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We can hear you now, Verizon.

The telecommunications company's media spending of $1.51 billion led all megabrands in media spending for the third year in a row, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Just two years ago it was the first megabrand to crack the billion-dollar mark in full-year spending, and its ad growth shows no immediate signs of abating.

The Top 200 Megabrands racked up $42.82 billion in media spending for 2004, up 14%. This accounted for 31.7% of the $135.14 billion (up 10.6%) in measured spending among all advertisers for the year. The megabrands stretched to No. 200 Procrit, the anemia drug from Johnson & Johnson at $56.8 million.

TV (broadcast and cable) drew the heaviest outlays from the group at $26.51 billion. Network TV remained the medium of choice, receiving $12.89 billion, up 13.8%. Cable passed spot TV as the second-largest TV medium, at $5.43 billion, up 25.3%, to spot's $5.36 billion, up 8.5%.

The automotive category at $10.59 billion, up 13.4%, nearly doubled spending from runner-up retail ($5.51 billion) or No. 3 telecom ($5.33 billion).

Ford, backed by $948 million, remained the auto megabrand with the most spending, but Nissan's continued media blitz gave it $901 million, up 15.2%, edging out Chevrolet for the second spot. Chevy, which trimmed spending by almost 20% in 2003, rebounded with an '04 increase of 29.1%.

An indication of telecom's growing power is the category's six leading megabrands aggregated $4.61 billion in spending compared with $4.81 billion from the top six auto megabrands. Two trends keep telecom's future spending growth in flux. The merging of AT&T with Cingular and Nextel with Sprint will likely result in expenditures less than the pre-merger sum of their ad parts, but stepped up marketing efforts will be required as telecom butts heads with cable and Internet companies in the race to bundle U.S. household telecom and entertainment needs.

Financial services grew the most of any Top 200 category-at 33.7%-to $2.93 billion. Growth came mostly from heavily consumer-oriented Citibank, up 117.7% in spending, Capital One, up 87.2%, and Bank of America, up 43.8%. Bank of America's volumes are sure to grow in the near term. The bank is in the process of buying credit-card strong MBNA Corp. for $35 billion in cash and stock. This past year it acquired FleetBoston.

Biggest growth by medium was Internet, up 56.1% among the megabrands. The computer category led all others in Internet spending at $318.5 million, up 75.4% compared to that category's 2.8% growth among all media. Telecom grew 166.2% in Internet to $234.9 million, with Verizon on top at $117.6 million, up a whopping 566.4%. But Philip Morris growth one-upped Verizon, hitting $36.4 million versus $279,800 in Internet in 2003.

Print media (all forms of magazines and newspapers measured by TNS) rose 7.9% overall in 2004, and 9.6% among the Top 200. Among all advertisers print took in $56.17 billion, almost equaling the $58.01 billion spent in TV. This trend doesn't apply to the top megabrands, however. The $26.51 billion spent by these brands in TV dwarfs their $12.91 billion in print.

Newspapers are poised to suffer if there is spending erosion from key Top 200 categories. Local newspapers received $5.03 billion from the Top 200, up 3%, and $2 billion of that came from the nine telecom megabrands. Verizon alone placed $580 million in local papers. Retailer megabrands, traditionally heavy spenders in newspapers, put $1.7 billion into local papers, down 3.7%.

Consumer magazines grew 11.2% among all advertisers to $21.29 billion, and 14.7% to $6.13 billion among the top 200 megabrands. The megabrand auto category was the biggest spender in magazines, pouring $2.03 billion into their pages; the top five auto megabrands alone spent $1.02 billion in magazines, with Ford's $274 million leading the way.

The Top 200's pharmaceutical category, comprising 33 prescription and over-the-counter drugs, was the group's fourth largest category at $3.53 billion, up 33.2%, although recent scrutiny over DTC advertising threatens to deter future growth in the category. AstraZeneca's Nexium drew the largest ad pot at $242 million, up 4.7%. Crestor, also from AstraZeneca, and Tylenol from J&J each attracted more than $200 million.

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