While overall US expenditure on measured media placements tumbled 9% in 2001, spend on the nation’s top 200 brands remained far steadier, decreasing only 0.8% according to the new Megabrand survey from Advertising Age.

Nevertheless, the decline among the major brands was the first drop since 1991, when spend across the leading two hundred dipped 1.2% and advertising by all brands dropped 8.1%.

The yearly report monitors American ad buys across eleven media, including broadcast and cable TV, newspapers, magazines, outdoor and radio, and ranks brands by spend. The top 200 accounted for 36.3% of total US media buys last year, up from 33.3% in 2000.

Top of the pile in 2001 was AT&T, which includes both AT&T and the AT&T Wireless spin-off. This brand’s spend jumped 26.3% to $996.6 million, dislodging 2000’s leader Chevrolet from the number one spot.

Although still the top-spending sector, car makers in general had a poor year, with spend by auto brands in the top 200 declining 10% to $7.73 billion. Only Ford upped its ad budget.

Retail was the second largest category in the survey with adspend of $5.33bn, a decline of 2.6%. The fastest growth was posted by the highly competitive telecoms sector, up 36.8% to $3.61bn, while direct-to-consumer drugs surged 23% to $1.37bn.

The top ten brands and their spend (with year-on-year percentage change in parentheses) were:

1. AT&T, $996.6m (+26.3%)
2. Verizon, $824.4m (+51.9%)
3. Chevrolet, $780.4 (-4.9%)
4. Ford, $655.9m (+11.5%)
5. McDonald’s, $635.1m (-4.6%)
6. Sprint, $620.4m (-3.8%)
7. Toyota, $568.3m (-6.2%)
8. Sears, $511.5m (+67.3%)
9. Dodge, $499.2m (-24.5%)
10. Chrysler, $474.4m (-9.5%)

Of the different media, only cable and syndicated television posted rises, with both up less than 1% each. Among the rest, magazines tumbled 7.2%, newspapers dropped 6.3% and spot TV sank 18.9%.

Growth for 2002 is expected to rely on spending boosts by direct-to-consumer drugs, telecoms and the auto sector.

Data sourced from: AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff