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Radio Review

By The Drum | Administrator

August 1, 2003 | 8 min read

We asked 100 people to name what they do when a radio commercial comes on” ... “Our survey said ...”. OK, so Les Dennis probably never asked that. But imagine the results and you’d expect to see a pretty even split between those that flick to the next station and those who avert their ears to more pressing matters. So why then, hours after listening to the radio, do we all catch ourselves humming some window manufacturer’s jingle? It may be very annoying but come to be in a position where you are buying windows and you will know all about that particular company and its ‘unique’ offering and you will no doubt be humming the jingle all the way to the showroom.

Confident that listeners do not switch off at the first hint of the proverbial salesman, the Radio Advertising Bureau is keen to highlight the power of the medium to potential advertisers. Employing research specialist Dunnhumby to conduct a study into 17 radio-advertised brands found on Tesco shelves, the RAB has announced promising conclusions. Perhaps the most revealing of the findings is that, on average, radio advertising creates a sales uplift of nine per cent. And the exact impact on each of the brands ranged from having no effect to having a 31 per cent increase on sales.

Commenting on the study, the RAB’s director of marketing, Michael O’Brien, said, “The research was conducted in response to advertisers’ demand for better benchmarks with regards to what their advertisements could achieve. The results show that radio is a hugely effective medium for shifting product off the shelf.”

The power of television and press advertising seems to be a given, but with radio there appears to be a need for associations like the RAB and individual radio groups to have to convince agencies and clients of the potential the medium has to offer.

Could it be that radio just isn’t sexy enough for some advertisers? Perhaps clients are blissfully unaware of the potential effects on sales, and maybe advertisers prefer to provide their creative teams with a reassuringly sexy television campaign to work on. “Because television has been the predominant creative medium for so long, there is a tendency for clients and agencies who press advertise to look upon radio as being too expensive, and for those who advertise on TV to view radio as an inferior medium,” observes Jamie Butcher, Lincs FM’s head of commercial production.

So, could it be that radio is a redundant advertising medium? Do other media provide agencies and clients with everything they could need to achieve their brief?

Not so, according to Butcher: “It’s not all bad. Some clients are switched on about radio, especially the major clients and brands, but for many, years of using other media to advertise their company or brand has made them stuck in their ways. People often fail to realise that with radio we can do a job for small companies with just a few hundred pounds to spend as well as with the major organisations.”

Radio Works’ managing director, Michael Charnley-Heaton, agrees that people just don’t understand the medium’s capabilities. “Some companies owe everything to radio, for example, Carphone Warehouse and Coldseal Windows, but for others they’re yet to be convinced. Unfortunately, many have dabbled with one-off campaigns that had no chance of success, due to being undersold on the airtime schedule.”

We are well aware of how a radio jingle can imprint itself into our consumer-driven minds; why then do so many share the belief that creative is something saved for visual media? And that as a client all you require is a 30-second commercial that gives people everything they could get from an advert in print? If these ideas are prevalent, then maybe it is down to many advertisers, radio creatives and clients getting it wrong on a regular basis.

“We’ve all heard our local radio station and thought that a particular ad is awful and I think that contributes to the negative attitude towards the medium, but at the top the creative is excellent. We need to see a more strategic and creative approach being taken,” argues Julian Williams, founder of

For the negative attitudes to change, standards must be set and agencies must deliver the same commitment and creative thought that is put into television or press advertising. Newly-formed radio production specialists Cube understand the problems facing creative departments. Sid Pettit, Cube’s creative director, said, “I think radio is such a difficult medium to write advertising for, so you need to work with a different frame of mind than for other media. As a specialist, we are able to create for radio perhaps more efficiently than an agency creative, who may have to put on a different creative hat.”

USP Group’s new business director, Justine Hendry, has a different slant on creative for radio. “You can try too hard to make a radio ad ‘creative’. Someone once said, ‘If it sells, it’s creative’ and my experience of over 15 years in radio shows that the most basic of ads can have the most impact.”

With radio stations, advertising agencies and specialists all selling their own views on the secret of success, Martin Heffernan, Connect’s joint creative director, believes there is a simple key. “I think less is more. It is all about the script; too many adverts use too many sound effects, but if the script is creative, but very single-minded, then it will be the most effective.”

Evidence of the results that radio achieves can be found in Parenthesis’ radio campaign to attract potential students for South Birmingham College. The campaign proved hugely successful but was part of a marketing mix that included leaflets, outdoor posters and press. It raises the question of whether radio advertising is strong enough to work as a stand-alone. “Radio can, and has, worked very well as a stand-alone campaign, but it is certainly fair to say that in some circumstances, radio serves better as a complementary medium,” suggested Julian Carter, GMG’s deputy group sales director.

Charnley-Heaton has already identified brands, such as Coldseal Windows and Carphone Warehouse, that have used radio to its fullest capacity and achieved success by adopting a stand-alone campaign. Piers Martin of Media Works said, “Advertising on radio depends upon the nature of the client. Radio works best for certain sectors more than others do. It also depends on what they plan to spend; it can work as part of a mix or alone, it just depends on the budget. But on the whole, the cost per-1000 proves to be much more effective than other media.”

The radio advertising industry may be enjoying a growing share of the market, but how will the advent of digital affect the medium? Will it benefit radio by increasing spend or will it split the audience too much to provide any real benefits to advertisers?

“Digital is in its infancy. If and when it takes off, the image of the industry will be a bit more sexy so that will attract more business, but it might be eight or nine years before it gets to that stage,” comments Jeff Harwood, Lincs FM’s sales director.

Creative departments will no doubt welcome digital’s ability to broadcast their creative work at a much better quality, but there are concerns to be considered. Cube’s managing director, Jane Turnbull, is cautious about the highly anticipated media offering. “With so many digital stations servicing more specific groups, listeners will move from other stations and clients will need to look at how they spend their budget. To reach the same people, they may be required to spread the budget across a number of stations, which could mean they need to spend more. There are some very interesting times ahead.”

If digital can give advertisers and clients a much needed confidence boost with regards to spending on radio, and radio campaigns are given the same time and dedication in creating scripts as with other media, then maybe the potential of radio can be fully explored. Heffernan concludes, “As long as they spend time on creative, advertisers can make the most of radio’s low cost during this current climate and can therefore appreciate radio as the ‘happy medium’ that it is.”


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