Critical spenders prime pump

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The nation's top 200 Megabrands proved a welcome stimulus to sluggish media spending in first half 2002 by boosting their combined expenditures 8.9% above the corresponding period in 2001. In the process, these 200 megaspenders grabbed 37% of the nation's total media pie, up dramatically from 34% a year ago.

Still, media remain depressed overall, down 0.2% to $45.2 billion, according to Advertising Age's semi-annual Megabrands report based on ad spending in 11 media monitored by Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. For a full media recovery, the rest of the nation's advertisers must do their part.

The AT&T telecommunications megabrand again paced the list at $549.7 million in media, up 16.9%, but within hailing distance was No. 2 Verizon telecommunications megabrand at $515.3 million, up 34.7%. Most of their expenditures were earmarked to win converts among the 132 million U.S. wireless subscribers. The two giants spent more than $267 million in network TV alone, the megabrand's largest medium at $6.34 billion, up 18%.

Despite depressed conditions in the telecommunications industry, the sector's nine megabrands delivered a collective $1.95 billion in media spending, up 21% from last year. The segment's top four, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Cingular Wireless, eclipsed the aggregate for the automotive segment's top four spenders, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and Honda. No leaders from other categories have wielded such power in the past.

Nonetheless, the automotive sector continued to drive the Top 200, claiming $3.93 billion or 23.3% of $16.87 billion spent by the megabrands. No. 3 Chevrolet paced the auto contingent of 32 megabrands. Chevy's parent, General Motors Corp., was the nation's largest advertiser at $1.09 billion, flat with 2001 levels.

Japanese megabrands Toyota, Honda, and Nissan all spent more, while Chevy, Dodge, and Chrysler cut outlays through the first six months of 2002, according to Ad Age's sibling publication, Automotive News. Many American brands have bolstered sales, though not necessarily profits, with 0% financing offers.

Pharmaceuticals led all Top 200 categories by growth, up 48% to $985 million from 19 brands. Such growth reflects heavy introductory spending for new drugs. AstraZeneca's Nexium led the category at $109 million.

The Top 200 are more dominant than ever in network TV, where they accounted for 61% of the $10.39 billion spent by all advertisers in the medium in the first half, up from 54% of total network in the corresponding period in 2001. Their 33% share of spot TV is essentially the same as in 2001.

Magazines were down 4.6% overall, despite a 7.3% spike in magazine spending by the Top 200 megabrands. Their share of total magazine outlays ran to 29% from 26% in 2001. A magazine turnaround may be germinating. Publishers Information Bureau reports ad pages up 2.2% for September, although down 6.6% for the year. Ad pages were down 12% in 2001. GM was the largest magazine advertiser in first half at $153 million, off 5.7%.

Newspapers can thank media spending resilience by the nation's retailers for its 4.4% overall growth in advertising (6.9% gain from the 200). Category dynamics show Federated Department Stores' Macy's spent $126 million in newspapers, more than the combined newspaper total for the big three megabrand discounters Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target.

Procter & Gamble Co. boosted its ad budget by 21.7% in spending $909 million in the first half on all brands, particularly Olay, Cover Girl, Clairol and Pantene items.

In the face of weak consumer demand for personal computers, the computer category suffered the steepest drop of any megabrand segment, down 17%. Microsoft Corp. pared its spending in half to $118 million, particularly slashing spending on MSN Internet services and enterprise software. Cutbacks by Gateway, down 42.4%, and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Compaq megabrand, down 28.4%, didn't deter Dell Computer from doling out big bucks. The top PC maker spent $139 million, up 42.2%, mostly to address consumers, "Dude, you're getting a Dell."