Digital ad spend up 30.5% in Europe in strongest year-on-year rise since 2008

All 28 markets covered by new research grew ad spend in 2021, and social and video drives display demand.

Digital ad spend across Europe exceeded 2021 forecasts to grow by 30.5% last year – marking the strongest year-on-year growth since 2008.

The spend swelled to hit more than €92bn, propelling digital to own 59% of the share of all media advertising, compared to just 19.5% in 2009. 

All 28 European countries covered in the research from IAB Europe’s full 2021 AdEx Benchmark Report saw a double-digit growth in digital ad spend, but the top three countries, the UK, Germany and France held over half the total spend last year. At €32.3 bn, the UK’s spend last year was more than double of second place Germany.

However, seven countries outstripped the European average for growth, with Turkey seeing a 99.7% rise in ad spend year-on-year, and the Ukraine and UK hitting more than 40% growth each.

Townsend Feehan, CEO of IAB Europe said: “The past two years have been challenging for many and it is encouraging to be able to report such positive growth for our industry. This is a testament to the people, products and services that help steer and grow the digital advertising industry, even in the most exceptional circumstances.”

Social and video key drivers of display ad growth

The IAB report revealed that growth across all digital formats was “robust”, with display including banners, video and audio up 34.5%, followed by paid search at 29.9%.

Social and video were two key drivers of display growth, with social display ad spend up 42.2% against non-social display growth of 27.5%. Video grew 46.2% both within and outside social, and video accounted for 41% of display spend last year. In Ukraine, Italy and the UK, video dominated spend on display, accounting for more than half the total.

Display had the highest share of all digital ad spend last year (49.6%), of which half of that was social, while search accounted for almost 43% of spend. In three counties – Germany, Sweden and Ukraine – paid search accounted for more than 50% of spend in 2021, though the UK dominated in terms of amount spent at €16.1bn.

Programmatic accounted for 57% of all display spend in 2021. And while audio retained a small slice of the overall spend at 3% of display (€700m), it saw the strongest growth year-on-year at 50.7%.

Dr. Daniel Knapp, Chief Economist, IAB Europe, said: “All parts of digital advertising benefited from the 2021 bonanza, but most notably those formats and approaches that enable small and medium sized businesses, e-commerce related advertising, video-based storytelling and formats that provide access to new consumer behaviour at scale, such as audio and gaming.”

“Headroom for growth remains available”

Despite the strong growth last year, the report showed that many key markets lagged behind the average spend per head across Europe of €115. While in the UK this jumped to €481, it was more muted in many countries including Italy (€71), Poland (€38) and Turkey (€28).

Dr Knapp added: “Although market growth in 2021 was tightly clustered in the mid-twenties for most countries, European digital ad markets are heterogeneous with a wide range of ad spend per capita allocations even in markets of similar economic power. This signals significant headroom for growth remains available.”