How Top Brands Are Driving Detroit

In This Year's Megabrand Ranking, Only the Strong Have Survived the Tough U.S. Auto Market

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. are placing big bets on a small group of brands -- all megabrands.

GM has pared its U.S. auto roster to just four brands -- Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC -- all of which appear on Ad Age's top 200 megabrands ranking. Detroit stalwarts are pumping big marketing dollars into their remaining signature brands after shedding smaller lines.

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The megabrands list is a ranking of brands with the highest U.S. measured-media spending for all goods and services that fall under that brand, based on Ad Age DataCenter's analysis of data from WPP's Kantar Media.

GM last year ditched its Pontiac and Saturn lines as part of its bankruptcy reorganization. This year it sold Saab and began to shut down Hummer, its super-sized SUV.

But GM is placing big bets on its remaining brands. Spending on signature line Chevrolet, the No. 5 megabrand, surged 15.8%, with $923.5 million in U.S. measured-media spending in 2009.

Ford Motor Co. spiked 2009 U.S. measured-media spending on flagship Ford, No. 7 on the megabrands list, by 29.1% to $847.8 million. The auto marketer is focusing on its Ford and Lincoln brands. It plans to end production of Mercury at year-end 2010.

Ford in 2008 sold luxury brands Jaguar and Land Rover, and in March 2010 Ford entered an agreement to sell Volvo to a Chinese automaker, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.

The brand shuffling comes as the auto industry digs out of a deep hole. U.S. auto/light-truck sales last year crashed 21.2%. Automakers in 2009 slashed measured media spending 22.8% to just over $12 billion, according to Kantar.

Telecoms top the megabrands
Telecom titans in 2009 once again commanded three of the top five megabrand slots. Since 2001, a telecom -- either AT&T or Verizon -- has been the most-advertised brand. Those two brands together pumped more than $4.1 billion into 2009 measured media, or about 9% of total measured spending of the top 200 megabrands.

Verizon cut measured media spending by 6.3% to $2.2 billion in 2009. For the second consecutive year, Verizon topped AT&T on the megabrands ranking. AT&T's measured spending was $1.9 billion, down 2.6%, according to Kantar.

Sprint Nextel Corp.'s Sprint was No. 4 on the megabrands ranking, up a whopping 28.6% to $1.1 billion.

Discount retailer Walmart was the nation's third most-advertised brand in 2009, catapulting measured spending 36% to a hefty $1.1 billion. This is no surprise; Walmart, in light of the recession, has delivered a value message during tough economic times. Walmart in 2008 vaulted its measured spending a staggering 66.4%, placing it as the No. 5 megabrand that year.

Not all retailers boosted spending in 2009, though. Macy's dropped to No. 8 in 2009 from No. 3 the prior year, with a 6.9% dip in measured spending. Target , the No. 9 megabrand in 2009, had a 15.2% drop in measured spending.

Despite the crippling recession, some companies managed to buck the trend of shedding properties and actually launched brands, backing them with enough spending to appear on the megabrands list. Microsoft Corp. launched search engine Bing in June 2009, landing at No. 157 on the megabrands ranking with $108.1 million in measured spending.

In May 2009, financial-services firm GMAC rebranded its consumer bank (GMAC Bank) as Ally Bank, which debuted at No. 172 on the megabrand ranking. One year later, GMAC rebranded itself as Ally Financial, putting distance between Ally and its former parent, General Motors, which spun off a majority stake in GMAC in 2006. The U.S. government rescued GMAC/Ally during the financial crisis, and as of early 2010 owned a 56% stake.

Top 200 Megabrands is a ranking of the nation's 200 most-advertised brands based on Ad Age DataCenter's analysis of data from WPP's Kantar Media. DataCenter subscribers can view the full report.

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