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Demand for new smartphones and 5G to fuel 4.5 per cent annual growth in telecoms adspend to 2023

Telecoms adspend to return to 2019 levels of spending in 2022.

Zenith predicts that telecoms advertising will grow at an average rate of 4.5 per cent a year to 2023 as its recovers from an 8.7 per cent decline in 2020, according to Zenith’s Business Intelligence – Telecommunications report. Telecoms adspend in the 12 key markets included in the report* will rise from US$17.8bn in 2020 to US$18.7bn in 2021, and then return to its pre-pandemic level of US$19.5bn in 2022.

Smartphone sales will start to spring back this year once consumers feel more confident in their future. Consumers are becoming more willing to finance and purchase handsets independently from their network providers, giving manufacturers and retailers a greater incentive to advertise handsets themselves. Meanwhile, the networks will seek to recoup their investment in 5G licences and infrastructure through new services and more expensive data packages. All these trends will help fuel healthy growth in telecoms advertising over the next three years. Zenith predicts telecoms adspend will grow 4.7 per cent in 2021, 4.4 per cent in 2022 and 4.3 per cent in 2023.

Digital platforms help telecoms brands demonstrate relevance to exacting consumers

Voice and data services are commoditised and functionally indistinguishable to consumers, who expect them to work flawlessly in the background and only pay attention to them when they go wrong. High-impact advertising in mass-audience media like television and radio allows telecoms companies to differentiate themselves from others through branding and makes them more relevant to consumers by promoting their association with things consumers are passionate about, such as entertainment, sport and music. Telecoms brands, therefore, spend substantially more on television and radio advertising than the average brand – in 2020 they spent 42 per cent of their budgets on television and radio, while the average brand spent 30 per cent.

But as audiences migrate online, telecoms companies are refocusing on communicating their brand narratives to mass digital audiences. Telecoms brands spend less on digital media than average (49 per cent of their budgets went to digital channels in 2020, compared to 56 per cent for the average advertiser), but digital advertising is also the only channel in which telecoms adspend is increasing. Zenith forecasts that telecoms brands will increase their digital adspend at an average rate of 5 per cent a year between 2019 and 2023. By 2023, digital advertising will account for 54 per cent of all telecoms advertising.

“Covid-19 has demonstrated how dependent we are on good, fast and reliable internet connections. Telecoms companies have been the unsung heroes of the pandemic, shifting our lives online and keeping us connected to entertainment, work and commerce,” said Ben Lukawski, Global Chief Strategy Officer, Zenith. “Their challenge is to go from being unsung to being acknowledged and appreciated for their efforts. The spread of 5G and the reality of our new-found virtual lives give telecom brands the opportunity to move into the limelight.”

Telecoms brands are cutting back their spending on traditional television and radio as their reach declines, but less rapidly than brands in most other categories. Zenith forecasts that between 2019 and 2023, telecoms brands will reduce their television adspend by an average of 2.0 per cent a year, compared to a 3.5 per cent annual reduction across all categories. They will also reduce their radio adspend by 2.8 per cent a year, compared to 4.1 per cent a year for the market as a whole.

India and Russia to lead telecoms adspend growth

Zenith forecasts that India will be the fastest-growing market for telecoms advertising between 2020 and 2023 by some distance, with 11 per cent annual growth. According to eMarketer, only 31 per cent of the population currently has a smartphone, but thanks to the launch of low-price handsets such as the JioPhone, this proportion is rising rapidly. Russia is another market with relatively low (57 per cent) but fast-growing smartphone penetration, and here telecoms adspend is forecast to rise rapidly too, by 8 per cent a year.

Most of the other markets in this report are forecast to grow by between 3 per cent and 6 per cent a year to 2023. The exception will be France, not because of any inherent weakness in demand, but unlike those in most markets, French telecoms brands actually increased spending in 2020 – by 6 per cent – in response to the extra demand for data. The basis of comparison with 2023 is therefore considerably tougher.

“The rollout of 5G services will allow mobile operators to supply bundled voice, data and entertainment services to the home and compete directly with landline broadband,” said Jonathan Barnard, Head of Forecast, Zenith. “This will spur greater competition to put together the most attractive services at the best prices and help stimulate a sustained recovery in telecoms adspend to at least 2023.”


*The 12 markets included in this report are Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and the US, which between them account for 73 per cent of total global adspend. Telecoms is defined as services and equipment facilitating the transmission of voice calls and data by landlines and mobile networks.

Full report:

Telecommunications Business Intelligence Report