Will Traditional Advertising Recover in 2021?

BY Rachel Cagle
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Last year, almost all forms of advertising media experienced an immense drop in investment dollars. Social media, online video, and online display ads were the only type of ad media to experience growth. Search ad investments only fell by 1.9%. All other advertising formats’ ad dollar investments dropped between 10.2% and 46.5%, according to a recent study by WARC. Traditional advertising has suffered the most.

With the COVID-​19 pandemic being prolonged more than most Americans were expecting, many industries will continue to suffer this year. As a result, traditional advertising budgets will continue to decrease.


Newspaper and magazine ads took a big hit last year. These traditional advertising formats had their investments drop by about 25.5% each last year. And with people continuing to social distance this year and be wary of what they’re touching, there is no sure sign recovery yet. 54% of marketers plan to continue decreasing their print ad budgets. While the ad investment decrease won’t be as dramatic this year, WARC still anticipates a decrease for both newspapers (-0.4%) and magazines (-0.7%).


An increasing number of consumers may have dramatically increased the amount of time they spend watching TV last year. However, this traditional advertising platform’s ad investments dropped by 16.1%. WARC estimates that TV advertising will show positive investment growth this year, but only by 1.1%. 26% of marketers still plan to decrease their TV ad budgets.

Positive Outlooks for 2021


Cinema was the area of traditional advertising that was hit the hardest last year. With the almost instantaneous shutdown of movie theaters (many permanently), slow reopenings, and consumers’ hesitation to reenter crowded interiors, it’s no wonder cinema ad spending dropped by 46.5% in 2020. There is a silver lining, though. 34% of marketers plan to increase their cinema ad budgets with this year’s promise of a COVID-​19 vaccine. As a result, WARC estimates that cinema ad investments will increase by 41.2%, a nearly full recovery from 2020.


Out-​of-​home (OOH) ads are another area of traditional advertising that took a big investment hit last year. A 27.3% hit, to be exact. But that was only because barely anyone was leaving their homes last year. Now, consumers are beginning to go back to work and resuming normal activities such as eating out. While 37% of markets still plan on decreasing their OOH ad budgets, 19% will increase theirs. This makes OOH another traditional advertising medium that will make a nearly full recovery from last year with a 20.2% budget increase.

Traditional advertising had a tough year in 2020. But as the COVID-​19 vaccine continues to be administered, life will begin to get back to normal. In the meantime, your clients who previously used traditional ads may want to consider focusing on cinema and OOH ads. To see which types of traditional ads your client’s customers respond to most, check out their audience profiles on AudienceSCAN on AdMall by SalesFuel.