Ad Format Trends for 2021 and Beyond

Declan Murray

Declan Murray

Ad Format Trends for 2021 and Beyond

Changing Times

As 2021 continues, we are hopefully starting to move into the post-COVID era, and have a moment to take stock. Of course, 2020 and 2021 have been a strange time for everybody, and in many ways, the pandemic has been turbulent for our industry. While we should be wary of drawing conclusions from this abnormal time for the long term, the pandemic has also acted as a catalyst for some trends that were occurring previously. In this article, we will look at how all of this is affecting the ad formats that we use.  

Of course, regardless of the pandemic, other industry changes are in motion that will affect what ad formats we use, among them the countdown to the Post-Cookie Era. Some of the trends that will play out over the next year are:

  • Video usage has been increasing in recent years, and continued to do so during the pandemic: At EXADS, by Q1 2020, we saw a 220% increase in video impressions over Q1 2019. By Q1 2021, this had grown to a 640% increase.


  • Mobile is now the dominant way that advertising is consumed, and this has only increased during the pandemic: At EXADS, mobile accounted for 69.92 % of all impressions just before the pandemic and has increased during 2020. It now accounts for 75.98% of all impressions. 


  • The use of native ads is increasing: At EXADS, we have seen a 20.91% increase in native ad impressions over the course of 2020.  


  • Ad personalization is becoming increasingly important: EXADS gave Advertisers the ability to use dynamic tokens in their native ads in August 2019. 


  • Multi-format ad zones are emerging as a technology: EXADS will release its Multi-Format Ad Zone format soon. 


  • Chrome began blocking heavy ads and some popunders and is counting down to eventually blocking Third-Party Cookies.


The Rise of Video

As we have seen at EXADS, the use of video advertising has been growing in recent years, and this has continued during the pandemic.

Video is one of the most impactful ways of connecting with users, but also one of the more costly to produce and deliver. As it has become more and more feasible in recent years to stream video on mobile devices, the growth of video has kept pace with the growth of mobile generally. The nature of mobile devices makes users more likely to engage with video content over text-heavy material, but video works equally well on desktop. 


New Outstream Video Format

In 2021 EXADS will release their new Outstream Video format, which is a responsive video format that can be placed anywhere on a site. It plays automatically on mute when more than 50% of it is revealed.

This new format is designed to work well on mobile devices and makes it possible for Publishers to place videos multiple times within an infinitely scrolling page. For Advertisers, this format guarantees that users will see at least some of a video ad, regardless of whether they click on it or not. 

Outstream Video is widely viewed as a game-changing format, compared to the standard formats in use up until recently: For example, in-stream videos show before, during, or after videos on a Publisher’s site, and so are dependent on the Publisher having video content of their own to display. Publishers without video content couldn’t sell video ad space using the in-stream format.

With Outstream Video, ads can appear within a wide range of different content types, from articles to image galleries, which hugely expands their reach. As well as this, as the video starts playing automatically (though without annoying sound), users don’t have to wait for a ‘skip’ button to appear in the clip they are watching to view the ad: The first few seconds of the ad is delivered to every user who scrolls through the Publisher’s site, and the user can choose whether to watch more or simply scroll on by. This makes them simultaneously less intrusive, but also more likely to create engagement. 


Increasing Use of Mobile

The past number of years have seen mobile devices grow to become the dominant way that content is consumed across our industry. Users now use their phones for almost everything, from browsing to shopping and ordering food. Where once mobile sites were considered an offshoot of the main desktop site, Advertisers and Publishers are becoming increasingly aware that mobile is the most likely way that their content will be consumed. At EXADS, 75.98% of our impressions were on mobile as of Q1 2021. This is affecting everything from the type of advertising that works best, to the formats used:


  • Video advertising works much better than text on mobile. 
  • Vertically orientated video (e.g. 900x1600) is becoming the standard over previous desktop-orientated 16:9 formats. 


With the COVID-19 pandemic, the move to mobile has been accelerated, but interestingly, not all forms of mobile advertising have fared the same: For example, at EXADS, tablet usage dropped slightly over the course of 2020, from 4.44 % in Q1 2020 to 3.16% in Q1 2021. Interestingly, we also noticed an increase in browsing during working days on all devices, including mobile. 


Mobile Fullpage Interstitial

In February 2020, EXADS released the new ad format Mobile Fullpage Interstitial which shows a 900 x 1600 banner overlay on vertical mobile screens. This banner leads to a destination URL and has a Close button on the top right.

This has proven to be an effective ad format for our Advertisers, as it is very high impact. Because it covers the whole screen, it has good viewability and achieves a high CTR. It is designed to show when the user is viewing in a vertical position on their mobile device, meaning it can reach 95% of users. 

Importantly, while it can show an image, it can also show a video or in some cases, an iFrame. 


Desktop Fullpage Interstitial

We have also created a Desktop Fullpage Interstitial format that works in a similar way. This was done as an alternative to the Popunder format which was sometimes getting blocked in Chrome. This has enabled this popunder-like format to continue growing as popunders decline. 


Impressions Delivery Mode

Early in 2020, we gave Advertisers the ability to set limits on impressions and distribute them throughout the day. This can be used to ensure that impressions are not used up by users browsing during the day, and still reach those browsing in the evening. This feature is becoming increasingly useful as users browse more in the evening.  


Increasing Use of Native Ads

The use of native advertising has been increasing in recent years. Native ads are a very effective format when they can be made to blend seamlessly into Publisher’s sites. When done properly, the CTR increases for advertisers, and demand for native ad zones increases.  

In 2020 EXADS revamped its process for setting up native ads in the Admin Panel, making it much easier to optimize the ads for different devices, and match the ads perfectly to the site. These new changes not only make native ad zones much easier to manage for Publishers, they also increase their effectiveness for Advertisers. 


The Rise of Personalization

There is a rising trend towards the personalization of ads which is expected to continue in 2021. Dynamically creating ads that are personalized towards users can increase engagement and conversions. In other words, Advertisers can use what they know about users (location, name, browser, etc,) and use this information in the ads that they show them.  


Personalizing Native Ads

In 2019 we gave Advertisers the ability to personalize the titles and descriptions of their Native Ads. They can use tokens to put the user’s country, region, city, language, day, operating system, device or carrier in the title and description. Additionally, we have made it easier for Publishers to make Native Ads fit seamlessly into their sites with an extensive update to how native ad zones are created. 


Multi-Format Ad Zones

In 2021, EXADS will release their new Multi-Format Ad Zones, which give Publishers the ability to create ad zones that can display several different formats of ad, depending on which wins the bid. This new feature will help Publishers to increase revenue from their ad zones by opening them up to more potential Advertisers.  


Chrome Optimization

Recently Google Chrome has started blocking heavy ads to optimize performance. EXADS responded to this by automatically compressing heavy display and video ads to meet these requirements, ensuring that the ads will be seen and achieve good rankings for their performance. 



2020/2021 has been a strange time for most industries, and ours has been no exception. The COVID pandemic has affected lots of aspects of online advertising and accelerated some trends that were already in progress. Ad Formats have always evolved, in response to both user tastes and technological changes. The increasing use of mobile will continue to affect how users engage with digital advertising for the foreseeable future, and there is no indication that the move towards video will slow any time soon. 

At EXADS, we are continuing to develop our offering to meet the needs of a changing industry and we’re looking forward to the exciting things that the future will bring.


Further Reading

The 5 Hottest Advertising Trends for 2021

8 Advertising Trends for 2021/2022

Outstream Video: On its Own Merits


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Declan Murray

Declan Murray

Technical Writer, EXADS

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