As we come to the end of 2020, the advertising landscape still continues to change at a remarkable pace, accelerated by the impact of Covid-19 and the move (even more) towards digital. But as the digital giants continue to line their pockets and accelerate into new heights of market share and profit, what does this mean for the future of marketing?

Advertising, particularly digital, is set to continue its trajectory of growth in 2021 as the news of vaccines brings hope, globally. Despite the pending Brexit and a very likely recession, there’s the return to ‘normal’ on the horizon, bringing with it restored consumer confidence and positivity. 

But for now, here’s our guide to what should be on your 2021 radar, what the coming changes mean for student marketers and how you should approach advertising in the post-Covid world. 

With more power, comes less trust 

While the big digital players may have had a bumper year, trust in these companies is at an all-time low. Issues of ‘Antitrust’ will be key in 2021, with Google and Facebook facing lawsuits on monopoly charges, the EU launching a competition law case against Amazon and India investigating Google Pay. We don’t yet know the outcome of these cases, or what the long-term effects will be. But if consumer trust in these brands is eroded, you may need to look at where you’re advertising. Understand your audience’s opinions and sentiment with the likes of our Online Study Survey, to understand the effects of this mistrust and how your advertising is resonating in the current landscape. 

Moreover, are you inadvertently funding unethical, illegal practices, or even fake news and hate sites? We take this seriously, and use blacklists, whitelists and negative keyword advertising to ensure our and our client’s activity is not contributing to these practices, and we work alongside CAN’s initiative to end advertising abuse. With BLM, diversity and Stop Hate For Profit so key to the conversation in 2020, head-in-the-sand ignorance is no longer an option. So make sure you stay up to date with what your audience are thinking and feeling about these platforms, and look to their core values and practices before investing substantial advertising budgets.

Be on the right side of the behavioural swings

Consumer behaviour changes are nothing new; they have been constantly evolving long before the pandemic hit. However Covid-19 has undoubtedly exacerbated the swing towards digital. While the likes of Zoom, Hangouts and Teams coming into their own during lockdown, we’ve also seen Instagram, Snapchat and Tiktok driving new launches of online products tailored to suit this uniquely-2020 captive audience. ​


And it’s not just the Silicon Valley giants walking this path. UK institutions, such as the University of Derby and University of Kent have launched their own gamification of their campuses, as well as holographic Open Day tours. And out of the HE sector, L’Oreal Paris have been offering virtual makeovers with savvy AI to shift their stock whilst drugstores’ doors are closed. We expect to see more of this blur of hybrid ‘IRL’ and online-presence to continue through to 2021, and we’re even predicting that we could wave goodbye to the printed prospectus once and for all next year too.

Traditional spend has had a hard 2020, but out of it comes interesting developments such as the growth of programmatic OOH for 2021. Print has suffered, but the digital publishers could stand to gain from the phasing out of third-party cookies, which will drive increased value of context over audience and first-party data.

And talking of cookies…

Mourning the cookie-world

As the digital display ad empire continues to reign and rule, the quest for the ultimate personalised online journey continues. But as cookies will soon be a thing of the past, you may need to rethink your marketing strategies. Beware of stress investing: be smart and get prepared now. Ask your agency about what they will be doing to target people post-cookie, read our ultimate guide to cookies and data regulation and, ultimately, don’t panic. The internet is not going to shut down overnight, and there are lots of options, even if you lack first-party data, so get in touch and we can help show you the way. 

The season of sharing (...soon to return)

It’s been exciting to see the sharing economy continue to grow in recent years (think, Airbnb, and Uber) but then Covid-19 came crashing in and broke up that party. For the first time ever, UberEats made more money than Uber’s main business of rides. But with the sharing trend’s strong curve pre-pandemic, we expect to see this pick up again mid-2021 once vaccines begin to roll out and lockdowns start to ease.  ​


The first wave of the sharing economy grew out of the last recession, and we could see the same type of behaviour as we come out of this pandemic. The original idea for the sharing economy was linked to cooperation and advances in technology (smartphones, etc.), enabling communities to pool their resources and achieve more social, sustainable consumption. The concept here could be relevant to the HE sector; universities have huge diverse communities, and it will be interesting to see the innovation and opportunities that are unlocked. As an example, we are already seeing incredibly smart companies, based in Europe, that are linked to data coming out of the restrictions that GDPR has imposed on us; necessity breeding innovation. So what will happen here is the space to watch.

And a note to leave on

 We look at a lot of reports on averages across the sector, but it is worth noting, they are just averages. At Net Natives, we are always driving for growth and picking the most relevant, most impactful strategies for our clients, specifically under these challenging economic circumstances. Through our research and insight, we have a strong grasp of students’ changing behaviours and mindsets and are constantly evolving and innovating our approach to define our strategies and meet these needs; in other words, who needs averages? 

It’s been a unique year to say the least, and looking back to our 2020 forecast, we know anything could happen. So we’ll be eager to see how these predictions shape up in twelve months’ time. But one thing is for sure, we’re constantly on the lookout for new and exciting innovations, intriguing trends that are waiting to be maximised and clever ways to solve our clients’ issues. If you’d like to read more about the advertising landscape and get to know our out-of-the-box thinking even more, download our Think Innovation report today.

And if you would like to discuss any of these topics, then do get in touch and we’ll be happy to hear your thoughts. Here’s to the next year of advertising (r)evolution. 

Article by

Tom Setter

Director of Advertising