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Media support of AT&T and other long-distance brands shows nothing less than marathon stamina, according to Advertising Age's Top 200 Brands report.

Beginning with an all-out sprint with Olympics-inspired first quarter spending (up 85.7% from the prior-year period), AT&T coasted to a 2.8% advance in the second before closing with growth flourishes of 30.8% and 53.9% the last two quarters for a final 200-leading $698.6 million, up 36.7%.

The rest of the 200 followed suit, although at a more subdued pace-24.8%, 6.8% and 6.3% the first three quarters before closing at 8.8%.

Registering even more dramatic growth in spending than AT&T were the 200's telephone brands, up a collective 45.3% to $1.54 billion. The telephone category is an amalgam of the big three long-distance carriers, five regional companies and No. 195 Cellular One.

Ford was runner-up at $549.3 million, up 13.5%, in the 1994 list that extended to No. 200 General Foods instant coffees at $41.0 million-a cycle-bound brand with spending up 31.1% in '94 over '93, the latter down 6.6% from '92. Like the GF instant coffee media pattern, backing for a quarter of the 200 dropped beneath 1993 levels which, by comparison, usually were higher than 1992.

Ford took the checkered flag among the 30 auto brands that as a group dominated the 200 at $4.96 billion, up 21%, and nearly $1.9 billion more than the runner-up retail category. Autos accounted for about a quarter of the $21.1 billion spent by the 200. Eighteen of those brands carried growth percentages that capped the category's 10.9% advance in 1993 over the year-earlier period.

The 200 are a dominant lot. They accounted for 38% of all media ad spending in '94, virtually the same as in '93, according to 11 media monitored by Competitive Media Reporting.

The 200 were much more upbeat than in '93, growing 11.1% vs. 6.3% in '93 as other brands grew 9.8% vs. 3.6%. Typically, the 200 lead all advertising in growth.

Ad Age, however, encourages a careful reading of the data because of prior-year adjustments made to five mediums.

Cable was adjusted to show same-cable network growth for the two years; more intense monitoring of syndicated TV in '94 than '93 necessitated the use of a 12% growth rate estimated by the Advertiser Syndicated Television Association. Newspapers, skewed for several quarters by CMR's aggressive entry into new newspaper markets, were set at 4.6% growth, the Newspaper Association of America estimate for national and retail advertising combined. Spot TV's 14.1% growth excludes stepped up coverage by CMR in '94 that triggered noncomparable growth of 15.2%. Outdoor growth of 8% comes from the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.

Media adjustments were made only to composites (totals by media and category) and not to the media within each brand.

The fourth quarter, with its strong 8.8% growth in media from the 200 (10.4% from all advertisers), drew strong support from the Detroit automakers whose outlays rose to $954.8 million, up 17.3% over the prior-year period, and exceptional strength from the Asian makes, up 24.6% to $460.4 million. Typically, the quarter is the stronghold in ad volume for the Detroit makes, whereas the Asians tend to show no seasonality in spending. For the year, the 16 U.S. auto brands drew $2.91 billion in media, up 23%, and the 10 Asian makes pulled $1.76 billion, up 21.1%.

Retailers spent just under a third of their media budgets in the fourth, although that quarter's outlay for the 31 retailers advanced only a collective 0.6% over the prior-year period. Reduced spending also paralleled a flat Christmas season for most of these retailers.

Fourth-quarter spending declines were recorded at No. 29 Kmart stores (-1.0%), No. 38 Macy's stores (-23.5%), No. 72 Montgomery Ward stores (-3.6%) and No. 88 Broadway stores (-3.2)-all of which experienced media slippage for the full year.

General Motors Corp. boosted media spending 25.3% for all its brands in 1994 to almost catch perennial leader Procter & Gamble Co. Philip Morris Cos., backed by a 73% spurt in media from new acquisition Nabisco cereals, grew even faster, 28.1% to finish third.

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