Battle of digital ad spend

Marin Software has released its global State of Digital Advertising report exposing the top priorities and challenges for brands and digital marketers in 2019

Growth remains a top priority for advertisers, and driving brand awareness is central to that goal. However, digital marketers face constant challenges—hitting volume targets with paid search, accurate attribution with paid social, and leveraging audience data with eCommerce—in their quest to drive business results through digital advertising.

Overall the report shows that Instagram and Amazon are emerging as serious challengers to the ad duopoly, while brands are investing more spend in ad innovations in an attempt to capture consumer attention in a post GDPR world.

Paid Search Still Dominates Digital Advertising

The study confirmed that paid search remains the dominant digital ad channel, commanding 39% of the total budget, although the playing field is levelling out. Paid social claimed the second-largest share of advertisers’ budgets (18%) despite well-documented struggles with data privacy, followed closely by display (16%).

Instagram and Amazon: Breakout Stars of the Year

As brands increase their ad spend on Instagram, everyone is wondering if this comes at the expense of Facebook ad dollars. Is Facebook taking money out of its own pockets? Not really. The majority of respondents (67%) say Instagram spend will come from incremental budget rather than transferring from Facebook.

The past 12 months have been kind to Amazon, with 60% of the responding digital marketing professionals planning to increase their Amazon spend over the next year. And, 55% of them started using Amazon because they see it as a significant growth opportunity, whereas one in four are looking to increase purchases at the lower end of the funnel.


Despite Amazon’s progress, the offering is not yet considered as sophisticated as Facebook or Google—37% of those surveyed say the campaign management tools on Amazon are not optimal and 23% say the reporting tools are not as established as other channels. In addition, 30% of responding advertisers say lack of expertise with Amazon ads is the primary reason why they are not yet using the platform, so there’s clearly a significant skills gap to close.

Trust Is a Must: Google Leads the Pack

Google emerged as the most trusted publisher, with an average score of 4.5 out of 5. And, 98% of respondents rated Google a 4 or 5 on the trust index—it’s worth noting that Google is the only publisher that didn’t receive any 1 or 2 trust ratings.

2019 Ad Innovations

As brands tussle to capture consumer attention, advertisers are turning to new ad formats to break through the digital noise and drive awareness.

84% of respondents who use paid search (SEM) are currently using or planning to use Google’s new Responsive Search Ads format. Ad spend on shopping ad formats is also rising fast, with 65% saying their company’s use of Shoppable Images within search will increase in 2019.

Video advertising continues to lead the way in paid social, with 32% of survey respondents reporting that video is the most effective social ad format, followed by image ads (26%), Instagram Stories (23%), and carousel ads (19%).

“This year’s report shows a shift in advertising spend as marketers explore alternative channels and emerging ad formats,” said Wes MacLaggan, SVP of Marketing at Marin Software. “The digital advertising landscape continues to evolve, with advertisers struggling to close the skills gap as publishers innovate. At Marin, we’re seeing a greater emphasis on video and new ad formats like Responsive Search Ads and Shoppable Images to gain mindshare and drive growth. The eCommerce landscape is a hotbed of innovation, presenting retail brands with many opportunities and some challenges to navigate.”