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.

Where are Newspapers Now?

Newspaper ad revenues continue in the doldrums.John Barlow of Barlow Research Associates, Inc. reminds me that it’s been awhile since I blogged about the dire straits of America’s newspaper industry. The twin whammies of a major economic recession along with the rapidly changing ways Americans are getting their news have hammered advertising revenues and profits, leading to organizational restructuring, bankruptcies, and more.

But with the recession bottoming out (hopefully?), there was hope that the decline in newspaper ad revenues might be arrested as well.

Well, the latest industry survey doesn’t provide much cause for celebration. A poll of ~2,700 small and mid-size businesses conducted this summer by Portland, OR-based market research firm ITZBelden and the American Press Institute finds that ~23% of these businesses plan to cut back on newspaper advertising this year.

The kicker is that these revenues are being spent, but they’re being put to use in other advertising media.

The ITZBelden survey found that a similar ~23% of companies plan to up their 2010 digital ad spending anywhere from 10% to 30%. This compares to only about 10% planning to increase their print advertising by similar proportions.

Moreover, the survey findings reveal that small and mid-size U.S. businesses have moved into digital marketing in a significant way. Not only do more than 80% of them maintain web sites, they’re active in other areas, including:

 ~45% maintain a Facebook or MySpace page
 ~23% are engaged in online couponing
 ~13% are involved with Craigslist
 ~10% are listed on Yelp! or similar user-review sites

One area which is still just a relative blip on the screen is mobile advertising, in that fewer than 4% of the respondents reported activities in that advertising category.

Where are these advertisers planning to put their promotional funds going forward? While newspapers should continue to represent around one quarter of the expenditures, various digital media expenditures will account for ~13% of the activity, making this more important than direct mail, TV and Yellow Pages advertising.

There was one bright spot for newspapers in the survey, however. Respondents expressed a mixture of confusion and bewilderment about the constantly evolving array of digital marketing communications options opening up … and they’re looking for support from media experts to guide their plans and activities.

And where do they see this expert advice coming from? Newspaper ad reps.

Perhaps the Yellow Book’s “Beyond Yellow” small business advertising campaign – you know, the one that touts not only the Yellow Pages advertising but also web development, online advertising, search marketing and mobile advertising – is onto something.

Newspapers Turn on Each Other

Dinosaurs in Disney's FantasiaLast week, the Associated Press reported that U.S. newspaper advertising revenues declined dramatically in 2009, bringing ad receipts to the lowest level recorded in nearly 25 years.

In fact, newspaper publishers’ total advertising revenues last year came in below $28 billion, down $10 billion from 2008. According to the Newspaper Association of America, annual ad revenues have now fallen by nearly $22 billion – a whopping 44% — since 2006.

And now, amid this toxic environment comes word that The Wall Street Journal has declared an all-out war on The New York Times for local advertising. In mid-April, the Journal — up to now focused almost exclusively on national and international news — is set to introduce a New York-focused section as part of its paper. Outside observers believe this will put as much as ~20% of the New York Times’ retail advertising revenues at risk.

And this isn’t a minor foray on the part of the WSJ, either. It will be spending upwards of $15 million to produce the new 12-page section which will cover local business, real estate, sports and cultural events. The financial outlay includes salaries for ~35 editorial writers – surely one of the few instances of new editor jobs actually becoming available.

The WSJ action couldn’t come at a worse time for the Times, which has experienced sharper ad revenue declines than the industry average. It’s responding by launching a major trade marketing campaign of its own, touting its audience strength with female readers and “high culture” afficionados.

But just how effective this countermove will be is debatable, as recent moves by the paper haven’t exactly telegraphed a continuing commitment to the local news scene. In the last few years alone, the Times has consolidated weekly sections covering specific regions of the New York metro area (Long Island, Westchester, Northern New Jersey), as well as axing its stand-alone “City” and “Metro” sections.

Over the coming months, it’ll be interesting to see how effective the WSJ is with its new local-focused section – whether or not it’ll land a major blow on its rival.

Either way, the vision of two venerable newspapers engaged in a Herculean struggle, fighting over an ever-shrinking advertising pie is isn’t exactly a pretty sight.

It reminds me of the famous scenes in the Disney movie Fantasia of the huge dinosaurs furiously going after one other – even as the world’s changing ecosystem is rendering the entire species extinct.