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Let’s just take a minute

30-second summary:

  • Look no further than recent events to see how our industry has rallied, with brands doing more of doing good
  • Technology has been a powerful instrument for driving much of this positive and meaningful change
  • As the advertising industry is in the midst of a total transformation with tech at the center of this evolution, let’s take a minute and recognize the opportunity we have here
  • Let’s continue to rally. To lead with our core human values. To use the same AI tech that’s helping to rebuild our society to also rebuild our industry.

Yes, our industry is undergoing a complete transformation.

Yes, it happens to line up to when we are all facing daily uncertainties in our society: When will I be able to get a vaccine? When can I gather maskless with my friends and family? Am I going to be able to bring my team back together in person this year? How do we talk about the very personal and important topics like equality and unrest that’s on all of our minds over video?

So, yes, it’s understandable that it feels a little off to focus on ad targeting amidst all this.

Actions speak louder than words

When the pandemic was first being felt, I remember sitting in a meeting where literally every person only wanted to talk about what they/we could do to help – as individuals and as a company.

Our leadership challenged us to see how our [Watson AI] tech could make an impact. Less than 30 days later, our engineers and data scientists had leveraged Watson to extract and analyze virus, geo and health system data to create a COVID Informational Hub across The Weather Channel properties reaching over 400 million people worldwide.

Fast forward just a month or so and the country was yet again confronting racial equality disparities.

So the Ad Council used the same AI tech in its award-winning “Love Has No Labels” campaign – a movement to promote acceptance and inclusion of all people across race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability.

By using AI to predict the right creative elements and messages to display, the campaign improved performance including site conversation – but also, and arguably more importantly, generated insights about what messages and tones could move people to act.

Here we are again at a new phase of the pandemic and The Ad Council is at it again, along with a record number of the most influential brands, doubling down on AI to help drive their global initiative to combat vaccine hesitancy – one of the largest public health outreach efforts of our time.

With a third of the US population questioning whether to be vaccinated, education is sorely needed. The creative must be personal. It must be dynamic. It must speak to the diverse universe. It must resonate. Not to drive dollars, but to drive survival.

A future rooted in core human values

Sure, I think it’s pretty amazing that IBM’s Watson AI is at the heart of brands doing good, better. But mostly, I just like that as brands, we’re all doing more of doing good.

I’m hopeful that we keep the investment in the best of us and our brands coming as our society moves forward. That the commitment so many brands are making to put their values on full display increases. And that we apply that same inner calling to do the right thing to how we approach our industry’s transformation.

Imagine the future we can build.  I like that version for the rest of 2021 and beyond. A marketing and media industry that applies its core human values to the next era of advertising, and a marketing and media industry that markets what it believes in addition to what it has to sell.

Win. Win.


Randi Stipes is the Chief Marketing Officer of IBM Watson Advertising, The Weather Company and Developer Marketing, a position she has held since 2018, focused on both the B2C and B2B aspects of the portfolio. In her role, she takes an agile, data-driven approach to deliver measurable results for consumers and clients across The Weather Company, Watson Media and Watson Advertising.

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45% of retailers plan to spend more on social media advertising in 2021 vs 2020

30-second summary:

  • Social media ad automation company Smartly.io, polled 300 leaders from global retail organizations to see how their social media advertising process changed in 2020 versus 2019
  • The poll revealed that 74% of respondents allocated at least a third of their marketing budget in 2020 to social media ads, with most planning to increase social ad spend in 2021
  • Respondents planned to increase their social ad spend in 2021, with the lion’s share of budget going to Facebook, followed by Twitter and Instagram
  • Smartly.io published the poll results in a report that contains key suggestions for planning a retail social media marketing strategy in 2021
  • You can download the full 2021 social advertising trends report from ClickZ.

A poll of 300 leaders from retail organizations around the world, conducted by Smartly.io and the eTail conference series, revealed that 74% of respondents had allocated at least one third of their marketing budget to social media advertising.

Respondents indicated they plan to increase their social ad spend in 2021, with the lion’s share of their social ad budget going to Facebook, followed by Twitter, and then Instagram.

The poll included retail leaders from the US, UK, India, Australia,, Indonesia, and Canada, with 34% of respondents from other locations.

Below, we highlight some of Smartly.io’s findings. You can download the full report, Global Social Advertising Trends in 2021: How Brands Are Adapting to Disruption and Changing Consumer Habits, from here.

Content created in partnership with Smartly.io.

Facebook reigns supreme

Smartly.io’s research revealed that global social media advertising budgets increased in 2020 compared to 2021. Most organizations spent between 31% and 50% of their overall ad budgets on social media versus 26% to 50% the previous year.

Facebook was the most popular platform for retailers to advertise on, with 93% of respondents indicating they were currently buying ads on Facebook. Other top platforms include Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok.

The following chart illustrates the top advertising platforms among survey respondents:

social media advertising

Instagram provided the highest return on ad spend (ROAS), per 40% of survey respondents, up from 21% in 2019. Spend varies depending on country, with the US and Europe spending more on Instagram ads than other countries.

Writes Smartly.io: “Although about 25% of Asian organizations prioritize Instagram, most others prioritize Facebook and LinkedIn for their ad budget.”

Although Instagram had a higher ROAS versus other platforms, 76% of brands indicated they planned to increase their spending on Facebook ads in 2021.

This appears to be at the expense of other platforms, with about 40% of respondents indicating they planned to increase their spend on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn this year. Additionally, about 18-24% of brands plan to decrease spend on the latter three platforms, as illustrated in the following chart.

Manual ad management is a challenge

Over 70% of respondents struggle with manually managing their social media ads. The challenges of ad management include:

  • Difficulty creating original, well-differentiated content.
  • Social media ads are under scrutiny by consumers.
  • Creating organic, engaging ads is time consuming.

While most respondents agreed that some manual management is necessary to create engaging, unique, and personalized social media ads, most were open to automation.

90% of respondents said they didn’t use automation technology to facilitate social media ad development and management in 2020, but 81% indicated that they were interested in automating at least part of the process, up from 65% in 2019.

Writes Smartly.io, “Automating the creation and delivery of advertising content can reduce manual processes in the advertising process and save teams significant amounts of time.”

The benefits of social media advertising automation

Most respondents said they optimized ad delivery using first or third-party data, but there was more work to be done in terms of creating more personalized ad messaging at scale. Smartly.io notes that automation breaks creative siloes, enabling better communication across an organization.

While 71% of respondents felt their marketing and creative teams collaborate effectively in all stages of the marketing process, the report revealed that a key trend for 2021 is a push for social media advertising and creative teams to work more closely together.

“By bringing these two teams together, retailers have the potential to generate social media advertisements that speak to their customer segments on a personal level, improving ROAS and generating more opportunities to optimize social as a channel,” writes Smartly.io.

Other key trends include:

  • 45% of retailers plan to spend more on social media advertising in 2021 versus 2020.
  • 40% of respondents plan to expand their marketing team to better manage social media advertising.
  • 39% of respondents plan to manage social media in-house.
  • 30% will invest in more robust social media advertising tools.

2021 social media advertising planning

Smartly.io’s report includes a comprehensive list of all trends gleaned from their survey with strategies that retailers can build into their social media marketing plan for 2021.

Examples include: diversifying social media advertising channels, increasing Facebook spend to remain competitive, and automating some of the ad collaboration, development, and management processes.

You can download Smartly.io’s complete 2021 social advertising trends report here.

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