WARC sees rebound in UK advertising sector in 2021

UK ad industry DOOH

Ad industry insights body WARC predicts that the UK ad market is set to rebound this year after trailing in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic started. 

The latest AA/WARC Expenditure Report anticipates 15.2% growth in the UK’s advertising market in 2021, ahead of other key markets including the US and China. 

This is due to strong online activity, particularly within the e-commerce and online video sectors, according to the new data published today.

WARC: A strong year ahead

In 2021, the UK ad market is set to accelerate past last year’s decline and back into growth to push past 2019’s high (£25.37 billion) and reach of £26.69 billion, the WARC said.

While plenty of uncertainty remains, glimmers of hope surrounding the vaccine, and a Brexit trade deal finally in place, provide the foundations for recovery.

The sectors hit hardest stand to make a strong recovery, with cinema expected to grow 228.4% reflecting its almost year-long 2020 shutdown.

Other expected strong performers include:

  • digital out of home at 53.6%
  • traditional out of home at 37.7%
  • video on demand at 21.2%

2020: Rough but better than expected

The preliminary estimate for growth in 2020 now stands at -7.9% with adspend of £23.17bn, a marked improvement of +6.6 percentage points on the previous outlook, thanks mostly to a boost in online adspend, spurred by increased e-commerce penetration.

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WARC data

While the UK ad market declined -7.7% on a Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) basis during 2020, this was softer than the -10.2% decline of the global advertising market and that of the rest of Europe (-13.7%). 

The first nine months of 2020 registered a particularly sharp dip, in which spend plummeted -11.1% to £16.2 billion.

“Not only does the data show the overall decline expected in 2020 may be less than feared, but the recovery in 2021 will be stronger than we would have dared hope even a few months ago,” commented Stephen Woodford, CEO of the Advertising Association.

Online boost

A better-than-expected headline decline of 3.3% in Q3 2020 is considerable in light of the gloomy (-17.9%) October 2020 forecasts, mostly thanks to booming online spend.

  • Internet spending grew by 10.1% to reach $4.2 billion during the quarter
  • Search spend, key to capturing increased demand for e-commerce, grew 14.5%, closely followed by online display (pure play) at 13.9% growth

James McDonald, Head of Data Content at WARC explained that the largest online companies benefited hugely from consumption and commerce migrating online, and that ad money followed.

“Paid search – which accounts for over a third of all advertising spend in the UK – was the format that gained most from a surging e-commerce sector.

“Ancillary research by WARC shows that online sales recorded a six-year leap in penetration in 2020, as e-commerce’s share of all UK retail value rose by 8.4 percentage points to 27.6%. 

“This rate was ahead of China (24.9%) and double that of the US (13.4%) last year.”

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WARC data

Welcome news

Reacting to the latest results, Ali MacCallum, CEO UK, Kinetic Worldwide, stated that it was welcome news to start the year: “Not only was last year’s decline gentler than feared, but that recovery is set to be stronger than we had imagined.

“The current lockdown has – inevitably – set us back, but we’re confident that brands and agencies now have robust enough plans in place to move quickly when the worst is over.

Anne Stagg, UK CEO at Merkle, struck a note of cautious optimism, saying: “Clearly, the months ahead may not be smooth sailing, but tentatively, we can expect 2021 will be stronger than we could have imagined mere months ago as brands are better prepared and willing to adapt to the change required to make a difference.”