2023: rediscovering the joy of digital

Posted on Tuesday 12 December 2023 | Jon Mew, IAB UK

From appointing an 8ft bear as our Chief Digital Cheerleader to an AI-centric Engage, IAB UK's CEO Jon Mew looks back at 2023

Every year, about this time, I sit down to write a piece like this and every year the same thing happens: a moment of disbelief that so much has gone on in 12 short months. This is swiftly followed by absolute confidence that surely, surely, some of it wasn’t this year at all but the year before. There’s no way that was only February, definitely not, someone's having me on. Alas, I’m always wrong - 2023 has been as busy as ever and, working closely with our members, we’ve achieved a huge amount.  

We hosted more Digital Upfronts with IAB members, adding Retail Media and Connected TV to the Upfronts stable. The Gold Standard (which sits at the heart of our strategy to create a better future for digital advertising that benefits everyone) has been strengthened and forms a key part of a new Government-led Action Plan to tackle shared challenges. And the launch of our Environmental Sustainability FAQs provides the industry with greater transparency and accountability when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. 

First-of-its-kind research in the form of The Digital Dividend quantified the value of the digital ad industry to the UK’s economy, including the benefits for businesses and people around the country. The report, which we produced with Public First, found that digital advertising contributed £129bn in gross value added to the country’s coffers in 2022 and supported 2 million jobs across the UK. 

In addition, the research quantified the value that people place on the free services that digital advertising funds, showing that the average person would pay £7,400 a year to keep free access to essentials like email, online search, maps, messaging apps, news and social media. We launched this research at a parliamentary event hosted by Baroness Stowell and will continue to draw on the findings to inform our public affairs work next year.  

Yet what ultimately defines 2023 for me is that we set about rediscovering the joy of digital, launching a long-term and multi-faceted campaign to encourage marketers to feel differently about online advertising. And we’re not doing it alone. Joy - an 8ft, 200kg brown bear - is leading the charge as our Chief Digital Cheerleader. In her words, “between CTRs and KPIs, it’s easy to feel a bit FML” about digital advertising – and she’s right.

The relentless pace of change, the tendency to put clicks above human connections, and the lingering narrative that digital just doesn’t pack the same creative punch as offline media are all valid concerns for advertisers. I’m not saying that I agree, but I am saying that I understand and Joy’s mission to rediscover the joy of digital is our answer.

Because, while the digital ad market continues to grow - with the latest full-year Digital Adspend recording a total investment of £26.1 billion, up 11% year-on-year - the sustainability of the market in the long-term isn’t guaranteed unless advertisers actually feel proud of their digital ad campaigns. Better work is better for the industry as a whole and it’s vital that we’re helping marketers use digital channels in ways that surprise, delight, provoke and move.

This is especially true as new technology supercharges what’s possible and takes the pace of change up a gear. The advent of generative AI stole the show at Engage back in May, which temporarily rebranded to Eng.ai.ge and brought together futurists, ethicists, regulatory experts and innovators to unpack what artificial intelligence means for the future of advertising.

The wide-ranging transformation the speakers discussed is exciting but it’s also natural to find it daunting and we need to remember that how we use artificial intelligence is within our control. This industry has always spearheaded innovation and, as Spark Foundry’s Marcos Angelides said at IAB Debrief last month, 2024 is set to be the year of adaptation. Our actions will define what’s possible, what works and what thoughtful, additive use of AI looks like to amplify our creativity and productivity.

Rediscovering the joy of digital also comes as the industry is recalibrating how to target and measure campaigns. The impending demise of third-party cookies makes for a new, more fragmented landscape. This is no small challenge, but it’s also a huge opportunity to adopt solutions that are compliant with current data protection laws by design. There won’t be one universal replacement to cookies, so researching options, asking the right questions and trialling replacements should be top of the list. In 2024 we will be stepping up our efforts to ensure advertisers are taking action and embracing cookieless alternatives that deliver. 

For now though, as we speed towards the end of another year, I’d like to say a massive thank you to all of our members. Without your support and input, none of the above would be possible. I truly believe that by working together we can achieve much more than any one of us can on our own and you can see that across every area of our work. Here’s to more in 2024. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year and - if you’re looking for a little festive joy - make sure you’re following Joy on LinkedIn. Nothing says Christmas like a very large bear rocking a Santa hat

Thais speaking at IAB Debrief

IAB UK 2023 Wrapped

We’ve broken down all the key happenings across 2023 at the IAB for a quick recap on anything you might have missed and how we came together with our members over the past 12 months

Written by

Jon Mew, IAB UK

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Rediscover the joy of digital advertising

Champion connections instead of clicks. Capture audiences' imaginations, not just their attention. Boldly move to your own beat instead of letting tech set the pace. It’s time to rediscover the joy of digital.