9 Huge Digital Trends That Helped Shape 2016’s Triumphs and Struggles

From Snapchat and AI to the ad-blocking fight

It's been a year of memorable wins and innovation in the digital space, but struggle and malice have also tainted the scene. Here are the nine trends we'll remember from 2016. 

Snapchat Came of Age

Adweek's hottest digital brand of 2016 gets 10 billion-plus daily video views and has been transforming into a TV disrupter. This summer, the company inked deals with NBC, ESPN and CNN to create shows for the app. 

The app's revenue this year will reach nearly $366.7 million before skyrocketing 155 percent year over year to $935.5 million in 2017, per eMarketer's forecasts. The tremendous ad growth can be attributed to the recent implementation of its Snapchat Partners ads API, which has marketers practically salivating at the possibilities. 

"Snapchat is communicating with the right person at the right time with the right message, and it has the added bonus of reach," said Brendon Rhoten, vp, head of advertising, media and digital marketing director at Wendy's.

Snapchat's initial public offering is expected in Q1 2017, and it will be fascinating to see if parent Snap Inc.'s Spectacles take off. The devices, which went on sale one month ago in a limited fashion, are souped-up sunglasses that record video, thanks to an integrated camera, from the wearer's eye-level perspective. Interestingly, the Venice, Calif.-based company so far has been selling the Spectacles solely via high-tech ending machines called SnapBots. 


Everyone Looked to AI

In June, IBM announced Watson Ads that let consumers ask questions by voice or text and receive answers. That's when Big Blue's ownership of The Weather Company's digital properties came into play: Watson Ads have been appearing on Weather.com, the Weather mobile app and the company's data-driven WeatherFX platform. Campbell Soup Company, Unilever and GSK Consumer Healthcare were some of the launch brands running the ads.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based company's buzzy revelation underscored how ad-tech players across the world were suddenly touting artificial-intelligence capabilities. By 2020, the market for machine-learning applications will reach $40 billion, IDC recently estimated, and everyone had a pitch this year. Startups like Veritone, Adgorithms, Refuel4 and Omnity have been hatched to try to grab a piece of this enormous, emerging realm. 

"Venture capitalists are pouring money into AI startups," KBS Ventures partner Jessica Peltz told Adweek earlier this fall. "So these are companies that are now starting to launch products, scale their sales and marketing teams and generate more meaningful revenue."

Livestreaming Was the Shiny, Bright Object

It's been a little more than a year since Facebook debuted live video, and since then everyone from Martha Stewart and Bill Nye to McDonald's and Lowe's has used the feature to push their respective messages. 

The live-video movement was started by Meerkat and Twitter-owned Periscope, but nowadays there's Tumblr, AOL-owned Kanvas, YouTube Live, Ustream, YouNow, Hang w/ and Instagram. And Twitter is expected to soon debut a native livestreaming feature for its platform. 

"The world is obsessed with video, especially with live video—and that's not going to end soon," remarked Chris Innes, chief monetization officer at ad-tech player SteelHouse. "What interests me is how advertisers are going to leverage vertical video for everyday advertisers. I anticipate that we'll see some interesting platforms—platforms focused on the full campaign and platforms solely focused on creative—develop over the next year."

Facebook on Fire, Under Fire

The digital media giant generated $18.5 billion during 2016's first three quarters, up from full-year 2015's $17.9 billion, making it once again one of the world's most profitable players. The company expanded features to include livestreaming for Facebook and Instagram's apps, and it's planning to use drones to bring internet service to the world's underserved regions. 

But the past 12 months haven't all been a bed of roses for the network. For instance, Facebook had an ad scandal, inflating video metrics, that spiraled into a storm of questions from marketers about the data gleaned from their campaigns. The brouhaha included a request from the Association of National Advertisers in September, asking Facebook to audit and accredit its metrics. And just last week, Facebook admitted for the third time since early fall that it has misled brands—it revealed it has been miscalculating the number of likes and shares it shows for web links via its API, or application programming interface. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company has also been misrepresenting the number of likes and reaction emojis marketers see for their live videos. 

"Facebook is now one of the top sources [from which] consumers get their news, make purchases, and turn to for entertainment," said Rowan Kelshaw, managing director of The Luxury Network. "As a result, the platform is both on fire and under fire. It's on fire because it is the ideal place to use digital marketing to reach very targeted audiences. However, if a campaign is not executed correctly, the consumer can feel overly marketed to and be turned off from the brand."

It has also taken flack for the abundance of fake news articles piped through news feeds that favored President-elect Donald Trump during the election. "When we asked the top social media experts about the trends they expect to see next year," said Todd Grossman, CEO of Talkwalker, "the fight back against fake news was something they believed would be particularly important."

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