IAB Media Adtech

IAB CMO: There's no return to pre-pandemic life for the digital ad industry


By James Chandler, global mobile director

February 12, 2021 | 5 min read

James Chandler, chief marketing officer of the IAB UK, shares why adtech will never return to pre-pandemic ways.


I’m afraid I’ve got a bit of bad news for those of you keenly watching the horizon for the start of ‘normal’ life to resume. As far as the digital ad industry is concerned there is no going back to pre-pandemic life. Instead, we must navigate a maelstrom of changes that range from those we have been anticipating for a year or more to those that we could never have predicted until several months into 2020.

On one hand, we have the end of cookies. Talk of their imminent disappearance has never been far from the agenda since last January and the race is on for businesses to diversify their digital measurement strategies to ensure they can adapt swiftly.

Third-party cookies have become widely used to track and target consumers online in a way that goes beyond their original purpose. This misuse of cookies has not only served to give consumers a bad online experience but has given brands tacit permission to sit back and do nothing to improve their approach to measurement.

Removing them from within our reach will do brilliant things for the industry, forcing people to make a greater commitment to their measurement approach, and I would strongly encourage those brands and their agencies who still rely on third-party cookies to ensure they have an alternative in place to monitor the effectiveness of their advertising. And yes, that needs to be more than recording click-through-rates.

On this, our third National Anti-Click-Through Rate Day, we are at a crossroads in digital ad measurement. In one direction is a landscape littered with useless cookies and the debris of long-outdated marketing strategies, and in the other a future rich with first-party data, contextually appropriate messaging, a surge in effectiveness and a digital advertising industry that has the user at its core.

Which brings me onto the second significant change for the digital ad industry, and that is the incredible shift in consumer behaviour that we have seen over the past year.

As hard as lockdown has been for us all – the horrors of the pandemic itself aside – we can all agree that the internet has been a lifeline for millions of us. Working from home, kitchen-table schooling and an entirely absent social life may all be painful to endure, but without Outlook, Zoom, Google Classroom, Netflix and all the wonderful additions and alternatives at our disposal, it would have been significantly harder.

Naturally, media consumption has changed rapidly, covering ground we may not have seen over the next five years under normal circumstances, and the surge in things such as VOD, audio and gaming has, in turn, resulted in digital advertising becoming more diverse and sophisticated.

The creative possibilities are now endless and brands are using digital media to create innovative, integrated campaigns - from contextual in-game placements to relevant podcast partnerships and shoppable solutions. In short, digital has never just been about display ads. With the pandemic driving people’s time spent online to record rates – over four hours a day at points – and with areas such as ecommerce and VOD set to drive stronger than predicted spend recovery, digital diversification is gathering pace and we’re looking at a strong year in the face of untold adversity.

It is therefore crucial that advertisers adopt measurement strategies to match consumers’ evolving behaviour. By relying on the most rudimentary vanity metrics such as click-through-rates – a single-lens and arguably quite lazy method of measuring ad effectiveness – brands are missing a huge opportunity to understand the customer journey and significantly enhance their advertising ROI.

The good news? Advertisers are listening. In a survey of our brand members in December 2020, measuring the effectiveness of digital advertising overwhelmingly came out on top as a key concern for the year ahead, and we’re committed to working with the industry to help cut the clicks. Our measurement toolkit has been created to help digital advertisers explore measurement options and implement the most appropriate strategies for their aims.

Whether it’s brand studies, econometrics, attribution or controlled experiments, there is a raft of different ways we can track the customer lifecycle and use that data to inform and optimise existing and future campaigns. While it is imperative that brands recognise that the right measurement mix will depend on the length and complexity of a number of factors such as campaign length, media spend on and offline, and the use of non-media tools such as sales and offers, there is a plethora of advice and guidance available as they plan their measurement strategies.

Time is marching on and change is not just coming, it is already here. The future is brighter than ever for digital advertising, but to enjoy the full effects, advertisers and their agencies must commit completely to making the most of the measurement tools at their disposal, or be left with no choice but to watch what could have been from the sidelines.

James Chandler is chief marketing officer of the IAB UK.

IAB Media Adtech

More from IAB

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +