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Nielsen: UK 48% decline in ad spend

August 4, 2020

Public Health England was the UK’s biggest spender in traditional advertising during the lockdown period, reveals Nielsen AdIntel data. Unilever takes second place, spending £29.4 million (€32.5m), followed by Procter & Gamble at £27.7 million.

Overall, the UK’s lockdown period saw a huge drop in advertising, as lifestyle restrictions and budget concerns led to a 48 per cent drop in spend across cinema, out of home (OOH), press, radio and TV, representing more than £1.1 billion.

McDonald’s had the biggest reduction in YoY advertising spend (-97 per cent), followed by Sky (-60 per cent) and Amazon (-77 per cent). OOH advertising was significantly hit, as advertisers cut spend in response to lockdown and as high footfall areas became deserted. Although spend on OOH almost doubled from £14 million in May to £25 million in June as restrictions eased, this was still well below normal levels.

However, some advertisers increased spend during this period. The government significantly upped spend, primarily through Public Health England which saw a year-on-year increase of over 5,000 per cent, as public health campaigns to help control the virus were quickly rolled out across multiple channels. The government spent a further £15.8 million on advertising, representing a 115 per cent increase year-on-year.

Other advertisers that increased their ad spend included eBay (+176 per cent), Walt Disney for Disney+ (+962 per cent), O2 (+65 per cent) and Microsoft (+142 per cent), reflecting the ongoing relevance of their offerings during this period.

Some categories such as cosmetics and personal care, saw big fluctuations in ad spend as Procter & Gamble cut spend by £9.9 million while competitor Unilever increased spend by £3.5 million. Online retail brands spent 19.8 per cent more on advertising overall as consumers ordered from home, but Amazon had the third biggest decline in ad spend with a £22 million fall compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, the categories which represented the largest cuts in ad spend were entertainment and leisure (-£207 million) and travel and transport (-£138 million) with both industries suffering immediate revenue loss due to lockdown restrictions.

Barney Palmer, UK Commercial Director at Nielsen, said: “There was no guidebook on how to navigate advertising during the lockdown period, with customers restricted to home environments and an unclear exit strategy. As a result, we have seen varying approaches to advertising, with some increasing spend while the majority cut back. Public Health England ran an effective campaign to encourage lockdown compliance and raise awareness of best health practices, and its incredible increase in spend reflects the importance of advertising as a communication platform for any public or private body. As we transition into a less restricted environment, we expect spend to pick up significantly as brands vie to be front of mind.”


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