Very strong growth driven by demand for digital services, ecommerce and technology; exceptional new business performance; over £1 billion returned to shareholders; sustained momentum into 2022.
The pace of growth in digital advertising has continued to accelerate, reflecting the seismic shift in the way people consume media. GroupM estimates that global digital advertising spend grew by 30.5% in 2021, and now accounts for 64.4% of total spend, up from 59.3% in 2020.
Within digital, one of the big drivers of growth has been the explosion in ecommerce. The pandemic accelerated a widespread shift towards shopping online, amplifying the number of opportunities for brands to connect to consumers on digital channels, while also levelling the playing field for challenger brands. GroupM estimates that global retail ecommerce advanced 20.4% in 2021.
Two other factors are playing a significant role in the growth in advertising spend. New, app-based or digital-first businesses are able to afford to invest a greater proportion of their income into marketing to grow scale fast because they lack the physical presence (and associated costs such as rent) of traditional businesses.
In turn, more traditional advertisers such as consumer packaged goods companies are investing in retail and commerce media – engaging with customers closer to the digital point of sale. This is blurring the lines between the marketing budget and the sales promotion budget, significantly growing the addressable market for marketing services businesses.
We have seen the acceleration of two significant trends, in data and purpose, that we expect to continue. The shift to digital and omnichannel commerce is driving companies to increase investment in data-driven marketing, which requires better (and privacy-compliant) customer data as well as marketing technology transformation. We are also witnessing very strong demand for strategic advice on purpose, sustainability and broader social issues. 85% of consumers believe that brands should represent something more than just profit, and brands perceived as having a high positive impact on society are estimated to be more than twice as valuable as brands that are not.
Digital-first businesses are spending more on marketing to grow quickly because they don’t have the costs associated with physical stores.
Traditional advertisers are investing in retail and commerce media, blurring the lines between their marketing and sales promotion budgets, and boosting markets for marketing services businesses.
Underpinning our success this year is the strength of our creative work. We were honoured to be recognised as the most-awarded company at the 2021 Cannes Lions Festival, with winners representing 38 different countries. Each of our global integrated creative agencies won a Grand Prix. In addition, WPP topped WARC’s 2021 global agency rankings across all three categories – creative, media and effectiveness – reflecting the breadth of our capabilities.
The metaverse presents a new frontier of creative opportunities for brands to engage with consumers, through virtual worlds connecting gaming, augmented and virtual reality, NFTs and the blockchain. Clients are seizing the opportunity and seeking our partnership to experiment in ways to bring experiences to life in this new channel. Our agencies are already delivering metaverse projects for clients including Wendy’s, Under Armour and Pfizer. To take the ideas to the next level, Hogarth recently announced the launch of The Metaverse Foundry, a global team of over 700 creatives, producers, visual artists and technologists focused on delivering the most creative and compelling metaverse experiences for our clients.