COI Communications, the administrative interface between the British government and its roster of advertising and marketing agencies, in 2001 (an election year) became the nation’s highest spending advertiser – leading to accusations of electioneering from the government’s political rivals.

But although the data, compiled by ACNielsen MMS and published in Marketing magazine, puts the government at the top of the spending heap, the true plutocrat is Unilever whose aggregated spend across its various operating units nudged it unofficially past the COI by a mere 82 grand.

The top twenty big spenders and their outlays were:

1. COI Communications / £142,551,224 ($203.9m; €233.1m)
2. Procter & Gamble / £114,232,164
3. British Telecom / £91,794,411
4. Ford Motor Company / £82,138,294
5. Renault / £64,294,314
6. Vauxhall Motors (General Motors) / £55,496,901
7. DFS Northern Upholstery / £50656,732
8. L’Oréal Golden / £49,118,512
9. J Sainsbury / £46,003,894
10. Peugeot Motor Company / £45,616,597
11. Lever Fabergé Personal Care / £43,613,599
12. Kellogg / £41,879,913
13. Lever Fabergé Home Care / £41,602,651
14. Volkswagen / £41,061,346
15. McDonald’s / £40,494,591
16. Unilever Bestfoods / £39,047,147
17. Orange / £38,242,657
18. Reckitt Benkiser / £37,106.767
19. Mars Confectionery / £36,855,151
20. Toyota / £36,827,093

Overall spend fell 3.7% year-on-year to £2.86bn, compared with an increase of 2.1% in 2000 and 10% in 1999. The worldwide downturn in advertising expenditure was underscored by the fact that fifty-nine of the top 100 UK advertisers reduced spend in 2001, compared with 48 in 2000 and just 29 in 1999.

The brunt of the downturn was borne by TV (total ad revenues: £1.8bn) and radio (£136.3m), both down by 6.4%. Cinema advertising, however, enjoyed a bonanza year with the top 100 advertisers spending £84.3m – up 108.8% on 2000. Leading the movie-going largesse was the automotive sector followed by telecoms and drinks.

But even in the face of reduced revenues, TV and press still led the media pack, outstripping cinema, radio and outdoor with P&G topping the TV expenditure league and BT the press – the latter ahead only by a nose from the COI, which was also the biggest radio spender. Vauxhall led in the outdoor stakes spending £6.1m.

Data sourced from: Marketing magazine and BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff