Welcome to the Basics

Radio advertising is based on the idea of creating an audio-only environment and placing the listener inside of it. A typical radio spot features a professional voice-over artist reading descriptive copy over an appropriate bed of background music. Important information may be repeated several times over the course of the spot, such as contact phone numbers, addresses, website URLs, or a geographical reference. As one spot of radio advertising ends, another spot begins and the process continues until the program resumes. Because radio station managers have a limited number of minutes available for advertising during an average hour, radio spots tend to last either 30 or 60 seconds. In some instances, shorter ads are available as well.

A station may build in several scheduled breaks during an hour, typically at 20 minutes or so after the top of the hour and 20 minutes before the top of the next hour. If there are enough radio advertising spots available, additional breaks at 10 minutes before the hour and 10 minutes after the hour may be added. Each break may have two to three minutes allotted for spots. Studies show that the quality of the commercials is as important to listeners, generally, as the number of ads they hear.

There are two primary types of radio ads that may be produced:  Live reads and produced spots.

To distinguish between the two, a live read is when a DJ reads an advertiser’s spot on the air, delivered from a fact sheet or from personal knowledge, or when the DJ endorses the advertiser’s goods or services. In contrast, a produced spot is created either by a radio station or an advertising agency. The latter tends to be most common.

There comes a point in time when an advertiser would like to know how a radio station has been doing, and have the opportunity compare rates and cost per points (CPP) to other stations. This can be done by a few different software programs.

The most prolific program is Arbitron. Arbitron is one of the primary providers of ratings data in the United States. Most radio stations and advertising agencies subscribe to this service, because ratings are an integral part of the broadcast industry. Ad agencies generally purchase radio based on a target demographic. The ratings enable advertisers to select a specific segment of the listening audience and purchase airtime accordingly.

The major downfall to this rating system is that more and more radio stations have begun to drop the Arbitron service, or unsubscribe. This is making it harder for advertisers to distinguish how well some radio stations are actually doing. Needless to say, when applicable, Arbitron is very helpful in determining which stations give you the best bang for your buck.

Like all types of media, radio advertising has rates that are involved. Advertising rates can vary depending on the length of spot the advertisers elect to run. Although 30-second spots are the most common, stations also sell airtime in 60, 15, 10 and two-second intervals. Thirty-second ads have always been popular in both radio and television advertising. Research from the National Association of Broadcasters indicates that “traditional sixty-second spots may be the better option, with higher brand and message recall than thirty-second ads.” Stations will also run 10-second spots, or billboards. Typically, this type of spot runs adjacent to some station feature, such as the traffic report, stating, “This traffic report is brought to you by…”, and is usually limited to about 30 words. Fifteen-second spots are generally reserved for station promotional announcements, although some stations sell them as well.

The Rewards

When looking at the overall picture, placing an ad on the radio has a variety of advantages. When compared to television advertising, a 30-second radio ad is often less expensive and easier to produce. Radio ads can be produced very quickly, and unlike print ads, there is no wait time for another issue to come out.

The major advantage to radio advertising is targeting a specific audience. With such a variety of radio stations and formats, from news/talk shows to country to Top 40, targeting an audience can be easy.

When targeting an audience one must first decide who they are trying to reach (teenagers, families, men/women), and then choose the radio format that corresponds to their audience. An example of this would be an advertiser in the Fargo/Moorhead market interested in targeting young adults – either Bob 95 or Froggy 99.9 would be a viable option. These stations are country music formats and are very influential towards the younger adult audience. On the other hand, if an advertiser were to target a younger, teenage audience, then Y94 would be the most feasible format to choose.

Choosing the right format and radio stations will allow the advertiser to reach an expansive amount of people. If an advertisement is aired on the wrong format or station, the recall will be much lower. With that being said, the major advantages of radio advertising are the market reach, flexibility, selectivity, affordability and the ability to target a specific demographic. By utilizing these tools correctly, an advertiser will have an easy time providing information about a product or service to their potential clients.

A Brief Statement of Misconceptions

Not everything in radio advertising is sugar-coated; it does, in fact, have its pitfalls. Like most types of media, radio has a variety of ad clutter, and an increase in competition from new media.

One major disadvantage is that morning and evening commutes are key drive times for consumers, so when a variety of businesses want their ads to run there are only so many spots available. This can drive up the cost for those choosing such specific time slots. In most instances, radio can often be background noise. For example, a person at work may be working on a project and have the radio on in the background, but they are not actually listening to it. It is just a background noise that may be tuned into every once and a while. With that said, an advertiser may need to run an ad more than just a few times in order for it to make an impact. Some consumers are often frustrated by the number of commercials they hear, so it makes the process a little more difficult.

On the Fence?

When deciding to pursue radio advertising, there are a few things that can help make it more effective. Radio ads engage listeners, keeping the product or service being sold at the forefront, covering all the key points in an efficient and entertaining way and finishing with a call to action such as a phone number.

Remember that people listening to the ad are probably doing something else at the same time, like driving in their cars or doing household chores. For this reason, repeat key information such as the company name and the name of the product or service you’re selling. The music and tone of the ad should also fit the station the ad will be airing on. An effective ad would not have a country jingle to it, and then placed on a rock station. As mentioned, radio advertising has a variety of advantages. But like most advertising, it does have its downfalls. The choice to run an ad on the radio is up to the particular client. There have been very successful radio campaigns in the past, with the door open for many more to come.