U.S. Advertising: Crises and Opportunity

Jean David Meloche, CFA

Head of Global Equities and Portfolio Manager | Montrusco Bolton

Mark Twain famously said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. That’s a fitting description of what we believe is developing within U.S. advertising budgets.

Almost 15 years ago, the Great Financial Crisis expedited the decline in print advertising. Today, television advertising appears poised to follow a similar path in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In both cases, crisis was the catalyst for change, creating opportunities for investors that recognize the historic parallels.

Prior to the Great Financial Crisis, the amount spent on traditional newspaper, magazine, direct mail and brochure advertising fluctuated very little—advertising budgets were “sleepy” to use industry terms.  But digital advertising and the coming recession would wake them up. At the time, digital advertising was just beginning to rise in importance in response to the emerging growth in e-commerce.  It was quickly discovered that it offered advantages over traditional print advertising. Digital advertising enabled companies to better track who actually saw their ads, when they saw them, how they responded, along with a wealth of additional analytics that could make the advertising dollar much more impactful.

U.S. Advertisement Spend by Medium

chart: U.S. Advertisement Spend in Billions by Print and TV

Source: Bloomberg. Print = Total U.S. Newspaper National and Local Advertising from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2021; TV = Total U.S. Television National and Local Advertising from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2021, both in U.S. Dollars.

Crises as Inflection Points

When the Great Financial Crisis struck, companies were compelled to assess all elements of their businesses in order to cut costs and increase efficiency. This introspection juxtaposed the inherent limitations of traditional print advertising against the advantages of digital advertising and became an inflection point for the decline in print advertising budgets. The shift from print to digital advertising would undoubtedly have occurred over time anyway, but the crisis accelerated the trend.

Similarly, the stay-at-home protocols initiated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic hastened the growth of content streaming that was already creating headwinds for traditional Linear TV.  However, television advertising budgets have remained fairly stable to date. We believe that is going to change.  Following in the footsteps of print advertising after the Great Financial Crisis, TV advertising budgets will likely give way to increased digital spend, as they chase the millions of viewers that continue to cut the cord with cable television.

Giants Can Still Grow

Capturing a greater share of the aggregate digital advertising spend is a large and ongoing revenue growth opportunity for many companies today.  However, in our opinion, some of the best opportunities for continued growth are found in several prevailing industry giants.  Indeed, as e-commerce continues to grow, we think they become more strategically important to advertisers for a variety of reasons.

  • Proven platforms and existing competitive advantages could allow them to more easily garner shifting advertising revenues.
  • Capability to collect user-specific data and apply sophisticated tracking and targeting systems to ensure that ads are shown to relevant audiences across digital mediums.
  • Highly scalable core businesses with enormous global reach are strategically important to advertisers.
  • Ongoing enhancement of core businesses with new ventures that provide additional avenues for advertising revenue growth.


In our view, these characteristics lead to more attractive ROIs (return on investment) for advertisers, which is a compelling reason for advertisers to allocate more of their advertising spend toward today’s digital giants.

While many passive investors ponder the concentration risks of big tech in their portfolios, we believe as active, long term stock pickers that there’s still plenty of opportunity to thoughtfully seek and add to companies that are best-positioned to capitalize on macro trends. We are uncompromising in our search for high quality growth. 

Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Investing involves risk including possible loss of principal.

This does not constitute investment advice or an investment recommendation. There is no guarantee that any investment strategy will meet its objective.​

This represents the views and opinions of Montrusco Bolton Investments and are not intended as a forecast or guarantee of future results. Investments. It does not constitute investment advice or an offer or solicitation to purchase or sell any security and is subject to change at any time due to changes in market or economic conditions. The comments should not be construed as a recommendation of individual holdings or market sectors, but as an illustration of broader themes.


Jean David Meloche, CFA

Head of Global Equities and Portfolio Manager | Montrusco Bolton

PUBLISHED: June 29, 2021

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