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Intense ad sparring in beer, auto and food categories, combined with heavy new advertising from emerging drug megabrands, pushed first-quarter media spending by Advertising Age's Top 200 megabrands to a robust 17.9% gain over 1996's first quarter.

The highest quarterly surge (24.8%) in the eight years of this report occurred in the Winter Olympics-dominated first quarter of '94.

These elite spenders-megabrands with media outlays above $12.95 million-anchored all media advertising growth of 7.3%, according to the survey. Data for the quarterly report are compiled from 11 media tracked by Competitive Media Reporting.


The big brewers, attempting to plug the hole in beer consumption, poured dizzying ad volumes into their lead brands: Philip Morris Cos.' Miller Brewing Co. boosted its beer media spending by 56.5%; Anheuser-Busch boosted Budweiser with an additional 41.1%; and Adolph Coors Co. tagged along at a modest 9.5% clip, growth more typically associated with the majors.

The 29-member auto category was fed by a 15.2% increase in media spending from Detroit; still, Motor City brands slid 2.6% in unit sales for the quarter. The Japanese brands, meanwhile, boosted ad coffers by 5%, and, according to Automotive News, got 9.4% growth in unit sales.

The Japanese are adding incentives to stimulate sales, a factor influenced by a strong dollar, which produces better margins for Japanese cars sold in the U.S. Strikes at several GM plants also have slowed new-model delivery, no doubt sending customers elsewhere.

At the same time, Toyota's spending slipped 4.9% to $95.5 million as unit sales rose a dramatic 19.3%. For the hot Camry, Toyota boosted spending 88%, and Camry unit sales grew 26.9%.


The Camry is poised to unseat Ford Taurus as America's favorite car. The fall leasing period will be critical to the oft-leased Taurus, still trailing Camry sales by 28,555 units at mid-year.

Ad support powered new or revived brands: $25.3 million for Cadillac's Catera; $18.3 million for Infiniti's QX4 sport-utility vehicle; $19.2 million pushed Pontiac's Grand Prix sales vs. only $3.4 million in '96.

Grand Prix is why Pontiac megabrand's growth in unit sales hit 14.1%, giving it the highest market share growth (0.5 points) of any Detroit megabrand in the quarter.

Auto's 21% growth in network TV abetted that medium's 18.9% advance in ad dollars for the Top 200 as did drugs & personal care's 26% growth in network TV. Drugs & personal care claim 15% of the group's network TV dollars.

The ad pool for direct-to-consumer Rx brands appears bottomless. New drugs-Pravachol cholesterol-reducing agent, Allegra allergy remedy, Zantac 75 heartburn drug and Nicorette nicotine gum-added $60.5 million in new dollars.

Autos were by far magazine's biggest advertisers, with 41.7% of magazine expenditures for the Top 200.

Retail, contributing half of the the surveyed group's newspaper expenditures, grew 27.5% in the medium. But paper's 32.2% ad growth among the Top 200 was heavily reliant on a spurt in new-movie releases.


Food spending grew 9.5% despite major spending cuts from the three big cereal megabrands-Kellogg Co., General Mills and Kraft Foods' Post. Much of food's growth went to cable where food is its leading category among the Top 200.

Food's surge was aided by ad support for new product growth, particularly at Pillsbury Brands (up 34.8%) and General Mills' Betty Crocker (up 45.5%).

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