Tuesday 4 August 2020 11:41 am

Public Health England becomes UK’s biggest advertiser during lockdown

Advertising spend in the UK almost halved during lockdown according to the latest figures, with Public Health England becoming the nation’s biggest advertiser over the course of the pandemic.

Traditional advertising spend — including on TV, newspapers, radio, cinema and billboards — fell more than £1.1bn year on year between the start of lockdown and the end of June, according to the latest data from Nielsen. 

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Shuttered high streets, grounded airlines and crippled marketing budgets resulted in a 48 per cent slump in ad spend during lockdown, down from £2.3bn in the same period last year to £1.2bn in 2020.

Big brands

Tough market conditions during the pandemic also caused big advertisers to slim down their ad spending in a bid to boost finances.

McDonald’s slashed its advertising budget by 97 per cent from £43.5m to £1.3m during lockdown. 

The fast food giant was forced to shut its 1,000 restaurants in the UK and Ireland from late March, which did not reopen for eat-in meals until last month.

Sky trimmed down its budget by 60 per cent during lockdown from £47m to £19m, after wide-scale sporting cancellations caused a £575m plunge in revenue.

Even online retail titan Amazon slashed its UK advertising spend on traditional media by more than three-quarters to £6.5m.

Public Health England

However, the requirement for national health and safety messaging catapulted Public Health England’s ad spending to £44m, marking a 5000 per cent year-on-year increase.

The steep hike meant the government became the largest advertiser in the UK during the pandemic, after public service announcements were splashed all over the TV, radio and billboards in a bid to curb the spread of infection.

“Public Health England ran an effective campaign to encourage lockdown compliance and raise awareness of best health practices, and its incredible increase in spend reflects the importance of advertising as a communication platform for any public or private body,” said Barney Farmer, the UK commercial director at Nielsen.

Public Health England’s ad output was almost 50 per cent higher than Unilever, the UK’s second highest advertiser during lockdown. 

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Other notable brands that significantly increased their spend during lockdown included Walt Disney, which spent heavily to promote its Disney Plus streaming service.

Disney Plus, which launched in the UK and Europe at the start of national lockdowns, were being introduced, boosted ad spend by almost 1,000 per cent year on year to £10.2m.

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