a crisis is detrimental to long-term growth, and instead marketers should look to drive media efficiency through effective data driven measurement.
“This was a point that resonated amongst senior UK marketers polled in our 2023 research into their key priorities. Nevertheless, this spend must still be allocated strategically.
“Indeed, the persistent cost of living crisis means consumer spending power remains squeezed, and the ongoing evolution in shopping behaviours will need to be navigated very carefully in 2024.
“As those FMCG and Retail brands surveyed by the IPA highlighted, success here will be through offering value and relevant buyer experiences. This means understanding the consumer and what matters most to them.
“The intention amongst surveyed brands to invest in technology is encouraging in this regard. Data collaboration solutions, which unite data from external and internal sources to unlock valuable and legal insight, can provide this view of consumers, who they are, what they like, and how to most effectively use this data.
“For example, brands who have adopted collaboration can understand the impact that different media touchpoints have across the customer journey and subsequently drive efficiencies – including optimising activations amongst responsive, high-value audiences.
“However, this is a fast-growing and competitive arena; for brands who have yet to underpin their 2024 marketing strategy with data collaboration, the clock is ticking.”
Toby McAra, CRO Making Science
“We are currently in a ‘stick or twist’ stage, and 2024 will be a year of efficient advertising or no advertising. Despite recession forecasts for the beginning of the year, marketing budgets are looking strong.
“Business leaders need to take advantage of this and do more to generate better margins, by looking for new ways to activate using AI-based tech, value-based bidding, and Customer Data Platforms (CDP) for first-party customer data.
“With the end of third-party cookies due this year, there will be an increased focus on understanding and leveraging first-party data.”
“While the interest in exploring AI in 2024 is to be expected, to do this successfully, businesses need to understand how they can do this effectively by investing in new tools to improve customer experience.”
Leonard Newnham, Chief Data Scientist, LoopMe
“Following the year of artificial intelligence in 2023, it’s no surprise that several firms intend to explore applying AI to their businesses in 2024.
“Adopting new AI tools to improve customer experiences and using predictive analysis to optimise budget allocation are some of the areas in which we can expect this trend to show up.
“With significant elections taking centre stage in 2024, AI could also help ad tech businesses solve privacy and targeting issues while protecting user data.
“Despite recession forecasts for the beginning of the year, with a boost in total marketing budgets, the application of AI will help ensure marketing dollars are invested wisely, focusing on confirmed consumer preferences over assumptions.”
Rob Ishag, RVP, Demand Sales, Northern Europe – TripleLift
“The streaming boom we are experiencing is undoubtedly one of the driving forces behind the continued growth in video budgets.
“Alongside the rise of new channels such as AVOD and FAST, non-traditional advertising formats – such as those with embedded QR codes, or in-show seamless integration – are taking the industry by storm, heralding a new age of programmatic advertising where brand storytelling can happen across hundreds of streaming TV channels in near real-time.
“It’s a huge opportunity for those advertisers who will be looking to make a splash during two highly-anticipated sporting events this summer, the Paris Olympics and UEFA’s European Football Championship, and beyond.”
Nick Reid, Managing Director, EMEA, DoubleVerify
“Whether it be the forthcoming deprecation of third-party cookies, or the fast-evolving newscycle challenges we expect with the various elections, there’s a lot that brands must prepare for this year.
“With this backdrop, to ensure advertising budgets are reaching their optimum ability, it’s crucial that brands are cognisant of both the challenges and opportunities when it comes to driving return from their responsible media investment.
“Brands that embrace solutions that harness factors such as Attention, Media Quality or Contextual relevance, will be the ones that not only orientate around suitability, but also harness those signals to drive improved business outcomes.
“The IPA Bellwether’s indication that AI and technology are key investment areas is encouraging in this regard. Indeed, we can see that brands already working with partners that leverage these solutions are ahead of the game.
“Especially those that utilise customisable AI for bespoke metrics like attention and return on ad spend.
“Meanwhile, those yet to investigate the benefits of these solutions are currently leaving value on the table; compromising the potential return on investment of their advertising budgets.”