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Are Radio Ads Effective?

by Mike Abelson   July 18, 2018
We look at how radio advertising works for small businesses, and when and why it doesn't work.
Business Tips

Radio advertising for small businesses

Success in advertising is hard-fought and never guaranteed. The businessman John Wanamaker once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

The truth is, sometimes you need to try a bit of everything.

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Why Not Try Radio?

Radio can be part of a solid marketing strategy. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Radio stations play around ten minutes of ads every hour. That’s good news for you. Consider this: newspapers have three times as many ads as content, and television is not much better. With radio, your ads get a larger portion of the spotlight.
  • A well-crafted radio ad can excite the listener’s imagination, making them put the set pieces together in their mind. This can make your ads memorable without you having to invest in the visuals.
  • Reaching your target market is as simple as figuring out which radio station your customers choose.

According to a recent study by Nielsen Catalina Solutions, for every $1 spent on radio advertising, businesses see $12 in sales. As radio advertising expert Matt Senne explained, “No other medium can reach such a broad cross-section of potential customers.”

Other favorable attributes of radio advertising include repetition and a relatively long exposure time. Combine that with the fact that production costs for a radio ad campaign are affordable, and it makes sense to get your message out over the airwaves.

Radio ad effective?

Dispelling a Myth

It's a myth that people don’t listen to the radio anymore. According to, 90 percent of Americans regularly tune in to at least one FM or AM station. Even the younger generation will forego their streaming apps to sample what the disc jockey has on tap.

How much does it cost to advertise on the radio? You will pay anywhere from $20 up to several hundred dollars for a radio spot, depending on a few factors like market size and when the ad plays. A “30 spot” is 30 seconds of airtime. A “60 spot” is 60 seconds. Your initial ad campaign should have 20 spots in its first week. You should expect to spend around $2,000 to $5,000.

How to Make It Work

Creating a successful radio ad campaign is hard work. It’s even harder when you don’t know what you are doing. Here are some best practices to make sure you’re putting all that effort where it belongs:

  • Choose the right stations and time slots based on the listening habits of the customers you want.
  • Spend time polishing the copy. It needs to get your main message across without being overstuffed (you probably have about 70 words to work with during a 30 spot). It should be entertaining and memorable. The first five seconds are the most important. Your focus should always be on why the customer should care.
  • Find quality voice talent. There are online resources available for finding voice-over actors. Listen to samples and decide whom you would like to represent your company.

If you don’t have experience with this type of marketing, it would be smart to hire a consultant or use a marketing agency. Be careful, though. Some of these organizations work directly with the radio companies, and their focus is less on getting you a great rate, and more on lining the pockets of the radio station executives. You want to hire someone who’s on your side.

Mistakes with radio ads.

Mistakes to Avoid

I have a friend who owns a restaurant. He decided to purchase a billboard ad next to the freeway just outside of town.

Weeks went by, and he didn’t see an increase in customers. He was about to cancel the billboard when a customer finally came in saying that they had to try the big, juicy hamburger they’d seen in the picture.

“When I saw that burger, I just had to turn around and come back into town.”

His ad was on the wrong billboard. He was advertising to people leaving the city. He called up the billboard company, and they put his ad where it was supposed to be. Almost immediately, he enjoyed a significant uptick in diners.

Anyway, that’s a lot of words to make the obvious point that bad advertising doesn’t work.

Big mistakes in radio advertising include:

  • Using a low-quality recording
  • Choosing the wrong stations or ad time
  • Trying to fit too many words into one spot
  • Making your message too easy to tune out
  • Offending your target audience
  • Breaking the law

That last point deserves particular attention: do not go against any advertising regulations in your area. It would be smart to have a compliance specialist listen to your ad before it airs. Also, ask the radio station what their rules are on reusing your ads on other stations. Most stations are okay with this, but it’s worth asking just in case.

Best ways to advertise through the radio.

Improving Future Campaigns

Hopefully, your first campaign is profitable. Either way, there will be room for improvement. Like:

  • Try adding sound effects and music to your commercial. A catchy jingle can make a big difference.
  • If marketing research shows people find your voiceover annoying, then record a new one. Grabbing your audience’s attention is essential. Bug them too much, though, and they will tune you out.
  • Listen to your commercial through your car radio. You might find that it sounds different when you experience it as your audience experiences it.
  • If the commercial doesn’t work, consider paying for a sponsorship instead. You could have the disc jockey advertise your company for you (e.g., “Today’s broadcast is brought to you by …”). Alternatively, you might be able to have the radio station make an ad for you.
  • Try out different audiences by purchasing a few spots on other stations. Depending on where you live, you may have these types of stations to choose from: Top 40, Classic Rock, Classical, News, Talk Radio, Easy Listening, R&B, and Alternative.
  • Switch up your time slots. You’ll pay more for the busy hours, like rush hour when more people in their cars with the radio on, but your audience will also be more substantial.
  • Renegotiate your rates based on your results. Once you know how much the ads are worth to your company, you know how much you should pay for them.
  • You might save money by advertising through a streaming service instead, which can cost half as much for a similar reach. Just be aware that that the listeners will likely skew younger.
  • Make sure your customers can find you after they listen to your advertisement. Your company’s website needs to appear first on Google when a someone searches your company’s name. If you have a retail location, make sure the address and contact information Google shows for it is up to date. You can do this by setting up or updating a Google My Business page. Please note that you will need to validate your address before Google lets you make changes. Validation requires having a postcard sent to you from Google and then entering a code printed on that card. This process can take several days, so plan ahead.

If you hit your stride recording the radio ad, then you try getting your voice out there in other ways. A podcast is a powerful way to reach an audience. The tricky part is building up that audience. You will need to find your niche, and then get them to notice you. This can be expensive, and there is a very good chance it will never pan out.

Radio advertising might sound a little old-fashioned at first, but it is a cost-effective way to get your message out there. Speaking of your message, one last point that we can’t stress enough: every single radio advertisement you make must include a strong, clear, and concise call to action. You should always invite your customers to do something. Preferably, something that makes you money.

Mike Abelson   Editorial Director
Mike is the Editorial Director at Lendza. He enjoys helping entrepreneurs and startups succeed through smart, innovative strategies. He’s partnered with CEOs and executives to grow businesses from the ground up. Before his work at Lendza, Mike was a stock market analyst. When he’s not traveling for work, he enjoys reading adventure and science fiction novels.