Q4 results show advertisers are pulling back spend—but there are exceptions

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We all know the drill: When the market gets tough, marketing is often first on the chopping block.

Based on quarterly results from platforms and media companies, one could conclude that a number of advertisers are, in fact, pulling back spend:

  • Alphabet missed revenue expectations, with Google’s ad revenue falling nearly 4% and YouTube’s down 8% year over year.
  • Comcast reported a 5.6% decline in advertising revenue (excluding the World Cup).
  • Meta saw a third straight quarter of revenue decline, with its average price per ad falling 22% despite impressions being up 23% year over year.
  • Snap also missed revenue estimates for the third straight quarter, with CEO Evan Spiegel saying on its earnings call that “advertising demand hasn’t really improved, but it hasn’t gotten significantly worse.”

Some companies, like Match Group, told investors that they reduced their marketing spend in the last quarter. Others, like SiriusXM, said they’ve started making marketing cuts and plan to continue doing so in the coming months.

But then…there are companies like McDonald’s, which attributed revenue growth to its marketing investment (in addition to “strategic menu price increases”). On its earnings call, CEO Chris Kempczinski said McDonald’s is “in the strongest position it’s been in years,” due in part to its “best-in-class marketing engine.” The fast-food giant highlighted last year’s Cactus Plant Flea Market and McRib campaigns as particularly successful.

And while some platforms are seeing slowdowns, podcast streamers appear to be less affected. Despite missing estimates, Spotify reported a 14% YoY growth in quarterly ad-supported revenue and a “mid-30% range” YoY growth in podcast revenue.

Agency holding group Publicis also reported 9.4% growth in organic revenue. While CEO Arthur Sadoun acknowledged some “traditional marketing spend cuts at the local level here and there,” he said the company has not seen “a major change in client behavior when it comes to their spend so far.” Other agency holding companies, like Omnicom and IPG, are set to release their Q4 results in the coming week.

So what’s the overall takeaway? Like Nancy Meyers’s 2009 sleeper hit, for now, it’s complicated.—KH

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