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Picking Favorites: Advertisers Go Exclusive with Social Media or YouTube

Picking Favorites: Advertisers Go Exclusive with Social Media or YouTube

GOAT (Greatest of All Time) debates are nothing new. Passionate fans will stop at nothing to convince others that their player is superior. 

MJ and Lebron. Messi and Ronaldo. Tiger and Arnold.

But what about social media and YouTube advertising

Both are firmly entrenched at the top of the digital advertising world. Through April, 43k companies across industries such as Media & Entertainment, Retail, Technology, Apparel, and Finance, spent almost $14.3b on ads across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, representing 69% of the digital spend during that time ($20.5b). 

Top categories ad spend by format graph

But which ecosystems do advertisers actually favor? 

Number of companies by format spend chart

SMBs Ride Solo with Social Media

A staggering 88% of companies (37k) that invested in social media or YouTube ads did so on one or the other, and we can attribute much of that to the love affair between small-to-medium businesses (SMB) and social media

Through April, 75% of advertisers (31k) spent exclusively on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, collectively spending $2.1b, with much of that spending coming from Retail ($1.2b) and Apparel ($693mm) advertisers. Retail advertisers collectively spent $1.2b on social media ($523mm on YouTube). At the same time, Apparel advertisers spent more than $693mm on social media ($172mm on YouTube).

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The investment by SMBs and industry-specific advertisers is nothing new. Through August 2022, we found that 57k out of 64k (~89%) investing in Facebook and Instagram spent less than $1mm.

It also speaks to the investment by major social players, namely Meta, in helping smaller advertisers.  

For example, Meta introduced Meta Pro Team in June 2022 to provide more customized guidance to SMBs. A month later, the social media giant launched Small Business Studios, a virtual and in-person initiative to support small businesses. Mature advertising technology and a track record of ROI also go a long way in attracting advertisers with limited budgets.  

For Retail and Apparel advertisers, sizable investments in Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter come as consumers continue to embrace these channels as a critical part of their buying journey. 

While social commerce hasn’t gained the momentum most expected, largely because most consumers don’t want to make purchases directly on the platform, the social giants aren’t abandoning the projected $53b in social commerce sales this year. 

Nicole Silberstein of Retail TouchPoints said it best: “That’s a lot of money [$53b in social commerce sales] to walk away from, and Meta isn’t…So while Meta has indeed removed some shopping features from its sites—most recently live shopping and the Shop tab on Instagram— these changes are more about shifting strategies than a signal of defeat.

As Meta and the rest of the social community shift, Apparel and Retail advertisers will likely continue to embrace the power these channels have over consumers. 

The Elon effect 

Twitter’s unlikely to give up its status as a social mainstay, but it’s hard to ignore the seismic impact of Elon Musk’s acquisition, especially on ad revenue. Despite Musk declaring that “almost all advertisers have come back,” Twitter’s ad revenue fell by 59% to $88mm for the five weeks from April 1 to the first week of May. 

Twitter’s advertising ecosystem is also taking shape under the watchful eye of new CEO Linda Yaccarino, who previously overhauled NBCUniversal’s (NBCU) ad sales business and launched Peacock in 2020.

Despite a rocky stretch, Yaccarino’s appointment may be the saving grace for Twitter’s ad revenue and enough to convince advertisers its inventory is worthy. 

Dave Campanelli, the Chief Investment Officer of Horizon Media, said he hoped for change after Ms. Yaccarino started because “media agencies like his struggled to maintain contact with Twitter last fall after Mr. Musk arrived.”

He said, “For a period, we weren’t even sure who to get on the phone with to talk to. With Linda coming in, that could change that in a big way.”

YouTube Carves Out a Niche 

Through April, 7k companies, including mobile and online gaming company Come2us Studios (Summoners Wars and MLB 9 Innings 23), collectively spent $426mm on YouTube-exclusive strategies.

The love for YouTube from Come2us Corporation comes in the wake of online gaming’s boom on YouTube during the pandemic. In Q3 2022, people watched more than 1.2b hours of content on YouTube Gaming Live. Despite that being a sizable drop from the all-time high in Q4 2020 (1.9b), there’s no denying the gaming community’s collective embrace of the video goliath. In Q2 2018, people watched just 428mm hours of content on YouTube Gaming Live. 

Advertisers at VidAngel and Pancake Pillow also went exclusive with YouTube ads, the latter of which invested more than $9mm on online video (OLV), primarily between 46-60 seconds. More than 80% of those dollars went to ads on channels related to Kid’s Education & Entertainment, Music, and Society & Culture. 

Pancake Pillow data

Advertisers in the Technology, and Media & Entertainment industries also fancied YouTube through April 2023. (Technology advertisers, including and T-Mobile, invested 57% of their budget in YouTube, while Media & Entertainment advertisers invested more than 55% in the video platform.) data

For example, advertisers for Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount Global, and the Walt Disney Company invested 88%, 81%, and 56% of their budgets in YouTube. For advertisers at Disney, that strategy shaped up primarily with ads running in tandem on YouTube’s music channels. 

Warner Bros. Discovery data
The Walt Disney Company data

Is There Really a GOAT Debate?  

It depends on who you ask. 

While just 12% of advertisers invested in social media and YouTube through April, the overwhelming fondness for social media, especially Meta, among SMBs skews the data. 

Remember: More than 30k advertisers invested only in Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
While that’s a rational move given social media’s track record and growing sway over consumers, there’s still inventory—and performance gains—on the table for many advertisers across industry lines. 

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