Momentous milestone? U.S. advertising dips below 1% of GDP for the first time in living memory.

sdThe advertising industry has often been characterized as “boring.”  This 2014 analytical article from Bloomberg encapsulates the argument pretty succinctly.

Still, the “lay of the land” in the late 2000s and early 2010s represents a bit of a changeup from the previous decades of predictability.

During the period beginning the late 2000s when the “advertising recession” hit in an even bigger way than the overall U.S. economic recession, I’ve heard various industry insiders posit that there was more than merely a retrenchment happening due to overall economic conditions.

Beyond that, it was suggested that a migration was happening away from traditional advertising methods to more measurable ones.

Now we have more than just hunches to go on — and the results appear to be aligning with those suspicions.

The new evidence comes in the form of statistics released this week and reported on by MediaPost.

According to an analysis of ad spending trends published by Sanford Bernstein Research and Magna Global, for the first time in modern history U.S. advertising industry revenues have dropped below 1% of total U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

During the period 1999 to 2010, total advertising averaged 1.25% of GDP, but since then the percentage has stagnated or fallen. The 2014 total advertising estimate of $165 billion is 0.95% of GDP.  (The Bernstein/Magna research covers U.S. advertising revenues up through the year 2014.)

tbThe decline in advertising’s share of GDP is primarily due to the diminishing importance of two key traditional media categories: broadcast TV and cable TV.

Broadcast TV advertising’s annual revenue growth averaged around 3% per year between 1990 and 2010.  Since 2011, it’s been flat.

Cable TV has done somewhat better – but even there what had been around 12% growth per year has slowed to just a ~3% annual increase.

With such big baseline numbers for broadcast and cable TV, the behavior of these two broadcast categories have been key drivers of the advertising sector’s overall performance.

But we mustn’t forget another category that’s been performing pretty miserably of late: newspaper advertising.  It’s experienced a ~10% decline on a compound annual basis from 2010 to 2014.

That decline is even steeper than earlier projections had suggested.

Todd Juenger, a vice president and senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein, made a key takeaway observation about the newly published figures, noting:

“Our original piece theorized [that] advertising would recover to prior levels. Instead, it has remained deflated, suggesting the perhaps the Internet really has enabled marketers to eliminate waste.”

He’s right, of course.

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