'It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good,' runs the old proverb ... but last year's hurricanes were great news for the US advertising industry.

The latest survey of the highest-spending ad categories in 2005 from Nielsen Monitor-Plus shows an expenditure leap by insurance companies of 31.3%, far outstripping the nation's overall adspend increase of 7.4% to $125.5 billion (€105.6bn; £72bn).

The numbers - not finalized - don't include online ad revenue, where the nation's biggest insurers have invested heavily.

Ed Gold, director of media and sponsorship at insurance firm State Farm, says online opportunities are offering consumers new ways to buy insurance, and internet continues to attract increasing number of ad dollars as TV becomes increasingly fragmented.

Retail stores were the highest-spending category, according to the Nielsen survey, followed by car and truck makers, despite the gloom in the industry.

Other big gainers for the year were real estate, which increased spending by 29.4% to offset the cooling housing market. The bath toiletries sectors also boosted adspend by the same amount.

The credit card/travellers' checks segment rose 10.9%, while spending by the American Express brand soared 82.9%, the largest increase of any brand in the top ten.

Losers include the cleaners, cleansers and polishers segment, down 22.1%, and footwear which registered a 17.7% drop.

The overall adspend figures came as a surprise to some who predicted smaller gains.

Robert Coen, forecast director at Universal McCann in New York, had pegged the 2005 increase at 4.6%, a downgrade of an earlier estimate. He says he will reserve judgement on Nielsen's numbers until he has seen all the data.

Data sourced from Adweek (USA); additional content by WARC staff