Food and government ad spending soars as travel and entertainment plummets

Advertising spend on traditional channels reflected both consumption changes and new behaviours from homebound consumers during the month the UK went into lockdown.

The travel, entertainment and telecoms sectors made the biggest reductions to their ad spend in March as Covid-19’s impact on advertising spend led to their combined ad spend dropping by more than £39m.

Spend by brands in the travel sector was down 48%, entertainment 17% and telecoms 15%, according to Nielsen data. By contrast, food ad spend rose by 18%, government by 22% and computing by 41%.

The biggest increase was among online retailers, which increased their ad spend by 208%, while other sectors to see big increases include mail order brands on 40% and leisure equipment on 37%.

Total advertising spend on traditional channels – which includes TV, press, cinema, out of home and radio – was down 5% year on year to £586m. However, while overall ad spend decreased in March, TV actually experienced an increase of increased of 4% to £412m for the month, accounting for 70% of total advertising spend.

March was the month the UK went into lockdown so the full impact of this is not seen in the numbers. However, the week of March 23, when the UK officially went into lockdown, saw a dramatic shift in advertising. Weekly spend on press fell by 38% to £15m – its lowest weekly figure in 2020 – while cinema declined by 94%, out-of-home by 22% and radio by 20%.

Media Spend Share
TV £412.2m 70%
Press £95m 16%
Radio £64.4m 11%
Cinema £13.9m 2%

Consumer goods companies Unilever, which spent £10m, and Procter & Gamble, on £9.4m, were the top two TV advertisers in March. NHS England spent £3.9m on TV advertising, while the supermarkets Asda, Aldi and Tesco spent £3.7m, £3m and £2.1m respectively.

Looking ahead to the coming months, Nielsen’s UK commercial director Barney Farmer says it is clear these results represent just the beginning of the shifts in spend caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The question of which ad sectors will return and how much advertising spend will be injected back into the market will depend on many factors – the most important of which will be the government’s guidance on what, when and how we can move about freely.

“The travel and tourism sectors, for example, which are typically big ad spenders will be waiting to see whether people can boo or take summer holidays both at home and abroad. This will determine the marketing messages being run – or potentially lack of them.”