Budgets ride perfect storm to eke out growth – for now

storm2Total marketing budgets have fought off the economic chaos once more to register another quarter of growth, although at just +2.1% many channels are being buffeted by the perfect storm of the cost-of-living crisis, soaring energy bills, weakening demand and fiscal uncertainty.

So says the latest IPA Bellwether Report for Q3, which reveals 22.2% of companies increased their total marketing budgets in the period, compared to 20.1%, although the vast majority remained the same so it is not all bad.

The positive net balance of +2.1% was down from +10.8% in the previous period and is the lowest growth seen across the current six-quarter expansion sequence.

Of the seven categories of marketing spend monitored by the Bellwether report, only events saw growth in Q3, reflecting the continued appetite for face-to-face meetings and engagements in person following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. Even here, however, growth slowed notably (net balance of +4.5%, from +22.2%).

Elsewhere, main media marketing budgets – which include big-ticket advertising campaigns relating to TV and radio – fell for the first time since Q1 2021 (net balance of -3.1%, from 0.0% previously).

Within the main media category, the largest drops were published brands (net balance of -11.2%, from -2.6%) while out of home budgets did recover slightly (net balance of -7.6%, from -15.9%) albeit still in decline. Audio also fell slightly (net balance of -2.0%, from -16.4%). Other online advertising (net balance of +9.3%, from +4.4%) and video (net balance of +8.7%, from +0.8%) meanwhile saw growth.

Direct marketing budgets, however, only fell fractionally (net balance of -0.6%, from 0.0%), while PR budgets fell for the first time in a year (net balance of -4.8%, from +3.7%), and a decrease of a similar strength was seen for market research (net balance of -4.1%, from -6.5%).

The largest downturn was once again seen in the “other” segment containing forms of marketing not accounted for by the survey (net balance of -10.5%, from -8.3%). Sales promotions budgets also fell, marking a second successive quarterly decrease to -7.5%, from -0.7%.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the current economic situation, the latest data signalled a stronger level of negativity among Bellwether firms towards the financial prospects of their specific industry, compared to three months ago.

While 6.3% of surveyed companies were more optimistic, 50.5% were downbeat, leading to a net balance of -44.3% – the most pessimistic assessment of industry-wide financial prospects since Q2 2020, as the Covid crisis erupted.

Company-own financial prospects moved in the same direction during the third quarter. Latest Bellwether data showed 40.6% of firms reporting a downbeat financial assessment of their business, compared with 13.0% that were more positive. At -27.6%, the net balance was likewise its lowest since the start of the pandemic.

Since the last Bellwether Report, little has changed regarding the immediate outlook for the UK economy. A recession is likely to have started in the third quarter, but the Bellwether authors S&P anticipate it being short and shallow, in part owing to the support measures provided by Government to assist households and firms with their energy bills.

This relief is likely to have also helped sustain adspend into the end of the year. As a result, the Bellwether has upwardly revised its 2022 adspend forecast to 3.7%, from 1.6% previously.

Nevertheless, high inflation will continue to squeeze incomes, while weak demand in key export markets, financial market volatility and subdued corporate investment will likely weigh on real GDP in 2023.

As such, S&P’s GDP growth forecast for next year has been reduced from 0.5% to 0.2%, and, as such, Bellwether adspend growth forecast has also been trimmed to 0.3% (from 0.8%). With high inflation also set to persist into next year, this will continue to dampen real rates of growth.

Beyond 2023, Bellwether adspend forecasts are little-changed since the previous report. It is slightly more bullish on adspend growth in 2024 (1.6%, from 1.4%) in part due to its expectation that a consumer-led UK recession will only be short-lived.

IPA director general Paul Bainsfair said: “We know from analysis of additional S&P500 data and new data from the FTSE 100 benchmarks that strong brands are a critical strategic asset that deliver value and that their budgets are an investment not a cost.

“Furthermore, we see from this data that strongly branded companies recover quickly after a crisis and retain their performance. We appreciate, however, that while increasing or maintaining investment in marketing during these tough economic times is generally the ideal thing for companies to do, it is not necessarily the easiest thing to do – as these latest Bellwether results imply. But there are ways around this.

“Instead of slashing budgets that can lose brands their customers’ awareness and subsequent market share, our experts would advise that after optimising their pricing and promotions strategy, which would usually include supporting with brand advertising, companies tweak their marketing budgets subject to their geography, portfolio, channels and media – all of which will have variations that can also be optimised accordingly. Equally, we’d advocate a longer-term approach that steers away from heavy sales activations which can erode brand loyalty and lose companies profit.”

S&P Global Market Intelligence senior economist Joe Hayes, who is author of the Bellwether Report, added: “Bellwether survey data suggests that UK companies were able to squeeze out another round of marketing budget growth in the third quarter, although momentum has faded quite significantly since the first half of 2022 as the broader economic picture has darkened.

“Budget cuts are being seen across the majority of the monitored segments of marketing spend as companies move into retrenchment mode due to soaring costs and slowing demand.

“The cost-of-living crisis will continue to weigh on household earnings throughout the winter, meaning discretionary spending cutbacks are inevitable for the UK’s low-to-middle income groups that are at the heart of the economy.”

For full reaction to the Bellwether findings click here>

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