Honest Answers to the Two Most Misunderstood Questions About Direct Response Radio

If I already tested it on TV, why should results be different on radio?

The late Hall of Fame sportscaster Jack Buck said it best, “I always prefer calling games on radio, because the pictures are so much better.”

TV generally relies on visual elements, before-and-after photos, and often, production values. TV media buying is based on number of households reached, and estimated number of people clicking their remotes in a 500 channel universe.

Radio is much different.

Radio relies on theater of the mind. Ask yourself what’s prettier: an actual sunset, or the ideal sunset you picture in your head?

Radio relies on emotion, specifically the use of music, testimonials, buzzwords and verbal intonation, to create a message that nearly everyone feels is talking only to them. TV broadcasts to the masses. Radio is designed for a more individual connection with its listener. If your sell is visual, then no, radio probably is not worth testing. If your sell is emotional – parental guilt, security, fear, vanity, personal improvement – then radio can be worth some of your test dollars.

Radio also relies on listener loyalty to stations and personalities. We flip our television remote control thru 500 channels daily. However, there are only 12 preset buttons on our car radio — and we only spent the vast majority of our time with two to three of those stations. We make appointments up to five times per week, to spend roughly the same amount of time, with the same stations, at approximately the same time each day. And we do so because we have an emotional connection with the music that the stations play. We often feel that we know the talk show host or DJ as though they are our personal friends. Radio allows marketers to tap into the unique, one-on-one connection.

Accordingly, radio listeners are the most qualified leads you’ll ever get. Not only are they reacting to an offer with no visual of the product, or toll-free number, but they are coming from a mentality of trust when they call. (“My favorite talk show host/DJ would never lie to me, so this stuff must really work.”)

Is radio much cheaper than TV and print?

Radio is cheaper, when you view it in the proper context. Ideal test media budgets for spot radio usually need to be at minimum in the $10,000 to $50,000 range, which surprises most first-timers (exceptions exist, of course).

There are a variety of factors that contribute to this: how many weeks of testing (usually 2 to 4 is the recommended minimum); how many creative variations and offers are tested; and how many markets are tested (usually three is the standard for local radio, and two is the standard for national network).

Testing personality endorsement spots can add to the expense, but also allow your product/service to be endorsed by the very person by whom listeners are tuning in to be entertained.

However, compared to what it would cost to air on a prime-time network TV show ($75,000 – $250,000 per 30-second spot estimated average), radio’s top network shows can be had for $1,000 to $4,500 per spot. Even Rush Limbaugh yields under $20,000 per spot. On a local level, you can buy “prime time” (morning or afternoon drive) on a top rated radio station in New York or LA for well under $1000 per spot. Try doing that on a New York or LA TV station during an original episode of ER, Survivor, Desperate Housewives or American Idol.

Final cost note: TV production for a DR spot can range from $10,000 to $250,000, and creative tweaks can cost even more. The traffic process of a TV spot adds even more dollars. Cost for a radio spot – anywhere from zero (if a station produces the spot for you) to usually not more than $1,500 from an agency (including phone number tags). Traffic overhead? In this day and age of MP3s, most radio spots are e-mailed to stations, almost always making your cost zero.

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