Central and Eastern Europe in general – and Russia in particular – are enjoying spectacular growth in their online adspend. That's one of the most striking findings from the latest AdEx report, released by IAB Europe earlier this week and unveiled at its Interact conference in Barcelona (you can browse the topline findings in this Warc News story).
The report claims that Russia's online ad market rose in value by over 50% last year, a rate far outpacing all of the other 25 markets measured. This made Russia Europe's sixth-largest internet ad market in 2011, with over €1bn spent during the year. And, when I caught up with him at Interact, Daniel Knapp – a senior analyst at IHS Screen Digest and the report's author – suggested that the nation will become one of Europe's "big three" online ad markets in the next few years. His argument is that growth will be driven both by a rise in the general web population as fixed-line infrastructure improves, and the development of more sophisticated online communications for those in larger cities who are already online.
Knapp's analysis was echoed by Alexey Belyaev, of Russian ad agency Video International. Speaking on an Interact panel, he earmarked mobile as an area of particularly fast growth. Again, this trend will be driven by existing deficiencies in fixed-line web infrastructure. "Some areas will go mobile first before they go on the internet," Belyaev said. But he also pointed to many obstacles to true market maturation in Russia, primarily the generally negative attitude many consumers had to online spots, with some users simply "immune" to many of the communications. For his part, Knapp noted that transparency remains a major issue, though business conditions are generally improving and foreign brands are currently increasing their investments in the Russian market.
Another major story emerging from the AdEx figures is the strong, broad-based growth in the display ad sector, which rose 15.3% year on year in 2011 to take a 33.6% share of the overall online ad market. While search achieved still higher annual growth and retained its market leader status (at 46.5% of the total), Knapp pointed out that 2011's results were not indicative of likely long-term trends, with last year's display growth rate depressed by the fact that it bounced back so strongly in 2010 following the global economic slowdown. Over the years to come, display will catch up with search – and search will also evolve towards being a much more sophisticated "display-style" format, with marketing activity diversifying away from simply buying keywords towards incorporating rich media and location-based spots.
For Knapp, this shift is indicative of a broader trend towards brand-led digital campaigns. Awareness and engagement will become more important as effectiveness metrics, rather than clicks. And, as developing such campaigns is more expensive than merely buying keywords, this trend will have a very beneficial impact on online adspend.
Of course, it would be unwise to ignore the severe economic problems besetting Europe, as the sovereign debt crisis rumbles on and consumer confidence remains depressed across the continent. But the AdEx data point to a rare good news story in the European business world. And the good news could be set to continue, if Knapp's forecasts prove correct: he predicts that, despite the financial volatility currently being faced by advertisers, total online adspend should rise by 9-12% in 2012.