Are radio ads still worth it?

Advertising is a rapidly changing field. With the advance of the internet, social media, and all the possibilities they brought along, old advertising mediums like TV and the radio have been forced to take a back seat. But are their days numbered?

As we discussed in the first part of our series on old school advertising media, TV ads are not quite dead yet. But what about radio ads? Is radio advertising still effective?

Before we can answer that question, we’ll need to address an even more burning issue. Are people still listening to the radio?

Radio consumption data

Until the late 1990s, people who wanted to listen to a specific song had two choices. Either buy the album at a record store or turn on the radio and wait for your song to come on. I remember crouching in front of our family’s cassette player with my brother. My finger was hovering above the ‘record’ button, waiting to record our latest favorite song on a blank tape.


Today, all you have to do is tap some icons on your smartphone and within a few seconds, the song of your choice starts blasting from your headphones.

The arrival of music streaming services certainly changed the way people listen to music. Now, if you see a person with the cords of a headphone snaking up their neck, you don’t think they’re listening to the radio. In fact, it’s safe to assume they’re listening to Apple Music, Spotify, or any other streaming service.

But believing that radio’s dead would be a mistake. A big one.

According to How America Listens: The American Audio Landscape, a report published by Nielsen, “more Americans tune to AM/FM radio than any other platform.”

In fact, radio stations can boast a weekly reach of 93% of the 18+ population, which is impressive, especially compared to the 88% of TV and 83% of smartphones in the same age bracket.

But even if we isolate the 18-34 group (currently known as millennials), radio has nothing to be ashamed of. 92% of people tune in to an AM/FM station, compared to only 78% turning on the TV and 90% using their smartphone.

Now we can ask the titular question more confidently. Is radio advertising worth it?

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Radio advertising advantages and disadvantages

Despite this staggering amount of radio listeners, we can’t safely say that radio advertising is effective for everyone. In fact, you need to do a lot of research on potential channels and your target audience to discover if radio advertising is worth it for your business.

Let’s see what the advantages and disadvantages of radio advertising are.


With a weekly reach of 93% of American adults, it’s easy to see how this feature is one of the biggest advantages of radio advertising. Imagine: you have to produce an ad once, and it works for you week after week without you lifting a finger.


Cost-effectiveness derives straight from reach. Since you’re getting to a massive amount of consumers with only one ad, the relative costs of said ad will diminish with each exposure. In fact, according to a joint study between Nielsen and Catalina Solutions, every $1 spent on radio ads brings a $12 increase in sales.

Building your brand

In its report Radio: The Brand Multiplier, Radiocentre discovered that “audio advertising will expand a brand’s network size and build overall mental availability over audio-visual advertising alone.” In fact, audio advertising increases the effects of brand communication by 20%.

This is mostly due to the high reach and cost-effective nature of radio advertising. But there’s another factor at play: the listener’s subconscious.

Remember how you reach for the TV remote or your smartphone as soon as the commercial break comes up? Well, that’s a bit different when you’re listening to the radio.

Since commercial breaks tend to be shorter on the radio, people usually don’t leave the station they’re listening to. And while many of us “tune out” the ads between songs, the messages still enter our subconscious.

These half-heard messages contribute to the great brand building effect that radio ads have.

Hit-and-miss ads

It doesn’t matter how big of an audience you reach if your target market is not among them. While print ads have a longer shelf-life, and online ads can be recycled and retargeted, if your target audience is not listening to the radio show your ad runs on, you’ve just thrown your money down the drain.

That’s why with radio ads, you can’t afford any mistakes. You have to know the exact shows on the exact radio stations your target audience listens to. Depending on the nature of your product and target market, this may be a very easy or a pretty difficult task. Nevertheless, don’t get started on producing a radio ad until you know what your targeted audience listens to.

Ad frequency

Running a radio ad once or twice is like not running it at all. You have to keep bombarding your audience with your message if you want them to take action. Studies have shown that you need at least 3.4 impressions per radio station per person per week to make a difference. This means that you need to run your ad at least 21 times per week for it to be effective.

While this sounds reasonable (after all, repetition is key to learning anything), it also puts a strain on your marketing budget. Depending on the radio station(s) of your choice and the desired airtime, you can look at anything between $200 and $5,000 per week.

Again, make sure you know exactly when and what your target audience is listening to.

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Just like TV ads, radio advertising has its advantages and disadvantages. However, contrary to popular belief, it’s far from dead.

Armed with specific data about your target market’s radio consumption habits, you’ll be able to produce and run highly cost-effective radio ads that can help widen your reach, build your brand, and increase your sales. This means that radio ads can be still worth it for your business.




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