And, to be sure, affiliate wasn’t the only digital advertising market in the US to benefit from these changes:
- Between 2019 and 2021, retail media spending more than doubled. We estimate that retail media spending will grow from $13.23 billion in 2019 (the year we started tracking this space) to more than $31.06 billion in 2021.
- Search ad spending, a category whose budgets have been coveted by many affiliate marketers for years, grew 78.9%, from $48.30 billion in 2018 to $86.43 billion in 2021.
- Influencer marketing, an emerging category that overlaps with the affiliate space, more than doubled in spending over the same period, from $1.91 billion in 2018 to $3.90 billion in 2021.
Amber Venz Box, co-founder and president of the influencer shopping app LTK, said that between 2020 and 2021 there was a doubling of business collaboration between brands and influencers on the platform. It is difficult to compare the trajectories of these industries with affiliate marketing; The PMA has not published estimates for future growth.
Investments made in proven value-driven tactics.
Between 2019 and 2021, the investments in affiliate marketing mostly flowed into proven channels. While affiliate marketing practitioners have been focused on content sites and their growing roles in recent years, brands have spent 2020 and 2021 pouring resources into channels they knew were effective.
In 2018, 41% of US affiliate marketing budgets went to either cashback, loyalty and rewards publishers (27%) or coupon, voucher and discount platforms (14%), according to PMA figures. By 2021, those two publishing channels accounted for roughly half (51%) of the dollars spent in the affiliate space, largely thanks to cash back, loyalty and rewards’ share growing to 35%; coupon, voucher and rebate increased to 16%.
Other channels that have grown significantly include:
- Buy now, pay laterwhich piqued the interest of US consumers (and regulators) because as a point-of-sale installment loan it allows people to spread payments for goods over time
- Other technological solutionssuch as RevLifter or UpSellit, which use automation and machine learning to target personalized offers to customers already on a merchant’s website
- Influencersoften working with advertisers using a mix of upper-funnel and lower-funnel tactics, accounted for 5% of all affiliate ad spend in 2021, according to PMA data
Emerging channels can have significant implications for the perception of affiliate marketing among marketers. Affiliate was seen as a way to boost sales among consumers who care more about price than brand. Many of the space’s newest advertisers have been brought into the fold through emerging channels, including influencers, whose endorsements can theoretically elevate a brand and its products more than a discount code or coupon does.
“Our category has really focused on diversifying the partner ecosystem by moving into content,” said Matt Gilbert, CEO of Partnerize. “What does it look like going into the next year? Is there a regression to the coupon and cash back behavior, the last click behavior?”