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MetLife was the top spender on ad dollars in 2011, new research reveals.

SNL Financial LC, Charlottesville, V.A., published this finding in a summary of results from a new report detailing advertising expense trends among the top ten life insurers. The results are based on total advertising expenses, excluding accident and health, for the year ending December 31, 2011.

Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., New York, spend $540.5 million in advertisements in 2011, up 22.8% from the $440.2 million the company paid for ads in 2010.

The second, third and fourth largest spenders of ad dollars in 2011 were New York Life Insurance Co., New York; Mutual of Omaha Insurance Co., Omaha, Neb.; and Prudential Financial Inc., Newark, N.J. Last year, the three companies spent $139.5 million, $117.5 million and $91.3 million, respectively, on ads.

Of the three companies, SNL reports, only Mutual of Omaha’s ad spending dipped last year, declining by 11.4% from $132.7 million in 2010.

New York Life and Prudential Financial boosted their ad spending by, respectively, 2.9% (from $135.5 million in 2010) and 42.8% (from $63.9 in 2010).

The top 10 life insurance companies collectively spent $1.2 billion in ad dollars last year, up 15.9% from 2010’s total of $1.1 billion. Of the 10 companies, 8 of the 10 increased ad spending last year.

Apart from Mutual of Omaha, only Manulife Financial Corp., Toronto, decreased ad spending last year. The carrier’s ad expenses dipped to $50.5 billion in 2011 from $54.9 billion in 2010, down 8.1%.

Industry wide, ad spending last year reached $1.8 billion, up 11.4% from $1.6 billion in 2010. Excluding MetLife, industry ad spending totaled $1.233 billion, up from $1.152 billion, a gain of 7%.