Six years on … and the U.S. ad economy is still in recession?

recession recoveryTwo reports from advertising research sources released in the past month reveal that the advertising field doesn’t appear to be rebounding in strongly – at least not to same degree as the economy as a whole.

One report, from U.S. Ad Market Tracker, is an index that pools electronic media buys processed by major agency holding companies and their brand marketers.

It’s true that this report shows an increase in the overall ad activity index year-over-year of about 18 points (it’s 184 today … 166 a year ago … and 100 back in the recession year of 2009).

But when we look at the breakdown where most of the advertising growth is coming from, it’s nearly all from a handful of categories: social media advertising, advertising on video, Internet radio, plus ad network marketplaces.

By contrast, search advertising is growing at a much slower rate, and the most “commoditized” segments – particularly online display advertising – are doing little better than treading water.

This isn’t the robust rebound that many business and ad industry observers were expecting to see by 2015.

advertisingOver at Kantar Media, the statistics are even less encouraging.

In fact, Kantar projects that the 2015 ad economy will underperform U.S. economic growth for the fifth straight year.

Considering how lethargic in general the U.S. economy has been over that period, to be growing at less than the average is almost an indictment of the industry.

That’s what Kantar Media Chief Research Officer Jon Swallen suggests:  a “streak that might have once seemed unimaginable, but now would seem par for the course.”

Second-quarter 2015 data released by Kantar estimates annualized measured media ad spending declines in the neighborhood of 4%.

More to the point, Kantar is seeing increases in just 7 of the 22 individual ad media categories it tracks, led by the same categories U.S. Ad Market Tracker identifies as the most healthy ones.

Perhaps a surprise — considering the overall disappointing numbers — is that Kantar has tracked two analogue categories as experiencing growth:  radio and out-of-home advertising.

But print continues to decline at pronounced rates, and Internet display advertising has also officially joined the ranks of media segments that are contracting.

Is the disappointing performance of advertising a function of a weak market overall?  Or is it the result of structural changes and the reallocation of promo dollars into different, in some cases non-advertising MarComm vehicles?

I’m not completely sure.  It’s true that certain advertising categories that are “newer” ones are attracting more attention (and more dollars).  But Kantar’s 2nd Quarter reporting of advertising expenditures by major industry category finds just one – one – segment that has experienced an overall increase year-over-year — pharmaceuticals:

Ad economy chart

When just one industry segment out of ten is showing an increase, it suggests more than just some restructuring or re-jiggering is going on. Instead, it’s just as likely that the U.S. advertising economy remains stuck in a recession, even if the overall economy has finally emerged from it.

What are your thoughts on the tepid advertising results? Please share your views with other readers.

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