Against expectations, ad sales strong in Australia, a record in NZ

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In a market distinguished by offers and incentives, newspaper advertising in Australia grew strongly while that in New Zealand was the highest in March since 2017.

Standard Media Index AU/NZ managing director Jane Ractliffe said as the COVID pandemic hit the NZ media was in a stronger financial position than Australia's as NZ's media has recorded a four per cent increase in financial year ad spend while in Australia the market is back 6.6 per cent over that period.

"This context is important as going forward we can see future confirmed bookings in NZ are already slightly above that evident in Australia, and that stands to reason as confidence in the NZ media market has been at a far higher level for the past nine months,'' she said.

Strong growth in newspaper ad spend was the common early COVID-19 ad spend trend across both media markets, although total media market trends varied markedly in March.

Australian media agency bookings were back 10.6 per cent in March as a lower level than usual of late digital bookings failed to push the market into a single digit decline, as had been expected.

However, if the figures were normalised for last year's pre-election spike in political party/union bookings, the market total was back 9.3 per cent. In New Zealand media agency bookings grew 1.1 per cent, giving that market its third consecutive month of growth.

She said as first social restrictions began to take effect in late March, there was some evidence of market reaction, with "the most obvious" being the growth in newspaper bookings.

"Growth in Australian national newspaper bookings was the strongest in any media this month with the total soaring 30.2 per cent, while in NZ total media agency bookings to newspapers lifted 35.7 per cent to give that media its highest March ad spend since 2017.

SMI's Forward Pacings data for April - with a week of trading still to go - showed Australian ad spend at 57 per cent of that achieved in April 2019 (excluding digital) while in New Zealand the value of confirmed media was 59.7 per cent of that reported for the month last year.

"Those figures suggest that in both the Australian and New Zealand media markets we should see declines in media agency bookings of about 30 per cent, although the final results won't be known until we collect more data,'' she said.

Many product categories are already showing "bullish" levels of media investment in May, suggesting an improvement on April's results.

Household supplies in Australia is already booked at 91 per cent of last year, while in NZ, spend for the 'other financial services' category is already 40 per cent above May 2019.

SMI has introduced three premium retail product sub-categories - supermarkets/convenience stores, alcohol retailers and shopping malls/operators - bringing the total retail-specific categories on which SMI reports to nine.

New breakdowns for domestic bank ad spend, with six new premium sub-categories are also to be released in May. They are brand/sponsorship, consumer banking, business banking, institutional banking, home loans and savings/deposits.

Extra COVID ad spend updates outside SMI's usual fortnightly data releases will continue over coming months.

"It's never been more important to have the facts about how advertising demand is tracking and we want to ensure all our media and advertiser stakeholders continue to have an accurate view of the market on which to make important decisions in this unprecedented time,'' Ractliffe said.

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