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Programmatic advertising in the United Kingdom - statistics & facts

Programmatic advertising refers to the automated buying and selling of digital ad space. This data-driven form of ad buying has become a fundamental part of marketing strategies around the world. This is particularly true for the United Kingdom, the leading programmatic ad market in Europe and the third-largest programmatic spender worldwide. After years of double-digit growth, UK spending on programmatic advertising reached a record 8.13 billion U.S. dollars in 2020, and according to the latest projections, spending will surpass 9.3 billion in 2021. The lion’s share of this sum is spent on display advertising, while video is another digital ad format that is being transformed by programmatic technology.

Programmatic ad agencies – transparency is key

In the UK and many other digitally developed markets, brands move their programmatic ad buying in-house and replace marketing agencies with self-service programmatic platforms. Benefits of insourcing include cost efficiency and control over operations, while campaign effectiveness and cost efficiency are considered the main objectives of in-house programmatic activities in Europe. But while ad automation comes with a host of positives, brands also struggle to manage its various aspects. With needs ranging from database management to algorithm creation, many companies resort to outsourcing aspects like data management and campaign strategy. This is often done in conjunction with specialist partner agencies such as AppNexus and OpenX, which, according to a recent survey, were the top partners used by companies worldwide to manage their ad technology. What makes a partner agency stand out? According to global CMOs, transparency is the main factor when it comes to selecting a partner.

A shift to private marketplaces?

The lion’s share of UK programmatic ad spend comes from direct sales or deals between a seller and buyer rather than real-time bidding (RTB) via an ad exchange. A shift towards private marketplaces (PMP) is also expected within real-time ad buying, and by 2021, PMPs are forecast to account for more than half of real-time bidding ad spend in the UK. Unsurprisingly, this shift follows a rise in worldwide digital ad fraud, which is forecast to cost the industry 44 billion U.S. dollars in 2022 alone.

Ad placement and attitudes to targeted advertising

One of the reasons why programmatic advertising has seen such rapid adoption in recent years is that automation allows marketers to effectively target consumers by displaying relevant ads at the right place and time. According to a recent survey on attitudes towards targeted advertisements in the UK, however, only 30 percent of respondents stated that they felt comfortable with targeted ads. The same survey revealed that ad placement is more relevant than ever, as placing ads next to controversial content can have a negative effect on brand perception.

Interesting statistics

In the following 5 chapters, you will quickly find the 30 most important statistics relating to "Programmatic advertising in the UK".


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