Dentsu dials back ad spend predictions slightly

The company's Media Brands president Hisham Ghostine on where Canada's strengths and weaknesses lie.
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There’s no one big economic tragedy or phenomenon that has caused Dentsu Aegis Network to dial back its global ad spend forecast, says the company’s Media Brands president Hisham Ghostine. It’s simply an accumulation of little things, a slow 2019 and “general economic struggle” that has led the agency to be a little less bullish in the recently revised report.

“That doesn’t mean there won’t be growth,” he says. Global ad spend is now set to grow 3.9% in 2020, according to the company, to US$615 billion. Initially, in its mid-year report in July, Dentsu predicted a 4.1% lift for the year.

Although the mid-year report showed that Canada would remain resilient, this time around, Dentsu dialed back expectations for Canada just slightly. Previously predicted to grow by 5.7% this year, Dentsu predicted a more modest growth of 5.5%, slowing down to 3.9% in 2021 (however, Dentsu also published its 2019 actual totals, which saw that Canada’s market grew just slightly more than anticipated at 5.4%, up from 5.3%). Overall, Canada’s ad spend is expected to hit $13.4 billion this year, dialed back from the previous $13.5 billion.

Most of the individual markets are all declining, says Ghostine, with the exception of France, U.S., Brazil, Australia and the broader LatAm region. Those countries have had their spend predictions lifted. Ghostine explains to MiC how, in the case of the U.S. and Canada, two countries so close can have such different outlooks.

“In general, the U.S. is a more resilient market than we are,” he says. Besides naturally high-spend events like the U.S. presidential election and the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic games, he says the U.S. has also demonstrated a bit more innovation on ad formats. “They’re way ahead of us in connected TV, e-commerce and search. They continue to be ahead of the curve.”

But Ghostine says things are looking up for Canada in terms of ad innovations, particularly on TV. When he last spoke to MiC nearly a year ago, Ghostine was not enthusiastic about developments in Canada’s TV landscape, specifically ones that are driving toward “programmatic-style” buying. He admits he’s since changed his tune.

“The base is still very low, so last year, I didn’t see any signs that it was scalable. But I think the players, specifically Bell and Rogers, have felt the heat to more aggressively pursue the way they’re approaching this. I think we’ll see more connected TV development, more connections through apps, within the TV market itself.”

Despite the fact that ad spend overall won’t grow as much as initially anticipated, there is more stability predicted in the TV and radio market. Television will see modest growth (0.6%) in 2020, followed by flatness in 2021. Radio will grow by 1.7% in 2020 (nearly three times as much as initially predicted) and 0.8% in 2021.

It’s the increasing digitization of those mediums that Ghostine says is helping to keep traditional media strong. “The world is digitized, to the point where we shouldn’t talk digital anymore, because everything in media has been digitized already,” he says. “Connected TV is a major driver. The supply side is growing year-over-year, and we’ve seen some innovations in set-top boxes, we’ve seen Rogers Ignite install 250,000 units in Ontario alone.”

He says that although radio is losing some listeners to digital audio, voice and smart speakers have kept audio accessible to most consumers. This year, a predicted 4.08 billion people worldwide will own the devices; by 2023, that number will nearly double.

And, he adds, advertisers have been happy to embrace radio as both an efficient medium for reach and a fraud-free environment with few safety concerns. “We are seeing clients demand more efficient and safe ways to buy.”

Spend in online video is expected to grow by 14.6% in 2020, but Ghostine says he expects that to be driven more by premium and long-form video than by user-generated, short-form content. “I think we’ve had enough of outstream – which is not going to say it won’t grow, but we’re going to see more premium content being watched, and see the appetite shift from those quick-videos to the lean-forward media.”