The Principles of Broadcast Advertising



Everyone reading this is probably familiar with the story of how a broadcast of H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” caused mass panic, with people fleeing their homes ahead of the Martian invasion they thought was coming. The thing is, it never happened. The entire myth arose on the basis of falsified newspaper reports: print media was simply scared to death of the impact radio would have on their advertising revenue.


As the wheel turns, the radio industry today finds itself in a similar position, with television and especially web advertising placing pressure on stations’ profitability. The best radio station isn’t the one with the most listeners or the finest content. At the end of the day, keeping the doors open and the lights on relies on booking advertising revenue. If I want to find a therapist near me, a hardware store that delivers, or an idea of what to do Friday night, why would I tune in instead of googling it?


I know that half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. My only problem is that I don’t know which half.” – William Lever, founder of Unilever


Competing with Internet and Other Channels


Spending on clickable ads is seen as a great deal cheaper than purchasing radio spots and recording a professional-sounding commercial, but how does their relative effectiveness stack up? In the first place, we should be wary of comparing apples and oranges: online ads are good at promoting specific products and offers, but they are less useful for creating brand awareness. Positioning a company’s name in the mind of the consumer requires repetition and engagement. Radio can do this sort of thing by grabbing listeners’ attention through humor or sound effects, but browsers are by this point so conditioned to ads that they get scrolled right past.


One way to grow a station’s advertising revenue is to play up this less tangible aspect of the medium. It’s extremely easy to quantify the performance of online ads, with every click being recorded. However, regular radio listeners soon memorize taglines and jingles, making them that much more likely to convert into long-term customers.


Scheduling and Demographics


If you want to sell car repair services, you have to reach car owners. If an ad is about teenagers’ clothing, you ideally wouldn’t broadcast it at 10a.m. on a school day.


This principle means that advertisers who want to get the best results for their spending work together with a station, as well as perhaps a public relations firm, to design coherent campaigns and not just individual spots. Detailed, regular market research is needed for this, which also allows the station to improve its programming. Simply stating that you can claim around 10,000 listeners at some particular time is not enough: are they married? What proportion of them are female, or under 25? One of the comparative strengths of web ads is that they can be accurately targeted based on a person’s search history, so radio station management should up their marketing game if they don’t want to lose market share.


Targeting the Right Advertisers


Promotion via the airwaves is far from dead, and the outlook for 2018 is actually quite positive. At the same time, a lot more can be done, in some cases, to raise the amount of revenue a station earns.


While larger networks can typically expect ad agencies as well as individual companies to come to them, local stations are in a different position. What they lack in reach, though, they can often make up for in flexibility. Although pricing structures are reasonably firm, radio management can assist more or less formally with scripting, campaign design and production, essentially giving away studio time in return for paid transmissions. Every station will already employ writers, sound engineers and every other specialty that’s needed, and these people might just have time on their hands.


The thing to remember is that different advertisers have different needs and budgets. Some may only need five seconds a few times a day to read off a web address, some will require a well-known announcer to read their text, while some will be willing to spring for an ad with all the bells and whistles. All of these can be accommodated, and in fact a client who requests an ad in the morning can have it ready to air in the afternoon.



Although the people who’ve “watched the sausage being made” will have few illusions, advertisers are still drawn to the immediacy and glamour of radio. A magazine or newspaper might have a few regular features, like on gardening or restaurants, but the ads on those pages tend to fade into the background even for people specifically reading the articles. Radio, by contrast, and specifically talk radio, guarantees an audience at least marginally interested in the topic, with some of the lowest cost per customer rates.