U.S. ad spending fell 9% in 2009

Nielsen figures show slower Q4 decline of 2%

Spending on advertising in the U.S. plunged 9% to $117 billion last year, with only four of 19 media categories rising.

But a later-breaking partial recovery could portend a positive trend, according to an annual Nielsen report.

Advertising was down more than 15% through the first half of 2009. If not for a second-half surge -- including a modest 2% fourth-quarter decline -- things would have been more dire.

"Most of the top advertisers showed increased spending late in the year," Nielsen senior vp Terrie Brennan said. "These are encouraging signs for an ad market that's still trying to stop the bleeding."

But there's no denying the year was ugly.

As recently as 2007, advertising was still in growth mode, albeit less than 1%. It took a turn for the worse in 2008 by dropping nearly 3%, then tumbled the next year with the 9% decline reported Wednesday.

Taking the biggest hit in 2009 were the local Sunday newspaper supplements, off 45%. Business-to-business advertising was down 33%, local magazine was off 24%, national magazines were down 19% and spot TV Top 100 was off 16%.

At the other end was Spanish-language cable TV, up 32%. Cable TV followed with a 15% gain, followed by free-standing insert coupons (up 12%) and Internet (up less than 1%).

The remaining categories looked like this: Spanish-language network TV (-4%), national Sunday supplements (-7%), spot radio (-9%), network radio (-10%), local newspaper (-10%), outdoor (-11%), national newspaper (-14%), spot TV (-14%) and syndicated TV (-15%).

Automotive advertising drew the most spending, at $8 billion. But the category was also the biggest decliner, off more than 23%.

Auto dealerships accounted for $3.2 billion in advertising, marking a similar 23% decline.

Of the top 10 product categories, just three spent more in 2009 than the previous year: department stores, up 3%; pharmaceutical, up 2%; and quick-service restaurants, up 1%.