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Hindsight is 202(3): Assessing the Ad Industry’s Trending Topics

September 19, 2023

With the midpoint of the year fading into the rearview mirror, attention is naturally turning to Q4. As companies across the advertising industry ramp up for a busy quarter, it’s worthwhile to consider where we were last year and look back at the trends that industry experts claimed to foresee coming down the pipeline. 

Top of mind, of course, were the numerous new ways advertisers would be able to reach consumers and determine which of these emergent solutions would dominate the market. At the time, trending topics included the evolving role of connected TV (CTV), how cookieless solutions would alter the market and an ongoing debate on whether or not we were in a recession. Also on the agenda: the metaverse and what it would mean for marketers— many predicted it would prove itself a new medium for engagement and an ecommerce powerhouse

Throughout the metaverse’s inception, virtual experiences have served as its initial gateway, and brands such as Hyundai, Nike and Forever 21 have created their own experiences in attempts to blend the physical and digital worlds. However, this emergent technology is still under development, and halfway through the year, generative artificial intelligence (AI) has surged forward in the collective consciousness. This technology has dominated online and in-person discussions in 2023 as it continues to rise in popularity — 37% of marketers report using it to assist in their daily tasks. 

How these topics will continue to play out throughout the rest of the year remains to be seen. Getting the jump on those end-of-year predictions, we’ve asked industry experts to give us their status updates for the year in marketing and where it’s headed in the all-important Q4. 

Decoding the AI Insanity

AI has taken over the conversation. It went beyond a recurring theme — “If I hear one more person say AI this week, I’ll punch them in the face,” Gary Vaynerchuk joked, at the start of VanyerMedia’s Cannes panel: “Everything is Different, Nothing Has Changed,” Still, it was a valid cause for both jokes and concern for marketers. Would the AI craze be marketing— and the Internet’s— next big thing?  

So far, things are full-stream ahead. Many predict this trend will continue as we close out 2023. Gregory Galant, CEO of Muck Rack, believes that the next wave of AI hype will look more towards the future, and technological advancements in development— and that advertisers must have their first-party data solutions locked down to take advantage of these upcoming technologies. 

Galant said, “While generative AI is what everyone’s talking about now, the next phase will focus more on data insights that will not just save time on content creation but will revolutionize how we work, giving us insights into how, when and where to reach audiences based on data we’ve just never had such easy access to before.” 

Also under consideration — how will creativity play a role in the AI insanity? Some creatives look forward to handing off the less desirable elements of production to a machine that can do things in half the time. Others fear having creatives edged out by increasingly sophisticated solutions. Kate Wolff, CEO and founder of Lupine Creative and co-chair of programming and operations at Do the WeRQ, said these questions will dominate the AI discussion in the latter half of the year. 

How can creatives leverage these powerful tools in a moral and equitable way – which doesn’t eclipse their own contribution to the industry?” she asked, citing that establishing these industry standards will play a role in how advertisers understand generational evolution and advance valuable diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. 

While the major developments within AI are fascinating, the implementation of this technology is still leaving many scratching their heads. The roles it will take on in marketing and beyond are as yet undefined. While the initial results are promising, these considerations still need to be determined in order to transform this solution into an industry staple. 

Cookieless, Creeping In

It wouldn’t be a discussion of the ad tech industry without mentioning the persistent depreciation delay of third-party cookies. Last July, marketers were spared (again) when Google pushed back the depreciation of third-party cookies to 2024. But naturally, this new deadline still looms overhead, and conversations surrounding alternatives are still hot-button issues at industry tentpole events. 

As early as mid-July, Google announced that it reached the end of phase one in enabling its Privacy Sandbox kit. As for the devaluing of third-party cookies, it’s projected this will begin in early 2024, with plans to finalize the roll-out by Q3. 

Proactivity is the name of the game. Yoshuan Feeney-Pastrana, director of growth and partnerships at Roqad said, “For the past few months, we’ve been seeing a steady rise in the noise surrounding Chrome deprecating third-party cookies. We expect to hear more of that over the next several months and people who have not been preparing will start to get very scared in late September or early October when Google makes no further move to extend the deadline.” 

Many marketers have already begun to make the transition to first-party data, building out their databases. Still, debate rages on about the best alternate means to build out and collect consumer data, and how current technological solutions will consolidate to create the new industry standard. 

Zach Rosen, Vice President & Head of North American Publishers, Addressability at LiveRamp predicts that the necessity for innovation will only ramp up in the latter half of 2023. 

“Marketers and media owners alike need to adapt and invest in authenticated identifiers to thrive in the future,” said Rosen. “With growing fragmentation in this complex landscape, interoperability among various solutions will be critical to the success of our ecosystem.”

These efforts to consolidate a consumer’s identity will likely lead to increased personalization, and actionable insights to help lead consumers down the marketing funnel— while maintaining a compliant level of anonymity for consumers. With a surge of privacy laws taking effect at the start of the year, and more planned for implementation into 2024, walking the line between personalization and privacy-compliance is more important than ever. 

Reneging on the Recession

Last year, many of the top trends came with a caveat to their necessity: a potential recession, which sparked a wave of layoffs. Except, as the year has panned out, this expected recession did not pan out the way economists or industry experts predicted. 

It has been a slower year for the industry— recent reports suggest a 3.4% growth this year, compared to a predictive 3.7%—  however, the economy looks to be avoiding the ultimate recession many feared at the end of last year. The rise of retail media networks and a surge in ad-supported video streaming are credited with the industry’s economic resilience. However, advertisers must be cognizant of financial considerations amongst their target audiences. As always, be timely, not tone-deaf.  

At the Ad Industry Crossroads

As we approach the end of the year, debate will doubtlessly rage regarding the best solutions to propel advertising forward. Be it AI or CTV, advertisers must think beyond what’s new and consider the solutions that will endure and bring positive transformation to the advertising industry.