Retail TV Ad Spend Roars Back to Life in 2021

Retail stores struggled early during the pandemic last year, with in-person shopping limited and changing consumer priorities (nevermind wide-scale TV programming issues). But eventually, most settled into the “new normal” — a trend that extended through the back-end of 2020 and into 2021. A lot of physical retailers also pivoted ad messaging around ordering ahead, online shopping or both; a change that benefited the brands that already emphasized ecommerce.

Whether the focus has been on digital sales or not, though, the pandemic has led to an increase in retail ad spend on national TV. Looking at Jan. 1-Aug. 15, 2021, spend hit $1.61 billion for retail brands, versus $1.07 billion during the same time period in 2020, and $1.03 billion in 2019. The 2021 spend is even higher than 2018, when it hit $1.12 between the start of the year and mid-August (usually when back-to-school ads start cooling down).

(For our purposes here, “retail” brands include online & auction websites, department stores, home improvement stores, outdoor & sporting goods stores, and clothing & footwear stores)

So who’s leading the charge this year?

Lowe’s, Amazon and Walmart have all spent over $110 million on national TV in 2021, and along with Target ($99 million), the four retailers make up over 37% of the industry total. 

While those names shouldn’t necessarily surprise at this point, it’s also part of a change over time. Only inclusive of retail services (not all of its offerings), Amazon spent $14 million in 2018, $48 million in 2019 and $127 million in 2020, before opting for slightly less in 2021, with $111 million. Amazon was already charging into the top four retailers in terms of spend pre-pandemic. But it’s undeniable the pandemic sped that process up considerably.

Additionally, online & auction sites overall (led by Amazon) have taken up larger and larger parts of the retail pie. Online & auction sites made up 19% of retail national TV ad spend in 2018, 27% in 2019, 38% in 2020, then 32% in 2021. Those figures also fail to include how much brick-and-mortar retailers like Target, Walmart and others have leaned on e-commerce messaging in 2020 and 2021.

With retail’s rise in mind, these were some of the industry’s TV ad spots that resonated most with consumers through mid-August of 2021.

Target: Always Taking Care

Target’s spot (the most-seen of any retail ad in 2021) emphasizes the brand’s focus on customer safety and providing what consumers need for any situation. According to Ace Metrix Creative Assessment, the spot garnered 10.2% more Attention than the retail norm this year and is 13.4% more Likeable. Brand Recognition for Target was also at 94% on this ad — which was 38% higher than the retail norm.

Amazon: Advocating For Change

Instead of focusing on products, Amazon puts the spotlight on Senior UX Design Manager Brendan, who is legally deaf and also dedicated to creating more accessible solutions for the brand. The spot was 10.1% more Watchable than the norm for retail in 2021, and survey respondents found it to be “inspiring.” According to 32% of those surveyed, the Single Best Thing about the creative was the message, which largely discussed accessibility and acceptance of people with disabilities and differences.

HomeGoods: Go Finding – Came A Long Way

The customer journey is typically a focus for TV ads, but what about the journey products take to get to retail? In this spot, HomeGoods creates a story around how its items find shoppers, and it earned 13.2% more Attention than the norm for retail brands. Survey respondents found the ad to be “arresting” most of all, while the creative also piqued “curiosity.” The visual scenes were also the Single Best Thing about the spot, according to 43% of survey respondents.

Interested in keeping a pulse on TV ad trends and industry-specific insights? Get in touch with iSpot today.