Most US industries see strong digital ad spending growth this year, as 2020’s roller coaster subsides

US digital ad spending saw mixed results across industries last year. On the one hand, total spending growth slowed from its pre-pandemic pace, and two industries—automotive and travel—severely cut back on their budgets. On the other hand, several industries unexpectedly accelerated their digital investments, as the pandemic created new consumer behaviors that drove more of their business online.

Collectively, digital ad spending across all industries increased by 14.9% year over year in 2020, a moderate deceleration from the previous several years. For 2021, we anticipate a strong rebound overall, at 25.5%, but industry-level performance will continue to diverge widely.

Last year, among the 10 industry verticals we cover, shifts in spending ranged from a 30.5% increase to a 51.0% decrease. This year, however, every industry will raise ad spending by at least 10%. Some will demonstrate massive rebounds, whereas others will hold steady or even rein in their growth.

  • Retail, consumer product goods (CPG), and financial services still rule in digital ad spending. The retail industry has always led the US in this metric, and it will continue to do so this year with $47.59 billion in outlays. CPG will be a distant second with $30.56 billion, and financial services will follow with $24.49 billion.
  • Entertainment will grow the fastest in 2021, thanks to pent-up demand from 2020. The industry grew its digital ad spending by just 12.7% last year, after many years of much greater increases. We expect growth will rebound to 37.2% this year. Retail will grow the second fastest, by 34.5%. CPG will also exceed the 30% threshold, by more than a percentage point.
  • Auto, telecom, and healthcare and pharma will account for smaller shares than before. Auto’s share of the digital ad market has been shrinking for years and will continue to do so. Healthcare and pharma expanded its share from 6.5% to 7.2% last year, but it will give all of that back as its spending growth heavily decelerates this year.

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