Let’s look at three of the biggest issues of last year…

The duopoly is shaken

Last year raised the question: has Facebook become harmful to brands? In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, being associated with the duopoly quickly became undesirable to everyone. But did it really?

Unsurprisingly, advertisers are opting to keep their budgets on Facebook. After all, the duopoly delivers good results, and delivering a good return on investment is going to be key in 2019 as we approach economic uncertainty.

That’s not to say that Facebook and Google shouldn’t be held accountable for their mistakes. I may be biased in their favour because I built a business off the back of their services, but I’m not blind to their flaws. Even so, I feel it should be said that Facebook and Google aren’t the only companies who have been irresponsible with data, they are simply the ones under the most scrutiny. Consequently, they set the example for accountability in the industry, and are constantly driving change for the better. We need to keep working with them because they are best placed to set the standard of how to fix issues, while still providing exceptional advertising services.

These companies have always been good for both businesses and consumers. Facebook and Google pretty much established a whole new era of advertising: defined by data, measurability, personalisation, technology and, yes, transparency. Their market dominance has followed from the excellent services they provide. But 2018 has also shown that even the biggest names are prone to disruption. To compete, they will need to keep expanding their services and finding opportunities in new fields.

Take Google’s international exploration of programmatic out-of-home, or it’s investment in retail to position Google Shopping more strongly against Amazon. Conversely, I’m sure the duopoly is keeping a keen eye on the growth of Amazon Advertising. Though not a direct threat to Google and Facebook yet, Amazon is already the third largest ad seller in the US, and its market share will likely rise further this year as retail shifts more spend in Amazon’s direction.

The world wakes up to data privacy

Post-Cambridge Analytica, the GDPR was finally enforced and it couldn’t have been timed any better. When consumer trust was perhaps at an all-time low, it was a much-needed incentive to improve data quality and rebuild consumer trust, a first step to a transparent and efficient data economy.

And while the full impact of the GDPR isn’t quite clear yet, more changes are on the horizon as part of the EU’s plan to reform data protection entirely. Next up: the new ePrivacy Regulation. Many are already touting ePrivacy as worse than the GDPR for advertisers, as it concerns privacy for all electronic communications and de facto cookie consent settings. But the goal of ePrivacy is not to make cookies and tracking unlawful; it’s to make cookies more user-friendly and transparent, giving users more choice with different privacy settings.

This is a good thing. When there is a lack of trust, users prefer not sharing data at all, or falsifying it. Awareness of how data is used is a key factor in making informed decisions regarding what users want to share. If there is a strong enough incentive for sharing personal information, such as a more personalised internet experience, users are more likely to share information. More privacy options and transparency will not only repair the relationship between advertisers and consumers, it will also improve data quality.

And, just like the GDPR, the impact of ePrivacy depends on what we make of it. Although the regulation is still being negotiated and there’s no clear timeline for implementation, let’s not be fatalists but see it as an opportunity for innovation, to improve advertising and revitalise the digital landscape.

Media is being taken in-house, or is it?

If anything managed to take some of the spotlight away from the GDPR this year, it was the quite possibly the in-housing trend. According to the Association of National Advertisers, the number of advertisers moving away from agencies and taking their marketing services in-house has risen to record levels.

So I can understand why some are asking if agencies still have a future in this environment. But as more brands announce in-house moves, a clear trend has emerged: the hybrid model. This comes as no surprise to me, because in-housing is not and has never been a binary decision. Yes, there are some things that must absolutely be owned in-house. For example, in order to ensure transparency, owning data and paying suppliers directly is 100% within the remit of advertisers. On the other hand, there are some things that must always be outsourced to avoid problems like stagnation, e.g. bespoke tech and extra learning and development. Finally there’s the stuff in the middle, like data strategy and execution, that can be in-housed or not depending on the circumstances. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach – there’s only serving the best interests of clients.

The purpose of agencies is to provide the expertise and services that advertisers need and can’t do better themselves. More and more brands will start to carefully consider what that actually means for them. Likewise, agencies will need to think hard about how they can best support brands among in-house teams and management consultancies in 2019.

In-housing will not be a threat to agencies that adapt their service model to be as flexible as possible, as soon as possible.

Top 100 Digital Agencies: The state of the industry