Industry-insights | 07 min read

Six advertising trends of 2016: reviewed

In the words of The Doors, this is the end…the end of 2016 that is.

And yes, while it hasn’t always been pretty, it’s been a rollercoaster of a year for advertising trends. So buckle up, keep your hands inside the car, and let’s review six trends of 2016.

1. Programmatic comes of age

Up first it’s programmatic advertising, which, as predicted, is making its presence felt. Last year we predicted that spending on programmatic would be huge, and we were right. Not only that but it’s growing at a colossal rate and predicted to get even bigger in 2017. The stats: worldwide, advertisers spent $5bn in 2012 but that figure now stands at $39bn in 2016. A massive 71% growth in four years.

This could be down to the fact that programmatic offers efficiency and visibility that few other methods can. Today marketers need to know the impact of their digital campaigns. In the uncertain times of 2016, programmatic provides advertisers with unprecedented statistics. We predicted growth across digital channels and the ability to state the value of programmatic is no doubt another reason for its uptake.

In fact, we also said that marketers would shift the focus of their display ad campaigns away from awareness, towards ROI. Indeed, 2016 has seen a move to more nuanced and data-driven display ad campaigns. A change in strategy that is only going to get more pronounced in the coming years.

2. Ad-blocking – continues but maybe overhyped?

At the end of 2015, we predicted that advertisers would still be looking for a way around ad-blocking in 2016 and we were right. Again. Intriguingly there’s evidence to support that ad-blocking isn’t the problem we first thought. In particular, research seems to suggest that spending on digital advertising in the UK is still growing. But the same research also suggests that advertisers want more information on the effectiveness of ad campaigns. Is this connected to the rise in programmatic advertising? Maybe.

Ad-blocking is still here and it isn’t going away anytime soon. In Germany, the trend for ad-blocking is decreasing but within certain demographics, such as young males, it continues to rise. However, better-designed display ads and better targeting are just some of the ways in which its impact can be lessened.

3. Mobile first – Google shakes up the market

Mobile first advertising was always going to be big but then Google changed everything. This autumn Google announced it would move towards using a mobile first index as the “primary” index that its search engine uses. The reason for this change was that the mobile version of some websites had less content on than the desktop version. This caused problems for Google’s algorithm when ranking pages. For most websites in 2017 this isn’t going to be a problem but for others, this could mean a total reconstruction. Basically, the same information must be displayed on the mobile and desktop sites. Simple.  

The good news is that those sites that are already responsive will not have anything to fear. Those with separate mobile and desktop versions will have to merge, or, face a rapid drop Google’s index. The lesson Google is teaching advertisers is that if your website isn’t responsive, it’s dead to us. Mobile is now the number one device, and advertisers should be investing in creating a better ad experience. Add this change to flash going the way of the dodo in January and we’re set for even more interesting 2017.

4. Real-time content

The summer of 2016 was a bonanza of sport. One industry that took full advantage of using a real-time content strategy was the online betting industry. It implemented a plan of getting information into the hands of its customers before they even knew they needed it. The results were clear in the UK: online betting firms handled £80 million during the two-week period of the Rio Olympics. Compared with £4 million for the Beijing Games.

With tools such as Bannerflow leading the way, there was never a better year for advertisers to embrace real-time content. Advertisers now have the flexibility and technology that allows them to create display ads in real-time. No longer do advertisers suffer from inflexible banner ads. Instead, platforms now enable advertisers to update banners in real-time through cloud advertising. Real-time content is a trend that is set to continue into 2017.

5. Virtual reality

The shift to virtual reality (VR) hasn’t been quite as dramatic as we anticipated (though we had a hunch this would be the case). We’ve seen impressive ads including Mercedes’ GLS campaign, and Google’s recent “Window wonderland” experience. But VR has not taken off like we predicted. There can be no doubt VR offers intense experiences that users crave. But with Google entering the market in late 2016, 2017 could see VR emerge as a vital component of the advertising ecosystem.  To put it mildly, we’re still at the tip of the iceberg in terms of VR making an impact on the population en masse.

Yet, VR opened the door for the use of other sensations in 2016. Though those wanting to try Ubisoft’s Nosulus Rift may be in for a disappointment. The parody tech, which stimulates a user’s sense of smell, is currently only available at demos for the latest South Park game. And as you may have guessed, the smells simulated were not for the faint hearted (or the serious gamer).    

6. (…and one we didn’t mention) Augmented reality

Last year we predicted that marketers would find a way to embrace the coming of VR but it hasn’t been the hit we expected. Instead, the use of augmented reality (AR) has taken the world of marketing by surprise – with astounding results. Pokémon GO was the supreme ruler of mobile gaming this summer and the greatest hint that AR had gone mainstream.

But it wasn’t the hilarity of watching kids (and bigger kids) scramble for Pokémon that was compelling for marketers. It was the opportunities that lay in reaching out to the hooked gamers; a lucrative captive audience of millennials. Within a month of its successful launch McDonalds in Japan was the first brand to grasp this new reality. It paid for 3,000 of its stores to become “Pokémon gyms”. The key to McDonalds’ success: the Pokémon players had to visit its restaurants – win. Other brands have got on the bandwagon since then with the latest being Starbucks in the US. Anyone for a Pokémon Frappuccino? Yeah, that’s a thing now.

By using AR, it’s clear brands are rewarded by consumers when they chose to be innovative. But the clear winner has to be the platforms that host the advertising.  Snap Inc. or as we like to call them, Snapchat, has had an incredible year with the application of AR. With over 100 million users, a great many of them millennials, Snapchat is setting the gold standard in the monetisation of AR. In August of 2016 it launched Geofilters, branded filters that users attached to their pictures. These have proved popular. Along with the use of sponsored lenses, Snapchat has had a remarkable year.

The key to the success of AR for marketers? The reach and engagement among the key millennial market.  And the reason for this? They are fun extensions of their users own content. With a hatred of intrusive ads, Snapchat’s geofilters, and Pokémon GO’s sponsored gyms, allow users to express themselves without interruption. A fact not lost on Snap Inc. which recently launched its first tech product: Spectacles. Yes, glasses, but glasses that allow the user to record and filter their own content in a fun way. No doubt there are plans afoot as to how brands can advertise through the new tech.  


So that was 2016 in six trends. In some ways things went exactly as planned, but in others, not so much. It’s been a year of change and no doubt the next year will prove just as radical. If 2016 is anything to go by then stand-by for fresh channels, novel crazes, and technology that opens unexpected doors.

By the way, if you’ve enjoyed this review of 2016 then check out our predictions for 2017. We’ve been gazing into crystal balls, connecting with force ghosts, and analysing coming trends that we think will be rocking the world of advertising. Checkout our blogs on coming technology trends, and what we think will be hot in advertising for 2017. Hopefully like 2016 we’ll get a fair few right…if not, then we’ll be analysing the reasons why.

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