U.S. advertising expenditure, for various media and type categories across the years 1919 to 2007, is now available in a dataset convenient for extensive analysis. These data quantify the rise of advertising on radio, on television, in telephone directories (yellowbook), and on the Internet. They also quantify less widely discussed media for advertising, such as direct mail, billboards and outdoor advertising, and advertising in business papers (trade press). You can, of course, also create your own categories, such as ad expenditure totals relative to GDP. Advertising is widely regarded as an important aspect of new media businesses. This dataset is meant to inform thinking in this time of dramatic changes in the communications industry.
The advertising expenditure data mainly come from Robert J. Coen, now at Magna in the McCann Erickson advertising agency. Coen has worked for decades putting together advertising expenditure figures. His advertising data were published in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 (see pages 855-7). The Television Advertising Bureau has made available online a recent version of Coen’s data covering the years 1948 to 2007. I’ve augmented that data with Coen data for 1919 to 1947, previously made publicly available on the Internet. In addition, I’ve added some categories of advertising expenditure for 1919 to 1934. These additional figures are based on some Coen data, some data from other sources, and my own estimates. In recognition of Coen’s work, I’ll call the dataset the “Coen Structured Advertising Expenditure Dataset,” or the “CS Ad Dataset” for short.
The CS Ad Dataset includes various advertising expenditure categories and aggregation schemes. These are described in the CS Ad Dataset “categories” and “schemes” sheets. Separating advertising into national and local advertising is possible from 1935. The category “Television” was divided into “Broadcast TV” and “Cable” in 1990. The category “Out of Home” replaced the category “Billboards” in 2000, with the former encompassing about three times as much expenditure as the later. Categorization has become more specific over time. In 1935, about 20% of advertising expenditure fell within a “Miscellaneous” category. By 2007, the share of “Miscellaneous” was down to 13%. To deal with issues of categorization and aggregation, the CS Ad Datset includes records containing the year, two levels of categorization, an aggregation scheme code, and the associated advertising expenditure for all years and categories from 1919 to 2007. This data structure facilitates analysis using a relational database such as Microsoft Access. If you don’t have such software, you can extract relevant data by re-sorting, cutting, and pasting as best suits your needs.
The quality of the advertising expenditure data merits further analysis. Since Coen has long worked for an advertising agency, Coen’s employer has particular interests that might bias the data. However, Coen has made the advertising expenditure data widely available for a long time. Public exposure greatly increases the credibility of the data.
Some advertising expenditure figures have been revised over time. Between 1975 and 2000, the total advertising expenditure figure for every year prior to 1940 were revised by more than 1%, with the figures for the 1920s revised downward about 15%. Detailed categories changed more that the totals. For example, totals between 1935 and 1945 were revised by less than 1.8%, while there was a -6.3% revision for magazine advertising in 1938, and -5.5% to +8.2% in the miscellaneous advertising figures. Putting aside the most recent year of data, the largest revision to total advertising expenditure for post-WWII years was a 2.5% increase for 1998. This revision occurred between 2003 and 2008. The “revisions” sheet in the CS Dataset shows some revision history for the total figures. Overall, data other than the most recent year appear to be reasonably stable. Nonetheless, since revisions are ongoing, dating the Coen data used is important for consistently defining figures.
The Newspaper Association of America (NAA) lists mainly Coen data on its website under a page-tab “annual ad volume” (all-media table). The NAA, however, inserted its own estimates of advertising expenditure in newspapers, an area of advertising for which the NAA has a particular interest. The NAA newspaper advertising expenditure in its all-media table doesn’t respect the over-all aggregation scheme of the data. Specifically, the NAA newspaper advertising figures include online newspaper advertising, while Coen has a separate category for Internet advertising. For details, see the “NAA Comparison” sheet in the CS Ad Dataset. In addition, while the NAA inserted its own newspaper advertising expenditure figures, it did not change other Coen figures to account for this change. Hence the total figures for the NAA all-media table don’t add up. The NAA table also seems to include different revisions of Coen’s figures. Hence the NAA all-media table is’t a good quality source for consistent, historical advertising expenditure data.
Update: For some additional comparative advertising expenditure data from the U.S. Census Bureau, see U.S. advertising expenditure, 1998-2007. Here’s a review of alternate advertising expenditure data, including IRS data on advertising.