2021: Reflecting on a year of recovery

Posted on Tuesday 07 December 2021 | Jon Mew - CEO, IAB UK

The past year has been a process of recovery, resetting and reintroduction to some form of ‘normal life’, writes our CEO Jon Mew

After last year, I think it’s fair to say that we all embarked on 2021 feeling somewhat uncertain. Would the vaccine rollout work? Would our industry recover quickly? Would we ever be heading back to the office? We had a lot of questions and, as we counted down those wintery lockdown weeks, it all hung on the success of the jabs. 

Almost 12 months on and uncertainty has slowly but surely been replaced with a growing confidence. 2021 has been a process of recovery, resetting and reintroduction to some form of “normal life”. It’s been a year where vax-chat has become standard, where we ventured back to work, experienced the joy of IRL conversations and the novelty of Pret. Live sports returned to stadiums, borders opened up, we silently and mutually agreed never to utter ‘Zoom quiz?’ ever again, and Bond finally premiered. 

For the digital ad industry, it’s been a year of record growth and startling innovation. Our half-year Adspend results show that digital spend surged by 49% year-on-year in the first six months of 2021, hitting a huge £10.5bn. Meanwhile, this year’s Digital Upfronts celebrated cutting-edge developments - from the burgeoning growth of the metaverse to the advancement of in-game formats and trailblazing podcast products. 

It’s also been a year of stark challenges. The HFSS online ad ban has seen the Government prioritise ineffectual but headline-grabbing policy over the smarter, digital first solutions that our industry put forward and are continuing to lobby for. I’m also very aware that while the overall digital ad market has hit record highs, growth is not universal and many of our members are continuing to navigate challenges that have been compounded by the pandemic. 

At the IAB, one of our unique roles is our ability to bring our members together - to learn from one another, inspire each other, debate issues and push solutions forward for the benefit of the whole industry. Throughout 2021, the willingness of you - our members - to collaborate and get involved with our work has been fundamental to so many projects. Our series of Specialism Weeks, Guide to Gaming, User ID hub, DOOH Glossary… the list goes on and on. I’d like to say thank you for your continued commitment during what has still largely been a very virtual year. 

As well as continued collaboration, resetting what we thought we knew has been a crucial part of 2021. We’ve all changed the way we live and work once more - adopting a hybrid status quo - and it’s so important that we take stock and adjust to how life has changed. We re-launched our Real Living study with this in mind - to take the pulse of the UK’s digital habits, recognise how people are using devices today and what they feel about ads now. 

The results show that we are spending more time online than ever before, with the smartphone cemented as the primary device - a means of staying entertained, informed and in touch whether we’re at home or on the go. And the pandemic has encouraged new demographics to turn to digital. UKOM data shows that while the online population in the UK has increased by 6% since the start of the pandemic, it’s up by 43% among the over 75s. Meanwhile, Real Living shows that it’s older people that are fuelling the growth in ecommerce and gaming. As always, digital is continuing to evolve, offering advertisers evermore innovative ways to connect with vast and valuable audiences. 

It’s this dynamism that drives us. As we look ahead to 2022, there are undoubtedly challenges to face - from an increasingly tough regulatory environment to the fragmentation of identity solutions post-cookies - but there is also so much to be excited about. The pandemic has done nothing to slow digital innovation and we will continue to champion and celebrate this. Next year will see us resume IRL events (see you at Engage!) and we’re looking forward to working with you, our members, as we continue with our mission to build a sustainable future for digital advertising. 

Until then, and on behalf of all of us at the IAB, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and New Year! We’re looking forward to seeing many more of you face-to-face in 2022. 

Written by

Jon Mew



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