Top 10 Industry Highlights of 2014

It’s been a busy year for those of us in the digital marketing industry. Here’s a look back at the biggest highlights of 2014, in no particular order. Think we missed something? Feel free to add your thoughts to the comments!

1. Facebook

It’s been quite a year for Facebook. In addition to launching a mobile ad network and putting an end to brands trading likes for content, aka like-gating, the social network seemed to have a particular focus on data in 2014. In February, the world’s largest social network acquired the world’s largest messaging app, WhatsApp, for $19 billion. And Facebook also launched its revamped advertising platform. Eschewing cookies for a “people-based” marketing approach, Atlas leverages login data to allow marketers to follow users around the Internet, targeting them specifically on multiple devices, based on their age and gender rather than inferred demographics.

2. Buy Buttons

Despite also seeming to do everything else this year, Facebook found a minute to test out a Buy button over the summer. Twitter did the same, also teaming up with Amazon to allow users to add items to their shopping carts with a hashtag. Meanwhile, Instagram got into social commerce with a Like2Buy button that made brands’ entire feeds shoppable.

“Social media is the biggest focus group in the world,” says Becca Lewis, who heads the product analysis team at Crimson Hexagon, a Boston social media analytics platform. “When people express any stage of the purchase life cycle in social media posts, that’s really valuable data for brands and agencies, and it shows them how that information lives online.” 

3. The New Yahoo

Once-dominant Yahoo had begun to devolve into simply “that other search engine,” the one nobody really used anymore. But over the last few years, the tides have started to change, with 2014 accelerating that turnaround. While Yahoo-owned Tumblr promoted sponsored posts, the Gemini platform allowed Yahoo advertisers to, for the first time, combine purchasing mobile search ads and native ads. Using native ads also allowed Yahoo to rebrand itself with a series of digital magazines. 

4. The Selfie – You Know Which One

Native advertising and content marketing were huge buzzwords this year and there was no greater confluence of the two than Ellen’s famous Oscar selfie. More than a third of the picture’s 3.3 million retweets happened within the first few minutes, effectively crashing Twitter. What seemed like a spontaneous group shot of some of Hollywood’s brightest stars was actually a subtle commercial for Samsung, one of the award ceremony’s sponsors.ellen-selfie

5. Apple Pay

Mobile payments are nothing new, but Apple took them to the next level with Apple Pay, which, like Google Wallet, uses near-field communication (NFC) technology to allow users to forego their credit cards at the point of sale. But since the launch of Google’s lackluster platform in 2011, location-based technology has become cheaper and more common, leading to greater adoption from retailers. Apple has also paired with three of the four major credit card companies. Some retailers feel Apple Pay gives too much power to those credit card companies, but many – including Macy’s, McDonald’s, and Duane Reade – have still adopted it. 

6. Google’s Programmatic Video Marketplace

Capitalizing on the popularity of video ads, Google launched its own programmatic video marketplace in June. Aimed to connect premium publishers and brands through direct buying, Google Partner Select only worked with a small group of select publishers to start.

“With Google’s investment into programmatic, it is helping to open the doors for potential customers, who may have been otherwise skeptical or unaware of the benefits of programmatic, to overcome initial resistance or hesitation,” says Raj Beri, chief operating officer of Ozone Media, an advertising technology provider based in India. Beri adds that the new marketplace will give marketers increased access to more premium video inventory, as well as the tools they need to explore the potential of dynamic creative optimization.

7. Amazon’s Ad Network

Not  to be outdone, Amazon also got involved with video, acquiring Twitch, a video platform and gaming community, which can help the e-commerce giant compete with YouTube. Almost immediately after, Amazon continued its quest for world domination by announcing a release of its own ad network. With data on nearly 250 million shoppers – that’s almost 80 percent of the U.S. population, just to put that number into perspective – Amazon has the potential to give Google and Microsoft a run for their money with better-targeted ads.

8. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

It started with Pete Frates, the 29-year-old former captain of Boston College baseball team who was diagnosed with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, two years ago. The omnipresent Ice Bucket Challenge quickly spread to Frates’ family and friends, including several professional athlete classmates from BC, to celebrities like Bill Gates and Oprah, to pretty much everyone you know. Even brands got involved, with characters like the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Old Spice guy and Colonel Sanders dousing themselves with buckets of ice water, the latter obviously using a KFC bucket. The engagement was through the roof – during a period of about three weeks, ALS reported $31.5 million in donations, more than 1,600 percent more than last year.

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9. Wearables

Industry leaders at South by Southwest named wearable technology one of the year’s hot topics. Between smartwatches and fitness trackers, they certainly do seem to be everywhere. According to research Futuresource Consulting released last month, the wearable market increased 40 percent in the third quarter, shipping 12.7 million units.

“In 2015, we will continue to see fitness wearables be extended, but as they get more sophisticated and smarter, they can move from fitness to tap into health applications,” predicts Esmeralda Swartz, chief marketing officer at MetraTech, a billing solutions company owned by Ericsson. Swartz mentions BitBite, an in-ear device that tracks users’ eating habits by analyzing the sounds and patterns for chewing, adding, “Assuming a patient provides permission to his doctor, a doctor can directly monitor a patient with known health risks.”

10. Holiday Shopping Milestones

While Black Friday is typically considered the official start of the U.S. holiday season, such is not the case in China. November 11 marks Singles Day, which has become the biggest online shopping day in the world. This year, Alibaba’s Singles Day sales were equivalent to an unprecedented $9.3 billion, $1 billion of which were within 20 minutes. Of the 278 million orders shipped by Alibaba, 43 percent were placed on mobile devices. Mobile also played a huge role in holiday shopping stateside, as IBM reported that mobile traffic was greater than that of desktop for the first time on Thanksgiving.

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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