In COVID-19 response government is highest advertiser in UK, spending £164m

The government of the United Kingdom (UK) became the highest advertiser in 2020 as the country made efforts to protect its citizens with the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The UK government spent £164 million in pursuing its key strategy of using public information campaigns by using different forms of advertising aimed at reaching as many citizens as possible.

According to data from, the government was the leading advertiser in the UK for 2020 with a total spend of £164 million

Dutch-Anglo consumer goods company, Unilever was the second, ahead of private sector giants Unilever and Sky.

Public Health England became the seventh leading advertiser. Public Health of England’s ad spend of £80.52 million was almost an 800 per cent year-on-year increase from its ad spend from the previous year. This is the largest increase in advertising budget from any organisation. Despite the government investing significantly in advertising, ad spend for the entire top ten advertisers collectively decreased by 20 per cent year-on-year. It is estimated that net advertising spending in the UK declined by 4.4 per cent in 2020 amounting to £21 billion.

The private sector however, pulled back on ad spend due to the pandemic.

Mcdonalds, Amazon and Sky had the largest year-on-year decrease in ad spend out of all the companies on the 2020 top 10 advertisers list with a decrease of 41 per cent, 40 per cent, and 31 per cent respectively. Lockdowns restricted mobility around the world giving little justification for companies to purchase out-of-home adverting.

During the initial outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in the UK from March to April advertising in tube and railways stations dropped by more than 90 per cent. Roadside advertising dropped by 76 per cent while advertising in the exteriors of Supermarkets dropped by 56 per cent.

Dutch-Anglo consumer goods company, Unilever however defied the trend and was the second-largest advertiser in the UK for 2020 with spending of £137.47 million – a 76 per cent year-on-year increase. Unilever’s less conservative ad spending allowed it to surpass Sky in the rankings, 2019’s leading advertiser in the UK. One of Unilever’s main competitors, Procter & Gamble took a less aggressive approach and decreased ad spend by 16 per cent to £117.24 million, making it the fourth-largest advertiser in the UK.

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