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Chevrolet rode heavy new spending on its Venture, Malibu and Corvette models to topple perennial leader AT&T Corp. as the nation's top megabrand based on first-half media spending.

The new money that the Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors Corp. lavished on these off-year launches helped raise its total media spending by 10.8% to $321 million. As a whole, the nation's Top 200 brands grew 15.7% to $13.1 billion in media, according to Advertising Age's midyear assessment of the Top 200 brands.

The drama at the top was as much Chevy's revamped spending-a 19.3% burst in the second quarter following a 2.7% gain in the first-as it was AT&T cutbacks in long-distance spending. It slipped to No. 6 at $250.2 million, down 15.6%.

Total spending by the vaunted 200, with its components including 17.9% growth in first quarter and 13.7% in the second, showed the group commanding 38% of the nation's total media spending of $34.3 billion in the first half (up 8.8%). The group claimed 36% a year ago, according to Competitive Media Reporting's 11-media summaries provided for this quarterly report.


The dominant media feed for the Top 200 was network TV, at $4.9 billion, up 14.1%, and spot TV, at $2.3 billion, up 10.4%, totals accounting for 64% and 34%, respectively, of all brand spending in those media.

Chevy spent nearly $100 million on new models in the first half, most of that in the second quarter after introducing advertising for Malibu and Venture in early March. Venture, a replacement for the Lumina minivan, drew $40.9 million in the first half; Malibu, supplanting the Corsica and Beretta, pulled $40.9 million; the remade Corvette, debuting December '96, attracted $11.3 million in new dollars.


Autos are the steel girding the 200. The 30-member category hit $3.2 billion in media for the period, up 12.2%, and accounted for one in every four dollars spent on media by the 200.

GM powered eight separate brands with a collective $1 billion in spending, up 24.2%. Growth at Chevrolet was among the lowest at GM. Cadillac spending rose 116.3% to $133.8 million paced by $38 million behind the new Catera; Pontiac grew 41.3% to $133.3 million, a third of that in support of the Grand Prix.

U.S. autos (15 brands) led the category's 12.2% surge in spending by registering collective growth of 16.6%, to only 3.7% from the Asian nameplates (11 brands).

Walt Disney's Co.'s Buena Vista at $145.4 million spending, up 62.6%, paced the 14-member entertainment & media category dominated by Hollywood studios. Category media spending-$1 billion, up 32.4%-is largely a function of the number of new releases.

Growth among the 32-member drugs category, an amalgam of dental, personal care, OTC and Rx products, is not confined to the much trumpeted Rx direct-to-consumer advertising. Although DTC is up 50% to $267.4 million, the 11-member personal care subset paced by L'Oreal grew 17.4% to $512.4 million and OTC drugs led by Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol advanced 21.3% to $381.4 million.


AT&T, which has focused on uniting the corporate and product brand, robbed its long-distance treasure chest to pay a higher cellular, online, wireless and Worldnet ad bill. Long-distance outlays fell more than $90 million for the half, mostly in the second quarter when all AT&T brand spending plunged 41% from

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