The ad spend canary's wings have hit heavy air

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 11 February 2020
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The ad spend canary, already exhausted and underweight, has come up against an economic wall, blocking growth for the first half of 2020.

The latest numbers from SMI (Standard Media Index) show 2019 ended in the negative, with media agency bookings down 5.3% to $6.8 billion over the 12 months.

The final three months of the year  were "unexpectedly difficult" with December quarter bookings down 7.9%, according to analysts at the SMI.

December, with a 6.9% fall, was the the 16th month in a row to record a slide in media agency bookings.

And the start to 2020 has been marked by two major blows to the economy: the bushfire crisis; and the Wuhan virus, which has called a halt to big spending Chinese tourists in Australia.

This is on top of weak advertising spend in the retail, automotive and banking sectors. 

Pia Coyle, national head of investment, Ikon Communications, expects the soft end to 2019 will continue into at least the first six months of 2020.

"Whilst it seems the number of briefs in market has picked up, there is a lot of movement, as clients reduce or pull budgets or make significant changes," she says.

"There is a sense of nervousness from media owners, as the ability to predict revenue becomes harder and harder.

"Overall, we will see low growth in 2020, compounded by factors such as slowing local economy, the effect of coronavirus on tourism and the bushfires locally."

The 2019 advertising market was described by analysts at Macquarie as "one of the worst in recent history for traditional media assets". 

"We expect a rebound in some sectors, even if it is only in the context of very weak comparables," the analysts write in a note to clients.

"Housing is rebounding, auto is stabilising, and there is scope for government spend to return to growth during the year on some media.

"All up, we see more moderate trends in calendar year 2020, with FTA TV down -2.4%, Radio down -3.0% and Out of Home up +4.1%."

The bushfires have already dampened consumer confidence and that has flowed through to weak retail spending.

A string of retailers have been reporting a poor Santa rally. A clearer picture will emerge when companies post profit results this month.

“We think further reports of store disruptions and softer trading are likely from other retailers leading into and during reporting season,” say analysts at investmnet bank UBS.

Damage across industry sectors is difficult to determine. But “the impact on consumers, businesses and infrastructure assets will have implications for the economy and listed companies,” say the analysts at UBS in a note to clients.

Retail, insurance, food and beverage, and transport are likely to feel the largest drag.

Brand Australia has also taken a hit with tourism companies reporting weaker forward bookings.

Researchers at Wilsons wealth advisers say sensationalist media stories have created uncertainty for potential tourists.

“Anecdotal feedback suggests enquiries for the cancelation of upcoming trips has spiked and forward looking bookings are weak,” Wilsons says in a note to clients.

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