2021 Mobile Marketing Outlook Includes Accelerated Ad Spend, Contextual Focus

The year ahead promises a plethora of technological, societal and legislative developments that will have significant implications for mobile marketing -- many more than could possibly be covered in a single column.

Still, in this installment of Mobile Insider, we’ll venture to highlight a few key trends and predictions from a few expert sources, starting with eMarketer’s just-released Mobile Advertising Outlook 2021 report.

While the coronavirus pandemic initially dampened U.S. mobile ad spending, it has ultimately had the opposite effect, points out Yoram Wurmser, eMarketer principal analyst, Insider Intelligence.

The pandemic drove increased video streaming, gaming and mobile shopping, which in turn accelerated advertisers’ exploration of new platforms and publishers’ creation of new mobile products, he writes.

As a result, eMarketer has increased its mobile ad-spending projection modestly — now forecasting that it will reach $156.38 billion by 2023, instead of the pre-pandemic estimate of $155.26 billion.

Wurmser also predicts that app clips — the small parts of apps that allow users to quickly complete tasks like ordering food or paying for parking — will shift app install advertising. 

iOS 14’s App Tracking Transparency framework, by compelling app developers to notify users if they want to track and share their data using Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), “will make personalized advertising and attribution more difficult, but also accelerate the shift from waterfall auctions to contextual advertising,” he writes.

iOS 14 also gives users the chance to opt in to “imprecise” location tracking, and makes the first 24 hours after install more important to users and marketers, he points out. 

Wurmser sees a strong recovery ahead for local search. He says that iPhone 12 will “supercharge” mobile augmented reality; that regulations will further limit the supply of precise location data; that mobile will gain more premium OTT minutes; and that “turmoil” in the casual game market will open opportunities for brands; and in-app contextual advertising will advance significantly. 

The contextualization of mobile advertising is also highlighted in a 2021 Industry Pulse Report from digital ad-verification company Integral Ad Science, based on a survey of more than 200 advertising industry executives.

Fully 66% of respondents said they believe that sophisticated tools for assessing content within apps will drive innovation, particularly in mobile contextual advertising. In addition, 58% cited 5G’s effects on mobile gaming and advertising as major trends in the year ahead.

At mobile attribution and analytics company Adjust, Chief Product Officer Katie Madding argues that, with revenue in the video-streaming segment expected to grow to $30.4 billion by 2024, “the opportunity that OTT media afford mobile marketers is enormous, yet largely untapped.” 

“As mobile marketers tap into OTT and ratchet up their spending on advertising for user acquisition, the question for 2021 is really how they’re spending and how they attribute users,” Madding stresses. “Many companies are investing heavily in OTT, but often have no way of understanding what drives value. Measurement is the answer.”  

With ad targeting set to get harder on iOS 14, Madding also sees subscription-based apps becoming a key revenue stream for many publishers and advertisers. Those apps are multiplying and seeing increased adoption — particularly by Gen Z and millennial consumers, who often give up other services to spend about $26 per month on apps, she says. They also represent high value for marketers and publishers in the form of “stickiness.” 

“For marketers, the priority going into the new year — particularly when we get back to relative normality — will be how to retain the users they gained during 2020, and how to build more utility into their apps,” says Andy Chandler, vice president customer success at Adjust. “The pandemic has proven the value in going one step further and really thinking about what it is your users need, especially in very difficult times. As with any successful brand, it’s about putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and seeing what small things your company can do to make their lives easier and safer.” 

“Marketing and product development should continue to work closely to ensure they’re retaining the organic users gained during the last year with relevant, helpful and most importantly, personal advertising,” adds Adjust co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Paul H. Müller. Mobile marketers will lean into automation to handle myriad  channels, campaigns and advertising networks in 2021, and the most successful ones will use the freed-up time for “hyper-personalized” creative, he says. 

Other key mobile trends cited by experts include social commerce and shoppable ads, location-targeted ads, audio marketing, voice search, user-generated content, and conversational chatbots — all fodder for columns, or maybe books, of their own.

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