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SINGAPORE -- Telecommunications remains the top category spender in the first quarter of 2001 in Singapore, but telecom expenditure dropped 9% to $18 million.

Advertising as a whole moved at a sluggish pace during the period. Despite last year's deregulation in telephone industry and a loosening of the newspaper and broadcast monopolies, ad expenditure grew only 4% in the first quarter to $190 million. This compares with 23% growth for 2000, according to ACNielsen's AdEx figures.

Other top product categories were entertainment, posting $14 million, retail at $11 million, government and social organization at $9 million, and banking and investment at $8 million.

Singtel was the biggest individual advertiser, putting $8 million behind its Singtel Mobile and Singapore Telecom brands and promoting its Singapore Telecom IDD service. Asia Pacific Breweries took the second spot with $3.5 million, while the telecoms Starhub and MI came in third and fourth, respectively.

It was the first time leading brewery APB appeared on the top advertisers' list, and the company has secured its second position by spending 80% of its total ad budget aggressively pushing its Tiger beer campaign, mainly on TV and in print.

With ad expenditure of $3.5 million, Tiger beer also became the top brand, leapfrogging all-time winner McDonald's, which spent $1.6 million.

Newspapers remained the biggest ad medium but only registered an increase of $94 million, up 0.7%, compared with a 27% increase last year. TV, the second biggest medium, suffered a drop of $60 million, or 0.7%, on 2000.

This meant rises for other media, with ad expenditure jumping 26% for radio and 41% for bus and taxi media. Magazine ad revenue grew 21% and outdoor rose 26%.

"The double-digit growth of advertising expenditure in 2000 appears to be unsustainable," said Lennart Bengtsson, managing director of ACNielsen Singapore and Malaysia. "This is likely to be further aggravated by the recent downgrading of Singapore's GDP forecast for 2001, from between 5% and 7% to between 3.3% and 5.5%. Unless there is a major economic uplift, low single-digit growth can be expected this year.

"The modest growth in newspaper advertising is likely to be under threat, too.," he added. "The competition between Singapore Press Holdings and Mediacorp Press, which is heating up while total growth is soft, may not augur well for all concerned."

Last November, Mediacorp Press launched free paper Today to compete with SPH's three tabloid titles, The New Paper, Streats and Project Eyeball. The New Paper was the top tabloid, registering $3 million in ad expenditure, commanding a 37% share of the segment, but Today was a close second with $2.9 million and a 36% share.

ACNielsen AdEx monitors gross ad expenditures in major media at published rate card values, giving an indication of the state of the industry. Discounts that may be given by some media owners are not openly available. -- Magz Osborne

Copyright May 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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