Big digital companies have been clawing back their ad spend

But GroupM's analysis also found dips in growth have largely been in line with revenue declines.

A combination of post-pandemic normalization and a looming recession has put a hit on the revenue of online-focused businesses. And their ad investment seems to be following suit.

That’s according to a new study by GroupM, which examined the public records of 40 “digital endemic” companies over the last 15 months. Those companies include the likes of Google, Amazon, Poshmark and Squarespace – companies whose business is focused on online channels and are heavy advertisers, with the median company in the group spending between 23% and 29% of revenue on sales and marketing over the examined period. They are also most likely to both bring their media in-house, meaning their sizable contributions to the ad industry’s growth is often poorly tracked or understood.

Total global revenue for these companies in Q2 2021 was $251 billion USD, a 41% increase over the same period in 2020. These results were followed by three more quarters of slightly declining double-digit growth, until the second quarter of this year where revenue grew to just 9% over 2Q of 2021 – possibly due to high inflation and fears of recession. Food delivery and ecommerce companies also thrived during the pandemic, but a return to pre-pandemic routines, an overabundance of electronics and home goods purchases, plus simple wanderlust, have reversed trends regarding consumer expenditures.

Growth of sales and marketing costs steadily exceeded revenue growth for this period, peaking at 54% year-over-year in Q2 2021 and remaining at 21% for the second quarter of this year. But by Q2 of this year, the median growth for sales and marketing was just 3.1%.

But growth has largely been dependent on travel companies looking to rebound from the pandemic. Travel companies accounted for $11 billion USD of sales and marketing spending in 2021 and have already reported nearly $8 billion through the first half of the year. Removing them from the calculation reduces Q2 2022 growth in sales and marketing expenses to 0%. Travel revenue grew 71% from Q2 2021, while sales and marketing expense increased by 59%.

For Q2 2022, only travel grew at a pace above the global inflation figure of 7.4% with retail decreasing its spending by 19% year-over-year.

Gaming reported sales and marketing growth of 5% for the quarter, although revenue declined 8% from Q2 2021. The financial sector grew total sales and marketing expense by 5% over Q2 2021. Ecommerce/retail, excluding the skewing effect Amazon’s 34% growth would have, dropped 19% from Q2 2021 alongside a revenue decline of 20%.