Looking Back at the Great Recession, as the World Faces a Coronavirus Pandemic

Our estimates of digital and total media ad spending in 2007-2009

About This Report
The COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to mitigate it are wreaking havoc on the economy. How will advertisers respond? We looked back at our coverage of the industry during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 for historical perspective and precedents.

Executive Summary

The Great Recession was a worldwide phenomenon and the largest global downturn since the Great Depression. It lasted in the US from December 2007 until June 2009, and the economic contraction resulted in two straight years of declines in US ad spending. More than 10 years later, as the new coronavirus spreads around the world, the US faces what looks to be another recession.

What happened to ad spending during the Great Recession?

In 2008 and again in 2009, spending on US advertising declined—including an almost 18% drop in spending in 2009. With many businesses in financial distress and consumers keeping wallets shut, marketers were forced to be conservative.

Why was digital advertising a relative bright spot in 2007-2009?

Digital ad spending declined in 2009 as well, but only by single digits—and that was after eking out an increase in spending in 2008. At the time, digital was a relatively small share of total ad budgets, and digital advertising was still playing catch-up in terms of its share of ad spending vs. consumer attention. Digital’s measurability made it attractive to frugal marketers looking to drive performance.

How is the situation today similar or different?

Digital is now a more significant chunk of budgets. The nature of this downturn is different, with supply and demand shocks—many of which may not be felt yet or at all, depending on the course of the pandemic and governments’ responses to it. And not only do consumers spend more time online and with mobile devices than they did a decade ago, their media usage habits are evolving in the face of large-scale social distancing.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report provides a look back at our estimates of US ad spending during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and how we revised our outlook over time. We also discuss what is and isn’t applicable to the coronavirus pandemic.

KEY STAT: During the Great Recession, US ad spending declined for two years in a row—the first time that’s happened since 1940. But the bounce back turned out to be swifter than we expected when we were in the trough of the recession.

Here’s what’s in the full report


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Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. What We Said in 2008
  1. What We Said in 2009
  2. What We Now Think Happened
  1. Notable Differences and Similarities Between the Great Recession and Now
  2. Media Gallery

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Nicole Perrin


Mark Dolliver
Principal Analyst
Eric Haggstrom
Forecasting Analyst
Victoria Petrock
Principal Analyst
Yoram Wurmser
Principal Analyst

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