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(Aug. 24, 2001) HONG KONG -- Ad expenditure across Asia/Pacific slowed dramatically during the first six months of the year, with signs the ad industry is bracing for a tough year after the significant increases achieved in 2000, according to VNU's ACNielsen Media International.

Ad spending from the 11 markets monitored by ACNielsen showed that although the total value of advertising for the first half of 2001 edged up slightly to $13.5 billion, growth slowed in all markets due to a softening world economy.

"Essentially all markets experienced slower growth in the first six months of 2001 compared to the same period last year," said Forrest Didier, managing director of ACNielsen Media International, Asia/Pacific, based in Hong Kong. "Some 'growth' markets such as China, the Philippines and Indonesia are believed to have actually experienced only little or no growth due to heavy discounting common during tough times. This is a far cry from the same period last year when many markets reported high double-digit growth."

Across the region, China remained the biggest ad market, despite slowing growth. The $5.3 billion mainland ad market is now twice as big as South Korea, which shrank to $2.1 billion, following contractions in spending over two consecutive quarters.

Mr. Didier says all markets were not short of competitive dynamics, despite slower overall growth, with consumer products and telecommunications two major drivers across the region.

In China, pharmaceutical products continued to lead the ad market, as Chinese consumers adopt an increasingly health-conscious lifestyle. Tonic and vitamins remained the most advertised category but spending has declined 13.5%. Overall market growth, based on rate cards, slowed to 12.6% from 44% a year ago and heavy discounting also impacted on actual billing.

In Thailand, the mobile phone war drove 10% growth in the second quarter. The two main operators, AIS and TAC, accounted for half of the 10 most advertised brands in the market.

In Malaysia, advertising by the telecommunications sector grew 11% during the first six months over the same period last year. The four carriers -- Celcom, Digi, Maxis and Telekom Malaysia -- were all listed among the 10 largest advertisers.

In Indonesia, personal care products such as shampoo, soap and deodorant accounted for five out of 10 most advertised brands as a result of keen competition led by Unilever and Procter & Gamble Co.

Private car and motorcycle advertising surged 125% and 131%, respectively, in the second quarter as Korean, Japanese and Chinese manufacturers took advantage of government policies that encouraged purchase of imports.

Garuda Indonesia Airways became the third most advertised brand after increasing advertising five-fold during April to June in an image-building campaign supporting corporate restructuring.

Singapore had a most dynamic half-year, with the deregulation of the media industry spurring ad investments by media owners themselves. The launch in May of Channel U and TVWorks, both owned by MediaWorks, a subsidiary of the newspaper giant SPH, sparked an ad and marketing war between MediaWorks and incumbent MediaCorp. -- Normandy Madden

Copyright August 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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