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Megabrands by first-half 1996 ad spending (TABLE) AD AGE DATAPLACE;TOP 200 BRANDS;ON THE VERGE: KEY INDICATORS HINT OF MEDIA-GUSHER FOR YEAR

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Detroit and Hollywood delivered a one-two punch to give media spending by the nation's leading megabrands a 9.6% upward push over the prior year period, according to the quarterly Advertising Age report on the Top 200 brands.

The performance set the stage for possible record growth for the year if the Olympic Games and presidential election flex their ad muscle in the final two quarters as expected.

Cumulative numbers may trail first-quarter's heady 11.9% advance, but trends point to a revival in the all-important automotive category, up 2.4% from first-half '95 to $2.88 billion.

Auto spending in first quarter slipped 1.5%, rising 6% in the second quarter, according to 11 media monitored by Competitive Media Reporting.

AUTO FEAST

Detroit and Europe were evangelists within the Top 200's 31-brand auto club, whipping up their first-half spending 8.5% and 17.2%, respectively, leaving Asia's 11 brands among the unconverted, down 9.7% from a year ago.

Honda was the only Asian brand to grow in media and market share, the latter up 0.9 points to 7.6% for autos. Among U.S. brands, Chrysler Corp.'s Plymouth badge contributed the biggest leap, up 571.2% to $91.1 million largely behind Breeze and Neon. Its cars rose 0.6 points to 2.1% of market, according to Automotive News.

Entertainment & media category has reached a permanent orbit in this quarterly feature, finishing with ad volume of $1.38 billion, up 24.5%. In the last five years, this Top 200 category has risen more than 200% in total media compared with 60% for autos.

Growth is a factor of the number of megabrands in the category-22 in '96 vs. 11 in '91-and sheer media volumes required of the moment. Hollywood anted up $10 million-plus each on 37 of its releases in the first half.

BUSY PHONES

The spending scenario for long-distance phone companies seemed akin to a neighborhood kid pleading with playmates to come out and play. Sprint did the pleading, pumping its media to $142.9 million, up 39.7% over '95.

Hesitant playmates, AT&T Corp. and MCI Communications Corp., each clipped first-half spending by 17%. AT&T, still the nation's top advertised brand at $296.3 million, focused on reorganization and then on leadership succession while conducting an agency review for its corporate account. Reviews often hold ad spending in abeyance.

The personal care & drug category grew a phenomenal 41.1% to $1.11 billion, buttressed largely by current-year introduction of prescription-turned-OTC drugs, Zantac 75, Tagamet HB and Orudis KT, and their predecessor rival with limited '95 exposure, Pepcid AC.

Retail's 23 brands hit an aggregate $1.33 billion in media, a 12.9% growth that turned out to be one of its best in several years. Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s stores led the pack in volume at $249.1 million, up 7.9%, while troubled Kmart Corp. and its Builder's Square unit were the only two retailers to spend less. Newspaper's 7.6% growth among the 200 was powered by retail's 13.7% growth in that medium. Retail accounts for 50.7% of the 200's newspaper dollars.

FAST-FOOD PUSH

The giant burger chains pushed the restaurant category 16.8% to $1.05 billion. Burger King Corp. boosted spending a resounding 66.4% to $178.3 million and McDonald's Corp. increased its fare by 22%.

McDonald's led all spenders in network TV at $180 million, up 17.2%. Among all other Top 200, BK was third in the medium at $115.4 million, up 109.5%.

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