​It’s hard to believe that 2015 is already coming to an end and what a year it's been.

We have seen numerous improvements to the data and technology that is now available to advertisers, helping to drive an estimated 28% of marketers to reduce their advertising budget to spend more on digital marketing (CMO Council) and 71% planning to increase their digital budgets even further in 2016 (Webbiquity).

So, what has had the biggest impact on the industry this year?

Here are NMP’s most influential updates, trends and features across Paid Search, Paid Social and Display in 2015.

Paid Search – Google introduces Customer Match

It was only a few months ago that Google launched Customer Match for AdWords. This new feature sees Google finally delving into identity-based advertising, providing brands many new opportunities for paid search. Customer Match is Google’s answer to Facebook's Custom Audiences, and is based on email targeting. It allows brands to layer email address targeting onto their campaigns. Agencies can now use client CRM databases (so long as they contain more than 1,000 emails) to build bespoke lists, with information previously unavailable from standard remarketing lists; such as, what the customer bought, if they are a repeat customer, or if they are more likely to purchase during sale periods. According to an NMP analyst, "In addition, Customer Match has a ‘similar audience’ functionality, allowing advertisers to reach prospects with similar profiles to their existing customer base, in order to expand their reach. Customer Match represents a fundamental shift in the way AdWords reaches the right audience."

Paid Social – Facebook relaunches their ad platform

Earlier this year, Facebook launched a new ad platform that completely changed the way advertisers and agencies approach paid social advertising. These are the three new features that really caught our attention.

Local Advertising Focus with Call-to-Action Buttons

With the incredible growth in mobile use over the past year, Facebook has added two new mobile focused call-to-action buttons to their newsfeed advertisements on Facebook's ad platform: "Call Now" and "Get Directions". Potential customers can click the "call now" button and be instantly connected to the advertiser or "get directions" to help them navigate to your business. These call to action ads are easy to add to Facebook business pages and, according to Facebook, reach “more people in your area per dollar spent than with any other kind of advertising.” For those advertisers who have brick-and-mortar stores, local advertising can really cut down the cost of reaching relevant consumers. Importantly, they also eliminate a step in the purchase funnel, allowing the user to go directly to the advertiser.

Dynamic Product Ads

Dynamic product ads are designed to take the work out of creating and maintaining engaging paid social campaigns on Facebook. From a consumer point of view a Dynamic Product Ad appears exactly the same as a single or multi-product ad. However, instead of going through the manual process of creating individual ads for each product, DPAs use a product catalogue feed and custom audience pixel to automate delivery of relevant personalised ads to your audience. It is these features that make this ad format extremely valuable to e-commerce retailers.

The custom audience pixel allows businesses to remarket to their website visitors based on specified variables, such as pages visited or items abandoned in cart. This significantly enhances the relevancy of adverts significantly enhancing your campaign's potential performance. Furthermore, it allows advertisers to scale at a much faster rate than would have been possible with CRM custom targeting. An added benefit to dynamic product ads is that there is no need to create separate ad sizes as they work across Facebook's newsfeed and sidebar.

Carousel Ads

Although carousel ads, also known as multi-product ads, were officially added in 2014, Facebook has only recently launched them on mobile. The format gives advertisers the ability to display multiple images or products (usually about 3-5) within a single ad unit and is a brilliant way to increase brand awareness and improve direct response marketing. The ads are intuitive; customers simply swipe on their mobile to view the product images. Carousel ads allow advertisers to engage their customers in inventive ways, while saving on CPC. The ad format appears to be winning over well-known brands; American retailer Neiman Marcus reported an 85% higher CTR rate after implementing carousel ads, whilst online take-out delivery service, Foodpanda reported an impressive 180% increase in CTR when using the format to encourage app installations. Another great feature of the carousel ad format is its ability to tell advertisers which ad in the set is performing the best and then allow Facebook to optimise the image order based on engagement.

Display – Shifting branding budgets from traditional Above the Line media to Display and the shift to HTML 5

Branding Budget for Display

2015 has seen a shift in advertisers’ budget as more are moving their money from branding to display. According to Tim Cook, Head of Display at NMP, "More clients are putting branding budgets into display. The reason for this is that the data available has dramatically increased, and there is an opportunity now to blend quality data with premium display placement, such as premium advertising spots on websites."

Flash is Dead

Finally we are seeing HMTL 5 banner creatives become much more commonplace across display. This year we have truly seen the death of flash since it cannot render correctly on all devices, including the ever important mobile, while HTML 5 does.

Even on desktop, flash is being slowly cast aside by Chrome, Safari and Mozilla as they make it more difficult to see flash banner ads. In September, Chrome launched a plug-in power saver feature which automatically pauses flash ads as they drain battery life faster. Safari forces its users to download a plug-in to view flash content, and Mozilla makes users opt-in every time they want to view a flash banner. A replacement for flash is also underway at Mozilla.

Those advertisers who haven’t made the switch in 2015 are falling behind and must tackle it now. Many industry experts are already calling it a "post-flash world" as native support of flash will all but disappear in 2016. Cross compatibility has become vital and it looks like the industry as a whole is moving away from flash and towards HTML 5 as a preferred method of showing banner creatives.

2015 has been a whirlwind of activity for industry advertisers, and we shouldn’t expect 2016 to be any different as advertisers continue to tackle industry wide challenges such as attribution and single customer view.