SMI figures show ad spend back to pre-COVID levels

Latest Standard Media Index figures for May show Australia has had its fourth consecutive month of ad spend growth, and the highest May results in five years

It’s been another month of strong advertising gains, with SMI reporting total Australian ad spend for the month of May soaring over 70 per cent year-on-year and exceeding pre-Covid results for the first time since the crisis began.

The latest monthly Standard Media Index (SMI) report found Australia’s total ad spend in May was up 70.8 per cent compared to last May’s results, reaching $715 million (May 2020: $418m). This also reflected a 4.5 per cent lift, or $30.7m, on May 2019 ad spend, normalised to account for the Federal election that occurred in that 2019 timeframe.

It’s also the highest May total since 2016. What’s more, it represents the fourth consecutive month of increased advertising spend in 2021 and shows ad spend back at pre-Covid levels.

SMI A/NZ managing director, Jane Ractliffe, said all major media reported growth in May, with TV and digital both back to pre-Covid levels.

“It’s really quite a remarkable turnaround given the disastrous results reported at this time last year,” she said. “This level of growth is clearly unprecedented and it’s safe to say that none of us will ever see such extraordinary levels of growth again.”

SMI data showed about $300 million in extra media investment coming into the market compared to May last year. And Ractcliffe expected stronger ad demand to shine through June 2021 results, with SMI’s forward pacing data showing value to be already 36.4 per cent above that reported in June 2021.

SMI resultsCredit: SMI
SMI results


The biggest gains in May were in the out-of-home (OOH) category, which had been significantly impacted by initial Covid lockdowns. SMI figures showed OOH had a 198 per cent year-on-year increase in May compared to the same time last year. Within this figure, programmatic outdoor broke through the $1 million/month revenue mark for the first time.

As to categories pushing ad spend forward, it was retail, food/produce/dairy, insurance and restaurant leading the way in May, with all growing budgets beyond May 2020 levels. Ractliffe also highlighted total travel bookings in May lifted $31.3m compared to the same month last year.

Other highlights from the latest SMI figures include the emergence of the social media sector as digital’s second largest for the first time in May.

Overall, stronger May results pushed Australian ad spend for the 2021 calendar year up 20.1 per cent on last year, while the financial year-to-date results have now also turned positive, up 2.9 per cent.

The current question is whether the latest Sydney lockdown may impact final figures for FY21. Ractliffe told CMO initial conversations suggested there would not be too much of an impact, with the exception possibly being in outdoor.

“The thinking seems to be we’ve now learned how to manage these events given all the Melbourne lockdowns so it’s not quite the shock it used to be,” she added. "There’s also the sense that this lockdown is likely to be the last given the growing level of vaccinations and most businesses are planning for growth.’’

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