The COVID-19 Impact on Advertising Spend
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, global advertising investment was estimated to grow at a 7.1% clip in 2020.
Now, it is estimated to see a brutal contraction of 8.1%—equating to almost $50 billion—as a result of changing consumer behavior. The total loss becomes a bleak $96.4 billion when taking pre-pandemic growth forecasts into account.
Today’s graphic uses data from the World Advertising Research Center (WARC) to visualize the estimated decline in advertising spend by media format and industry.
As advertisers adapt to rising in-home media consumption, the tug-of-war for ad dollars between online and traditional media seems to have a decisive winner.
The Death of Traditional Media
After decades of experts predicting the death of traditional media formats, the COVID-19 pandemic could be the last nail in the coffin.
In fact, spend across every type of traditional media format will see a decline in 2020, while most online media formats are expected to see an increase in spending.
Mid-term, this era will be associated with an accelerant of latent and incremental trends towards more digital consumption, commerce, and thus advertising”
—Dr. Daniel Knapp, Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe
With consumers spending significantly more time at home, brands are allocating more dollars to certain media formats to reflect that. However, when it comes to traditional in-home formats such as TV, consumers are opting for streaming services instead. In fact, they are streaming twice as much online video on services such as Netflix compared to last year.
Spending Estimates, by Category
Almost every industry will see reduced spending. The one category that will buck the trend is “Telecoms & Utilities”, which will experience a 4.3% increase in ad spend throughout the year.
Interestingly, stay-at-home restrictions have increased consumers’ reliance on these services for staying connected with loved ones and working from home.
Moreover, the pandemic has proved to be a turning point for the telecommunications industry, as the importance of faster internet speeds are emphasized and the potential of 5G is realized.
The Road to Recovery?
When inflation and exchange rates are taken into account, the decline in advertising spend is expected to be worse than that experienced during the global financial crisis.
Although 2021 shows signs of recovery, WARC suggests this is reflective of how steep the decline in 2020 will be.
Data shows that global advertising spending growth did not fully recover for eight years following the previous recession, so a swift recovery may be highly unlikely, and returning to pre-pandemic growth rates may not be possible for a number of years.
The Changing Advertising Landscape
As advertisers come to terms with their new reality, they are faced with the uncertainty of changing consumer behavior and the potential for a second wave of the pandemic, tightening quarantine restrictions once more.
Could COVID-19 be accelerating the inevitable shift to digital, or is the pain for traditional media only temporary?
Visualizing the Evolution of Global Advertising Spend (1980-2020)
How has global advertising spending shifted over recent decades? We look at the data to see how both the industry and media have evolved.
The Evolution of Global Advertising Spend (1980-2020)
Marketers may still “sell the sizzle” and not the steak, but shifts in the media landscape and consumer behavior mean that advertisers must constantly adapt their media strategies.
In the above infographic from Raconteur, we can take a closer look at how global advertising spend has evolved over recent decades across the media sphere.
The Media Landscape Shapes the Ad World
In advertising, dollars go where the eyeballs are.
Recently, all eyes have been on the digital realm—a trend that coincided with the disastrous fall of the print industry. As people mass-migrated to digital platforms in the 2010s, marketers were hot on their heels, and the fall of print media began.
In 2014, TV ad spend met a similar fate, peaking at nearly $250 billion. However, despite its rather sharp decline, TV still remains the largest in terms of global advertising spending.
The demise of the newspaper is shown dramatically in the above graphic, beginning in 2007 before the financial crisis, and correlating with the ascent of search engine ad spend. Peaking at $125 billion before the social media boom, newspaper advertising has never recovered.
Winners in a Digital World
In less than five years, internet ad spend nearly doubled: $299 billion was spent on global internet advertising in 2019 compared to $156 billion in 2015.
Reaching $160 billion in one year, digital display advertising—a broad category including banner ads, rich media, advertorial and sponsorship, online video and social media—accounted for the largest global ad expenditure in 2019.
Comparing all digital display ad spend in isolation with TV and newspaper, we can see the continued significance of the shift to digital, and how it’s projected to continue.
Looking at the main visualization, it’s clear that budgets have shifted, with digital channels now accounting for more than half of total advertising spend.
Although digital spending is up across the board, search engine ad spend began to plateau in the late 2010s, while social and ecommerce mediums both continue to rise. Impressively, between 2012 to 2020, the percentage of U.S. senior marketing budgets allocated to social media more than doubled, ballooning from almost 9% to nearly 21%.
“People share, read and generally engage more with any type of content when it’s surfaced through friends and people they know and trust”
– Malorie Lucich, Head of Product & Tech Communications, Pinterest
Advertisers aren’t the only ones spending money online. More than $183 billion is expected to be spent online by consumers as a result of the 2020 pandemic.
Screen Life: Time is Ad Money
It’s not only that people have shifted their focus from analog to digital. They are also spending many of their waking hours in front of a screen.
- Adults in the U.S. spend an average of 11 hours a day in front of a screen, and the ad dollars that vie for our digital attention are also rising.
- Globally, the daily average of time spent online was almost 7 hours during the pandemic, up from 3.2 hours at the beginning of lockdowns.
As a result of COVID-19 lifestyle shifts, time spent watching digital video is expected to increase. According to eMarketer, digital video spiked among UK adults during the pandemic—to 2.75 hours, and almost by 30 minutes daily in total video and TV screen time.
Smartphone Boom: From Big Screens to Small
Social media and digital ad spend also corresponds with a steady uptick in global smartphone ownership and usage.
In February of 2019, for instance, 81% of U.S. residents owned a smartphone. By 2024, it’s expected that 291 million Americans (almost 90%) will be using a smartphone.
In China, smartphone usage has almost doubled in 5 years—and is predicted to surpass 3.4 hours a day by 2022. Statista estimates there will be 1.13 billion smartphone users in China by 2025, making up nearly 14% of the world’s population by 2025.
As billions of users spend hundreds of hours with their small screens every year, it’s possible that mobile-based ad spend—including uber-popular apps like TikTok—will become even more commonplace.
The Digital Future is Now
As a result of the pandemic, it is projected that global advertising spending could fall by 8.1% this year. However, 53% of all global ad spend is expected to flow online. And the rise of search, social media, video, ecommerce—in contrast to TV and print—becomes clearer.
Although search ad spend recently plateaued, its rise over the last decade has been dramatic. With digital content consumption doubling since the pandemic began, the growth of social, e-commerce, and search ad spend are likely to continue.
If these trajectories are any indication, advertising budgets will only be getting more digital.
How Total Spend by U.S. Advertisers Has Changed, Over 20 Years
This graphic visualizes the fluctuations in advertising spend in the U.S., along with its brutal decline of 13% as a result of COVID-19.
Total Spend by U.S. Advertisers, Over 20 Years
With an advertising economy worth $239 billion in 2019, it’s safe to say that the U.S. is home to some of the biggest advertising spenders on the planet.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the major upheaval of advertising spend, and it is unlikely to recover for some time.
The graphic above uses data from Ad Age’s Leading National Advertisers 2020 which measures U.S. advertising spend each year, and ranks 100 national advertisers by their total spend in 2019.
Let’s take a look at the brands with the biggest budgets.
2019’s Biggest Advertising Spenders
Much of the top 10 biggest advertising spenders are in the telecommunications industry, but it is retail giant Amazon that tops the list with an advertising spend of almost $7 billion.
In fact, Amazon spent an eye-watering $21,000 per minute on advertising and promotion in 2019, making them undeniably the largest advertising spender in America.
Explore the 100 biggest advertisers in 2019 below:
|Rank||Company||Total U.S. Ad Spend 2019||Industry|
|#4||Procter & Gamble||$4.3B||Consumer Goods|
|#9||American Express||$3.0B||Financial Services|
|#11||JPMorgan Chase||$2.8B||Financial Services|
|#16||Nestlé||$2.3B||Food & Beverages|
|#18||Expedia Group||$2.2B||Travel & Hospitality|
|#19||Capital One Financial||$2.2B||Financial Services|
|#20||Fiat Chrysler Automobiles||$2.0B||Automotive|
|#24||PepsiCo||$1.7B||Food & Beverages|
|#25||Bank of America||$1.7B||Financial Services|
|#28||McDonald’s||$1.6B||Food & Beverages|
|#29||Booking Holdings||$1.6B||Travel & Hospitality|
|#31||Johnson & Johnson||$1.5B||Pharmaceuticals|
|#32||Anheuser-Busch InBev||$1.5B||Food & Beverages|
|#34||Merck & Co.||$1.5B||Logistics|
|#44||Wells Fargo||$1.1B||Financial Services|
|#45||Yum Brands||$1.1B||Food & Beverages|
|#51||Diageo||$918M||Food & Beverages|
|#53||Discover Financial Services||$883M||Financial Services|
|#54||Mars||$880M||Food & Beverages|
|#58||Molson Coors||$822M||Food & Beverages|
|#61||Coca-Cola||$816M||Food & Beverages|
|#64||Kraft Heinz||$782M||Food & Beverages|
|#70||Constellation Brands||$749M||Food & Beverages|
|#80||Marriott International||$667M||Travel & Hospitality|
|#89||Reckitt Benckiser||$593M||Consumer Goods|
|#90||Keurig Dr Pepper||$593M||Food & Beverages|
|#91||Restaurant Brands International||$589M||Food & Beverages|
|#92||Inspire Brands||$589M||Food & Beverages|
The report offers several ways of looking at this data—for example, when looking at highest spend by medium, Procter & Gamble comes out on top for traditional media spend like broadcast and cable TV.
On the digital front, Expedia Group is the biggest spender on desktop search, while Amazon tops the list for internet display ads.
The Rise and Fall of Advertising Spend
Interestingly, changes in advertising spend tend to fall closely in step with broader economic growth. In fact, for every 1% increase in U.S. GDP, there is a 4.4% rise of advertising that occurs in tandem.
The same phenomenon can be seen among the biggest advertising spenders in the country. Since 2000, spend has seen both promising growth, and drastic declines. Unsurprisingly, the Great Recession resulted in the largest drop in spend ever recorded, and now it looks as though history may be repeating itself.
Total advertising spend in the U.S. is estimated this year to see a brutal decline of almost 13% and is unlikely to return to previous levels for a number of years.
The COVID-19 Gut Punch
To say that the global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted consumer behavior would be an understatement, and perhaps the most notable change is how they now consume content.
With more people staying safe indoors, there is less need for traditional media formats such as out-of-home advertising. As a result, online media is taking its place, as an increase in spend for this format shows.
But despite marketers trying to optimize their media strategy or stripping back their budget entirely, many governments across the world are ramping up their spend on advertising to promote public health messages—or in the case of the U.S., to canvass.
The Saving Grace?
Even though advertising spend is expected to nosedive by almost 13% in 2020, this figure excludes political advertising. When taking that into account, the decline becomes a slightly more manageable 7.6%
Moreover, according to industry research firm Kantar, advertising spend for the 2020 U.S. election is estimated to reach $7 billion—the same as Amazon’s 2019 spend—making it the most expensive election of all time.
Can political advertising be the key to the advertising industry bouncing back again?
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