A Fallow Ground For Growth

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You've come a long way, baby.

The 100 Leading National Advertisers a half century ago was loaded with companies in basic industries: food, auto, appliances, oil & chemicals, airlines and household products. These companies aggregated ad expenditures of $1.87 billion.

A half-century later, the Leaders spent $98.34 billion ( 2004) and categories were packed with marketers in computers-software , restaurants, financial, electronics, retail, autos and personal care, reflecting the flowering of a service economy and globalization. How did today's Leaders arrive?

That first ever 1955 ranking (at left) shows the big-time effects of consolidation. Only 22 remain Leaders today in some form of their given name, and 24 have been consumed by members of the current club.

A tale of two Leaders, Procter & Gamble Co. and Unilever, illustrates this journey. Fifty years ago, P&G was household products, and Unilever, food. Both evolved into personal care giants, using marketing acumen to deliver them from "commoditized" industries, and both mined the Leaders list for growth through acquisition.

Unilever acquired four 1955 Leaders: Helene Curtis Industries, Chesebrough-Pond's, Corn Products Refining Co. and Best Foods, and later gained Leader Thomas J. Lipton Co.

P&G is poised to acquire its first 1955 Leader, Gillette Co. Yet, the company corpus is full of Leaders-J. A. Folgers & Co., Richardson-Vicks, Noxell Corp., Tambrands and Max Factor. It owned Leader Clorox Co. for a while.

Additionally, only three Leaders in 1955 were foreign-based vs. 23 today, nine of which are auto marketers. These nine tallied $9.29 billion in total U.S. advertising in 2004. It took the list of 100 until 1978 to aggregate that kind of volume.