One of the best sources of ideas for topics to write about each week is our own clients, so when we had four in a row ask us to advise on alternative digital ad options, it occurred to us that there are probably a lot of people out there with the same question.

To be more specific: It seems that people have fallen out of love with the advertising duopoly of Facebook & Google for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being the rising CPM/CPCs.

To come up with a solution, we first looked at what the current state really is. Are the majority of ad dollars actually going to just those two sources?


As you can see in the chart above, they’re not. The light blue at the bottom represents Facebook, Google, and a few other similar networks in a category called “Walled Gardens.” They peaked in 2019 when they made up roughly 42% of every advertising impression online before retreating to 34% so far this year.

Elsewhere, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat have pretty consistently held onto about 3% of the market share, programmatic has grown slightly from 16 to 18%, and direct publisher placement has shrunk from 12% in 2018 to less than 7% this year. The rest of the impressions, and by far the fastest growing category, is streaming. That’s any impression where the ad appears in, before, or next to streaming content in places such as YouTube, Hulu, and Spotify.

The problem has been that the majority of streaming inventory just isn’t accessible to anyone but the big brands. It required expensive video ads, a media planner, and in many cases, minimums that few brands could justify. Today, just about every streaming platform has created self-serve ad buying platforms that operate much like Facebook & Google’s, but that allow you to buy ads in places where attention is much higher, and competition is lower.

It’s never been easier for any brand, regardless of size, to record a short video or audio clip, then place it next to people’s favourite show. So why aren’t we all doing it?

Part of the reason, of course, is inertia. Most of us now know how to budget for, and buy a bunch of Facebook ads, but getting our message up on Spotify requires learning a new system, and adapting everything from formats to reporting. The other part is the belief that steaming ads don’t drive real actions as successfully; That TV-style ads may work well for big brands that can invest in brand awareness, but because we need to see and track real results, it’s just not right for us.

The reality is that streaming ads are more actionable than ever, and in many cases they’re outperforming Facebook’s direct conversion ads. YouTube offers a whole array of shopping-style ads, Amazon can connect viewers directly to online purchases, and even Spotify can connect your ad to a landing page experience built to drive whatever type of conversion you’re looking for.

What we found for our clients is that Facebook and Google have been the only realistic option for the vast majority of businesses in recent years, but the networks that only the top spenders have been able to take advantage of are now practical options for just about everyone.

The only question left is: Which brands are willing to break out of our their own inertia and explore options outside of the walled gardens?