The research company's Global AdView Pulse report reveals how the economic downturn is taking its toll on the advertising sector around the world, led by double digit drops for Spain (-28.2%), Ireland (-21.2%), Italy (-19.1%) and the UK (-14.7%).
In North America, spend was down 12.7% and even ad spend in Asia Pacific was down 2.3% on the first quarter of 2008.
The Nielsen report shows that advertising across all four traditional media, newspapers, television, magazines and radio, was down in the quarter.
Magazines fared the worst, down 17.4% globally, followed by a 9.1% drop for newspapers. Meanwhile, television and radio advertising fell 4.7% and 2.5% respectively.
But not all individual countries contracted at the start of the year, with Asia-Pacific's rising international leader China recording growth of 2.5%. It represents a marked slow down from the past few years of double-digit growth and comes despite the boost in ad spend provided by the Chinese New Year.
Elsewhere in Asia, the recent elections in Indonesia helped Q1 ad spend increase 19.1% year on year.
Ben van der Werf, managing director of AdView, said: "The effects of the global financial crisis have certainly caught up with the ad sector in this latest quarter, especially in North America and Europe where virtually all of the territories we reported on recorded negative growth."
He added: "All of the major media types we report on are suffering in the first quarter. However, losses are particularly pronounced in print media and, as a result, print media as a whole has surrendered around two percentage points of share of spend to the other two media types."
Most advertising sectors reduced year-on-year media spend, with the exception of distribution channels (+6.0%) and FMCG (+0.2%).
Automotive, financial services and clothing and accessories posted the largest losses in ad spend, down 19.9%, 16.7% and 15.7% respectively.