March Was Bad, April Will Be A 'Car Crash'

Sorry, but there really is no way to wrap up the warning ad executives are offering Campaign. If you're of a nervous disposition, you may want to look away now. And be aware, the warning comes a full 24 hours ahead of April Fool's Day. This is not a joke.

It turns out that after a bad March, in which some executives are revealing they saw double-digit percentage drops in ad spend, things are about to get a whole lot worse.

If you were asking how bad can this lockdown get, the answer is 50%. That is by how much some ad executives are warning the UK advertising market will contract in April. 

The reasons are manifold and rather obvious. There is no cinema advertising, print is on its knees as circulations fall through the floor and the headlines in the ad press suggest the television stations are waiving late booking fees and even going so far as to offer nearly a quarter off their rate card.

If they're being public about offering a quarter off, one can only imagine what the true discount might work out to be. 

The Campaign article is packed with quotes from distraught ad execs who reveal that campaigns have been cancelled by all manner of brands because offices are closed, distribution centres are shuttered and everyone is working from home. There are entire industries with no reason to advertise, such as travel, and others with no need, such as the supermarkets.

An indication of how bad things are already and how terrible they are about to become comes from WPP. It has cancelled a dividend, cut top executives' pay by 20%, ceased a share buyback scheme, postponed pay increases and banned any part of the business from making new hires. The moves are hoped to save the holding company GBP2bn to ward off the damage already inflicted by revenue from China declining 23% in the first two months of the year.

It would normally be a headline in its own right, but a remark that the company will no longer be giving any financial guidance to markets for the rest of the year appears as little more than a footnote in the reporting of WPP's move. 

We will have to wait for a month to find out exactly how bad April was and then a few more months to find out whether cancelled campaigns are resurrected, leading to a spike later in the year. For now, however, the picture is one of orders drying up and staff having their wages reduced or being furloughed.

March looks likely to have seen a drop in ad spend of around 20%, Campaign is speculating, meaning a 50% drop for what looks set to be a full month of lockdown during April, does not appear too alarmist. March has been bad, but ad execs are predicting April is going to be a "car crash."

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