Just what we needed: another financial and automotive bailout.
But this time it was banks and cars bailing out adland. Ad spending for cars and credit cards has come roaring back, helping drive 8.8% growth in 2010 U.S. spending for the 100 Leading National Advertisers -- the highest growth rate since 2004.
Financial advertising surged 29% in 2010, and automotive accelerated 28%, based on Ad Age DataCenter's estimates of U.S. spending for the 12 financial firms and 10 automakers that made the 100 LNA ranking.
To be sure, growth rates look good in part because the comparative year was so bad. Spending in 2009 plunged 10.2% in the sharpest drop since Ad Age began the LNA ranking in 1956.
This hardly qualifies as boom time. First-quarter 2011 U.S. measured-media spending rose 4.4%, the slowest growth since the ad upturn began in first-quarter 2010, according to WPP's Kantar Media. Kantar Senior VP Jon Swallen notes year-over-year comparisons became tougher this year because the ad industry has entered its second year of recovery.
The recovery story is simple. The recession officially ended in June 2009. Retail-sales growth turned positive in November 2009. Private-sector staffing has risen every month since March 2010. Measured ad spending has had year-over-year gains for five quarters.
Yet it's been a plodding recovery. Gross domestic product is expected to grow a weak 2.6% this year, down from 2010's 2.9%, with a consensus forecast of only 3.0% in 2012. The rate of job growth is falling; the unemployment rate is rising. Housing prices are dropping again. Auto sales remain far below the levels of recent decades.
Marketing budgets could come under pressure if the tepid economic recovery stalls.
But here's the most important takeaway from this report: Last year's spending revival demonstrates that top marketers want to, and will, invest in advertising to drive revenue and build brands.
The LNA ranking is based on estimated total U.S. ad spending, consisting of spending in measured forms of media (as tracked by Kantar) plus unmeasured spending (as estimated by Ad Age ).
Measured spending for the 100 LNA last year increased 6.3%, in line with the 6.5% growth that Kantar reported for overall U.S. measured media.
Unmeasured spending for the 100 LNA rose 12.6%, according to Ad Age estimates. That reflects strong growth in such areas as social media, search marketing, direct mail and promotion. Marketers are putting money into disciplines that directly connect them with targeted consumers.
That adds up to 8.8% growth in total U.S. ad spending for the top 100 advertisers, highest growth rate in six years.
Of course, advertisers -- and categories -- don't move in lock step. LNA auto marketers and financial-services firms had the biggest spending growth in 2010; cleaning product, telecom, beer and pharmaceutical categories saw single-digit percentage drops in spending.