US Social Media Advertising in 2021

Where Marketers Are Investing and How They’re Navigating Brand Safety, Social Responsibility, and Privacy Changes

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About This Report
Social network ad spending has substantially rebounded since the early days of the pandemic. In 2021, the biggest issues social media marketers will face are in the areas of brand safety, ethics, and privacy.
Table of Contents

Executive Summary

Businesses that cut ad spending in the early days of the pandemic have largely returned to social media. But as 2021 approaches, they will face a series of decisions related to brand safety and privacy that may put their strategies to the test.

What has caused social network ad revenues to rebound?

Consumers continue to use social media at elevated rates, and advertisers seeking reach have few other places to find it. In addition, the social networks have benefited from an overall rise in ecommerce, as well as from marketers’ shift to performance advertising during the pandemic.

How much will marketers spend on social network advertising in the US in 2020 and 2021?

US social network ad spending will rise by 11.4% to just over $40 billion this year. That’s an upgrade from our June forecast, in which we estimated just 4.8% growth in 2020. Next year, spending will rise by 21.3%, reaching nearly $49 billion.

What effect did the July ad boycott have?

While it got a lot of media attention, it did not affect the social properties’ ad revenues. An August study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) found that, out of the 46% of US ad buyers who reported pulling social media ad placements, 42% paused them temporarily, and only 4% canceled or planned to cancel them altogether. And the ad boycott may have had an unexpected benefit for social networks, opening up inventory for other advertisers to step in.

What challenges lie ahead for marketers in 2021?

Marketers will be forced to confront the challenges of brand safety and content moderation head-on in 2021 and to determine whether to adjust the way they use social platforms. In addition, privacy-related changes stemming from Apple’s removal of the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) will affect mobile marketers’ ability to identify and target their audiences in social media.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report analyzes why US social media ad spending has remained strong during the pandemic and discusses what businesses can expect in 2021 after a tumultuous year that also included a racial justice movement and a polarizing US election.

KEY STAT: US social network ad spending will top $40 billion this year and approach $49 billion in 2021. It is growing faster than we had expected earlier in the pandemic.

Here’s what’s in the full report

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14expert perspectives

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Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Social Ad Spending Has Recovered Faster than Expected
  3. Outlook for 2021: Signals Are Mixed
  1. Key Takeaways
  2. eMarketer Interviews
  3. Read Next
  1. Sources
  2. Media Gallery

Charts in This Report

Interviewed for This Report

Emily Anthony
Merkle
Vice President, Media
Interviewed October 6, 2020
Brian Bowman
Consumer Acquisition
Founder and CEO
Interviewed October 5, 2020
Obele Brown-West
Tinuiti
Executive Vice President and Head of Media
Interviewed October 6, 2020
Charlie Chappell
The Hershey Company
Head of Media
Interviewed October 19, 2020
Liz Cole
Digitas
Vice President and Group Director, Social Strategy
Interviewed October 6, 2020
John Dobrowolski
Kenshoo
General Manager, Kenshoo Social and Kenshoo Apps
Interviewed October 5, 2020
Mike Dossett
RPA
Vice President and Director, Digital Strategy
Interviewed October 8, 2020
Gogi Gupta
Gupta Media
Founder
Interviewed October 5, 2020
Patrick Harris
Facebook
Vice President, Global Agency Development
Interviewed October 19, 2020
JP Maheu
Twitter
Vice President, US Client Solutions
Interviewed October 14, 2020
Nichola Perrigo
RPA
Vice President and Director, Digital Media
Interviewed October 8, 2020
Katie Puris
TikTok
Managing Director and Global Head of Business Marketing
Interviewed October 15, 2020
David Roter
Snap Inc.
Vice President, Global Agency and Brands Partnerships
Interviewed October 16, 2020
Amy Worley
VMLY&R
Chief Connections Officer
Interviewed October 20, 2020

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authors

Debra Aho Williamson

Contributors

Daniel Carnahan
Blake Droesch
Junior Analyst
Jasmine Enberg
Senior Analyst
Eric Haggstrom
Forecasting Analyst
Nazmul Islam
Junior Forecasting Analyst
Natalie McGranahan
Senior Researcher and Taxonomy Manager
Nicole Perrin
Principal Analyst
Jillian Ryan
Principal Analyst
Audrey Schomer
Yoram Wurmser
Principal Analyst