Nielsen rankings show HM Government was the UK’s top advertiser in 2020, ahead of Unilever, Sky, and P&G

Government advertising had been in decline since 2011, when the Central Office of Information closed down after 76 years in business. But then came Boris Johnson and the pandemic — a combination that produced a budget increase of 238 per cent to £164 million in 2020, making HM Government the top advertiser in the country.

All those triptych slogans like “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives” and “Hands. Face. Space” have done well for agencies, particularly MullenLowe, which also created some very strong work in support of the NHS and won a special MAA award in 2020 when it was named “Crisis agency of the year.”

Public Health England also saw a big rise in spend, up 796 per cent to £81 million.

The UK’s second biggest spender on advertising in 2020 was Unilever at £137 million, up 76 per cent on the previous year.

However, overall spend was down 19 per cent to £7.25 billion. Tesco spent marginally (1.2 per cent) more in 2020 at £81 million and L’Oreal was up 7 per cent to £72 million, but most of the other big advertisers – unsurprisingly – spent less last year.

Sky was down 30 per cent to £124 million; Procter & Gamble down 16 per cent to £117 million; and McDonald’s down 41 per cent to £90 million. The demand for hygiene products did not boost Reckitt Benckiser’s budget, which was down 11 per cent to £75 million.

Despite having a bumper year, Amazon chose to invest substantially less of its money in advertising, reducing its budget by 40 per cent to £67 million.

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