As digital advertising continues to grow, this year we are predicted to see more online spend go to display ads than to search. eMarketer is predicting that in the US, spend on search in 2016 will reach $29.2bn (10% growth year-on-year) whereas spend on digital display will soar to $32.2bn (a 47% growth). This growth is expected to come not only from an increase in spend on Facebook ads and promoted Tweets, but especially on rich media and video ads.

This in a world where ad-blocking is an increasing reality and there is a temptation to believe a narrative that digital display would be in decline because of this. The truth is more likely to be that consumers are increasingly consuming entertainment digitally – be that viewing video content, conversations with friends, following their favourite YouTubers – they are expecting advertising to fit into this environment rather than play the role that print advertising often did – stuck alongside an article in a magazine. This would explain why the growth is being fuelled by digital display in social and by rich media and video ads, rather than by more traditional banners.

The growth of display leads to some clear implications for brands digital strategies – first in the role of search but then in how they are creating digital advertising.

The role of search

Search continues to be an important part of the digital advertising mix, but spend on this is beginning to plateau at the expense of display. Google, the major player in this space, has long known that the profits it makes from search activity will not continue to grow at the same rate and this is why its display and YouTube business will grow in importance for it.

What is more interesting is what this tells us about the role of search. As we move to increasingly accessing digital content through mobile devices, search is not our only (and sometimes not even our main) route to information and content. We are accessing information through apps, social channels and cards. Our digital experience is no longer just centred on search and on going to google.com.

The need for innovation in digital advertising

As the way we access and consume digital information changes, so we need to innovate the advertising we are placing in these spaces. The growth in spend is coming from more innovative spaces and formats and so the challenge for digital advertising in 2016 will be to develop more innovative and more compelling formats that:

Engage consumers, rather than just present them with an image that could have been in print

Fit with how they are consuming digital content, learning from behaviours we see with mobile devices

Present the kind of experiences they are looking for online, entertaining them and being relevant based on their behaviours and (perhaps) personal data

With digital there can be a temptation to always address big innovations – chasing the new platform and the new way with engaging people. The reality is that brands will get real benefit by innovating formats that already exist and that are continuing to grow. If we focus on just one trend for digital advertising in 2016 it should be about the growth in spend on digital display, and how we make these adverts the best and highest performing they possibly can be.

Matt Rhodes

About Matt Rhodes

Digital Strategy Director for work. Marathon runner and charity trustee for fun.

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