Marketing Briefing: What to make of the major marketing trends of the first half of 2024

This Marketing Briefing covers the latest in marketing for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

The first half of this year has been a strange combination of marketers’ desire to get back to basics (the push to prioritize brand building) and explore new, emerging areas (commerce media plays; generative AI). At the same time, as marketers continue to deal with squeezed budgets and increasing expectations to do more with less, they seem to be sticking their heads in the sand about problems that will need their attention just not right this second (TikTok’s looming ban; Google’s cookie crumble delay). 

Before the second half of the year gets underway, let’s take a look back at marketers’ priorities for the first half of 2024. 

Generative AI

Throughout the first six months of 2024, marketers and agency execs alike have continued to pitch generative AI as a tool that will help with efficiency and speed. Some like Shapermint, Klarna and US Bank, among others, have already touted the use of generative AI to do just that. Much of the use of generative AI by marketers has been focused on chatbots, research, translation and personalization rather than creating commercials with generative AI tools. 

While there’s been a lot of chatter about the use of generative AI to create commercials, most marketers have yet to go that route. Toys ‘R’ Us made headlines in late June for its use of OpenAI’s Sora to create a strange commercial where the lead character’s image wasn’t consistent throughout and visuals that are too close yet too far from real — a true Uncanny Valley image. If the pitch of generative AI as a tool for marketers is one of efficiency and speed, the video tools have yet to deliver. 

Back to basics

Amid the rush to be on top of the latest shiny object, some marketers have spent the first half of the year getting back to marketing basics. The push for performance above brand building in recent years hasn’t been surprising. CFOs hold the purse strings for marketers and as budgets continue to be cut, marketers need to prove that what they’re doing is working. Prioritizing performance to show a CFO that the budget is working makes sense. But that focus on performance may have gone too far for some in recent years. The swing back to basics has marketers recalibrating priorities and issuing RFPs for brand building as well as tying the position more closely with growth. All of this comes as there’s been a so-called evolution of the CMO role rather than elimination.

Everything is an ad network

The rise of retail media has gone far beyond traditional retailers with the likes of financial brands like Chase (hello Financial Media Networks) as well as airlines like United (Travel Media Networks) recently unveiling their offerings for marketers.

It seems that any brand with loads of consumer data at their fingertips have realized they can make incremental revenue by pitching other advertisers on that data. So everything is an ad network now. Or, at least, it seems like some brands would like it to be that way. That trend is expected to continue. Retail media spending continues to rise so why wouldn’t brands go after those ad dollars?

Retail media is expected to account for 15.2% of marketers’ total ad spend this year, up from 13% in 2023, according to eMarketer data, which also predicts that by 2027 retail media spending will account for 21.8% of marketers’ spending. All that said, at some point there will have to be some sort of consolidation or bundling. Few marketers have the resources needed to test out each offering.

Google delay

Earlier this year, it seemed like Google would finally crumble Chrome’s cookie. The long-awaited change would force marketers to stop just preparing for a post-cookie world but figure out how to truly manage it. It had marketers like Tropicana, among others, prioritizing first-party data strategies and certainly helped retail media networks with their data pitches.

But once again Google has delayed the end of the cookie in Chrome. And once again it seems marketers have put the post-cookie future on the back burner instead turning their attention to the hot trends of the moment like generative AI and creating ad networks. 

What TikTok Ban?

TikTok has become a staple of social media budgets for major marketers in recent years so the largely unconcerned response to its looming ban is somewhat surprising. Maybe that’s by design. TikTok doesn’t seem to be discussing the ban much either, operating business as usual and continuing to pitch marketers on the app recently at Cannes Lions.

If that’s the case, why should marketers worry? It could also be that marketers have been through this multiple times before with the threat of TikTok disappearing having come and gone a few times before. It could also be that there are backup plans in place to move dollars and work with influencers across platforms. Whatever the case, the threat of TikTok’s ban isn’t a major worry for marketers at 2024’s halfway point.

3 Questions Lara Balazs, former evp and chief marketing officer, Intuit 

Last month, Balazs announced that she’d be departing from her role by the end of the year in a LinkedIn post. Intuit declined to offer further details.

How is Intuit navigating the generative AI boom alongside the push for data privacy?

Privacy is always number one for us, we are always taking care of our customer data. It is their data and we will always ensure that their privacy is held close. We know that when we take that data and anonymize it, but use it to ultimately take gen AI and apply it to it we can actually build personalized experiences and [offer] more relevant information for the customer. We have published, for example, data and AI principles and standards that we abide by. But we know that there’s an ability to give a customer a better experience by harnessing privacy data in the right way. 

How are you using AI for internal purposes?

We have been using AI for a long time. In fact, five years ago, we declared publicly we’d be an AI-driven expert platform company. We had been using AI and machine learning, not only to fuel our products but also our marketing. We will do the same, and are doing the same, with gen AI. We’re more in trial mode with gen AI today. But the idea that gen AI can personalize, allow us to test better, to do media optimization, creative optimization, take customer insights and leverage them through these models, that is the direction we’re going and in test mode now. 

Has generative AI delivered on the promises vendors have made about it, like saving costs, time, etc.?

It has proven that it will prove itself. It shows such great promise today that there is no question, it will be a game changer. We are committed to using gen AI today in a manner that will absolutely make for better experiences and better marketing. The promise is there. — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

Social and political issues have become increasingly polarized in this presidential election year and marketers will be paying far closer attention to what content their ads appear next to. However, a new survey from Stagwell revealed that ads placed near news stories, like politics, inflation and crime, perform as effectively as ads near business, entertainment and sports coverage. — Kimeko McCoy

  • Among Gen Z, the average purchase intent for brands whose ads were placed next to high-quality news articles on the Middle East conflict was 65%, compared to 66% for inflation and 67% for crime — differences that are statistically insignificant. Purchase intent was 69% for sports (widely considered a ‘safe’ news topic) illustrating a minimal four percentage point difference between the ‘riskiest’ and ‘safest’ topics.
  • Among more affluent households, the average favorability ratings for brands whose ads were placed next to high-quality, yet political news articles on former President Trump and President Biden were each 72% — just two percentage points less than brands whose ads were placed next to a non-political entertainment story.
  • Among moms, the average purchase intent for brands whose ads were placed next to articles on inflation (a potentially negative story), and business (a more neutral story) were each 70%, showing no difference between the two. Purchase intent was only two percentage points less for brands whose ads were placed next to a news story about crime with the words “subway shooting” in the title — words that get blocked as a matter of course with today’s brand safety practices.

Quote of the week

“They’ll probably be licking their lips at the moment in terms of picking up that business.”

— Jonathan D’Souza-Rauto, biddable product lead at media agency Kepler, when asked about how Oracle competitors feel about the closure of its ads business.

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