To see changes, follow the 100 Leaders

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The top marketers that make up the 100 Leading National Advertisers list each year by their spending on U.S. advertising are not only a bellwether of U.S. advertising, but have engineered an economic shift in the country from an industrial to a service economy, fostered the emergence of a mass market, led various phases of industry consolidation and paced globalization in marketing efforts.

The Top 100 lists that Advertising Age has published annually since 1956 are calculated based on measured advertising and unmeasured forms of marketing. The most recent ad tally hit $90.32 billion in 2004, compared with $1.85 billion 48 years ago. In the interim, the 100 LNA have risen from 20.4% to 36.8% of the nation's total ad spending. Admission to the list in that period advanced from $5.7 million to $317.2 million in advertising.

These marketers, which by definition must be parent companies, are media power brokers: In 2003 ad spending (covered by the 2004 LNA report), the Top 100 controlled nearly 75% of network TV, 55.4% of cable TV network advertising, 44% of consumer magazines, 39% of national newspapers, 38% of spot TV and 28% of local newspapers. TV (network and spot) has dominated spending in the LNA since its inception, now accounting for 23.7%, or $21.31 billion, of the Top 100's total measured and unmeasured spending.

The lists' marketing behemoths fostered bigness in the ad agency business, too. By the 1960s, growth via mergers and acquisitions by these Leaders was increasingly causing account conflicts that threatened ad agency growth. As a counter, Interpublic Group of Cos. was formed to be the General Motors of the ad industry by allowing multiple agencies to compete under a common roof. By 2004, six top publicly held holding companies-WPP Group, Omnicom Group, Interpublic, Publicis Groupe, Havas and Grey Global Group (now part of WPP)-claimed 58% of the world's marketing communications revenue, estimates Ad Age.

Mass market emerges

A mass market began to materialize in the U.S. as the population shifted from farm to city and TV emerged as an ad medium. The monthly average of farm workers hit 8.5 million in 1955 vs. 1.3 million in 2003. As the Cold War-period economy stoked, the rolls of the middle class grew, evidenced by the rise in disposable personal income from $1,660 per capita in 1955 to $28,230 in 2003, according to the government.

Reflecting this new buying power, appliances, building materials and aftermarket auto products flooded national media in the mid-1950s. Among the 120 TV set marketers in the U.S. at that time, seven made the LNA-No. 7 General Electric Co., No. 17 Philco Corp., No. 18 Westinghouse Electric Corp., No. 19 Radio Corp. of America, No. 40 Admiral Corp., No. 60 Sylvania Electric Products and No. 76 Avco Manufacturing (Bendix). Only GE remains an LNA member today, and it no longer produces TVs.

An LNA marketer is categorized by its most-advertised segment. The omnipresent restaurants, retailers, telecoms, entertainment & media and financial services operators in current LNA reports were not present in 1956. In the 2004 LNA, these categories comprised 41 companies and nearly 40% of total 100 LNA spending, or $36 billion in media and non-media marketing expenditures. This amounted to 15% of all marketing expenditures in the U.S.-a big bow to a service economy.

Restaurants currently account for $3.45 billion in advertising, or 3.8% of the current Top 100 spending. McDonald's Corp. created the LNA restaurant category in 1970, the year the fast-growing chain claimed a presence in all 50 states when it opened in Anchorage, Alaska.

Mergers and acquisitions have changed the face of each succeeding LNA list, besides driving up the Leaders' ad spending share to claim more than a third of all U.S. advertising and marketing. As company of origin, only 20 Leaders from that first list survive on the present ranking.

Most of those departing were consumed by more powerful marketers higher up the list. Prime consolidator has been Procter & Gamble Co., ranked No. 1 in ad spending in 31 of 49 LNA reports, and No. 2 in the 1956 edition. Over the years, P&G gained LNA members J.A. Folgers & Co., Vick Chemical Co. (which became LNA companies Richardson-Merrell and then Richardson-Vicks), Lestoil Products (bought by Noxell), Noxell Corp., Clorox Co. (later divested due to antitrust issues), Tambrands and Max Factor (first bought by Norton Simon Inc., later by Revlon). P&G currently is poised to buy Gillette Co., No. 12 in 1956.

The emergence of conglomerates in the 1960s and '70s captured many LNA companies. ITT Corp. consumed original LNA company Continental Baking, along with Hartford Insurance Group, Sheraton Corp., ITT Financial Services, Avis and O.M. Scott & Sons; Gulf & Western added Paramount Pictures, Madison Square Garden Group and Simon & Schuster; Esmark snared Swift, Hunt-Wesson, Associates Corp. of North America, Max Factor, Johnnie Walker, International Playtex, Danskin and Jhirmack; IC Industries picked up Pet Inc., Old El Paso, Midas and Pepsi-Cola Bottlers.


There were only two foreign-based Leaders in 1956-No. 8 Lever Bros. and No. 50 Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts-compared with 25 in 2004. Today, the foreign contingent is most obvious in automotive and drug categories.

Japanese automakers entered the U.S. market in the early to mid-1970s, and all those making the LNA lists subsequently built plants in the U.S. Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG were the only foreign automakers on the list by 1972. Today, eight of the 10 in the LNA auto category are foreign-based, and these foreign companies spent just over half the category's $13.79 billion in U.S. advertising in 2004.

Foreign-based drug companies AstraZeneca, Aventis, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis are among the current 100 LNA, though none were present on the original list except for Bayer through its current-day ownership of then No. 66 Miles Laboratories and much of No. 30 Sterling Drug Co., including its original Bayer trademark seized and auctioned by the U.S. government in 1918. All but Bayer are powered by advertising of direct-to-consumer drugs, an ad category that didn't take off until 1997.

The government essentially killed tobacco advertising, though its demise as a leading ad medium was a slow burn. In 1956, six tobacco companies occupied the first LNA chart. The end of TV cigarette advertising in 1971 did not immediately eliminate these companies from the ranks of the big advertisers. By 1984 there were still six 100 LNA companies with sizable tobacco units, though they were beginning to shift their ad monies into unmeasured forms such as promotion, particularly sports sponsorship.

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