Programmatic spend recovering, but some brands still shying away

Some of the biggest spenders are in education, entertainment, professional services, tech, home furnishings and finance.

“Back to normal” might seem like a difficult phrase to use in a post-COVID world – especially because the “new normal” will undeniably look very different from the previous normal, for quite some time. New data from MediaRadar shows that indeed, in some ways, programmatic advertising is on its way “back to normal,” but considering who’s buying the ads and what share of ads each category makes up, this “normal” is somewhat different from the old one.

Using January as a benchmark, the number of advertisers engaging in programmatic advertising was up 36% by the end of July. That’s also up 11% from last July, showing that programmatic spending is both on the rise in terms of pandemic recovery and in terms of the overall big picture.

For context, just prior to the pandemic, the number of advertisers spending on programmatic rose by just under 10% in two months. By April, the number of advertisers plummeted to 8% lower than the January total. While spending was down 8% in terms of number of advertisers spending, it was also down 9% in terms of dollars spent in April.

It’s since been a steady rise back, but not all advertisers are returning at the same rate.

In terms of dollars spent, some categories are spending far more on programmatic than they used to. Education and training is the biggest global change; those categories are up 70% from last year in terms of spend. In a distant second is media and entertainment, up 39%. While big venue-based entertainment advertisers like theatre companies or theme parks have largely stayed away from big spending (on all platforms), companies like TV and cable channels, SVODs and film distributors have invested in advertising to let people at home know what’s available for consumption. Professional services have also upped spend by 29%, tech by 22%, home furnishings by 18% and finance by 9%.

Most of these spend increases align well with consumption patterns – home tech has become increasingly vital in the work-from-home era, and many Canadians report feeling stressed financially.

By the same hand, a number of categories are still down in terms of their overall ad spend, even as recently as July. Retail is down 9% – even though many retail stores around Canada and beyond have reopened, the decrease in revenues and a rise in ecommerce and DTC means some have pulled back on advertising. Auto is also down on programmatic spending by 24%, and apparel by 25%.

But the most drastic – and not shocking – drop is travel. The category’s programmatic spend is still down 75% year-over-year. With leisure travel largely discouraged (and in some places, impossible), the category that once made up 8% of overall ad spend share now only makes up 1.7%.

Still, other trends indicate that although the programmatic picture is changing, it’s still likely on the rise as a favoured media channel. In Q2, 83% of advertisers diverted some percentage of their digital spend to programmatic, which is an increase of 76% from the same quarter in 2019.

But the proportions of who’s advertising might look different from here on out. Besides travel being down overall, apparel and accessories have also lost share in terms of programmatic – 3.3%, down from 4.3%.