HM Government Becomes UK’s Biggest Advertiser in 2020, Nielsen Data Reveals

New ad spend figures highlight the powerful impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the UK government and Public Health England in 2020’s top ten UK advertisers

LONDON, UK: A release today from Nielsen (NYSE: NLSN) highlights where the UK’s top advertisers spent their budgets last year and the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on traditional advertising channels.

The findings reveal the changing priorities for ad spend in the UK, with HM Government estimated to have been the biggest UK advertiser in 2020, increasing spend by 238%. In a clear reflection of how the pandemic impacted advertising budgets, Public Health England also made it into the top 10 advertiser list, with the highest growth in budget of any organisation, reaching almost eight times the previous year’s spend.

The data, which includes budget spent on outdoor, press, radio, TV and cinema advertising, is collated by Nielsen’s Ad Intel, provides advertising spend volumes across a variety of channels, advertisers and product categories. The top ten 2020 ad spenders, in order of estimated spend, is as follows:

AdvertiserEstimated expenditure in 2020 (£)Expenditure % Year on Year
Grand Total7,275,444,852-19.14
HM Government163,911,693237.58
Procter & Gamble117,235,523-15.82
Public Health England80,520,237796.15
Reckitt Benckiser75,156,506-10.89

Overall ad spend across the top ten UK advertisers dropped in 2020, seeing an almost 20% fall compared to 2019. However, half of the advertisers included continued to increase spend this year, with Unilever, Tesco and L’Oréal were all able to maintain or increase their budgets. On the other hand, McDonalds is estimated to have reduced ad spend the most in 2020 (by more than 40%), reflecting how stay at home orders impacted the fast food giant.

In addition, the data also analyses where the top UK advertisers spent their ad budgets in 2020, highlighting some dramatic shifts in spend on traditional media channels caused by changes in consumer behaviour through multiple Covid-19 lockdowns.

Media typeEstimated expenditure in 2020 (£)Expenditure % Year on Year
Grand total7,275,444,852-19.14

Unsurprisingly, lockdown measures impacted cinema advertising more than any other channel for the top ten UK advertisers, seeing a reduction in ad spend of more than 80%. This is followed by outdoor, which was also hit hard as the population stayed at home.

“The last year has been one of huge uncertainty for advertisers and they have had to think carefully about how to adapt their ad strategies to continue connecting with consumers effectively” commented Barney Farmer, UK Managing Director, Nielsen. “As a result, not only have we seen the UK Government increase advertising significantly to ensure vital public health messaging, we’ve also seen the biggest players in the advertising space hone in on data and insights available to them to ensure ad spend is as effective as possible.”

“As we work through 2021 we can expect further changes to behaviour and it is vital all advertisers, big and small, rely on up-to-the-minute, accurate data to inform their media buying decisions. While we have seen spend movement across media channels,  we have also seen variety in how brands are targeting consumers based on their own specific audience base and needs.”

For more information about Nielsen Ad Intel’s analysis, visit the website here.

About Nielsen

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