Radio boosts advertising allure

Commercial radio revenue has hit 309m, a rise of 126 per cent since 1990 – proof that the medium is winning over ever more advertisers. Rupert Steele is head of media planning services at the Radio Advertising Bureau. Analysis in the article h

Two weeks ago, commercial radio announced a record revenue performance. But doubts remain about whether advertisers from all sectors are embracing the medium.

Those working in commercial radio can be more than satisfied with the figures. With revenue reaching 309m over 1996, up 126 per cent on 1990, radio does seem to be gaining increasing acceptance among advertisers.

With the Advertising Association also reporting record share figures for the medium, it is interesting to delve beyond the top-line information and find out what sort of advertisers are finding the medium most attractive.

Indeed, such has been its growth that according to Register-MEAL, commercial radio can now claim to grab, on average, a 5.1 per cent share of advertisers’ total above-the-line spend. Not bad, considering the equivalent figure was just 2.8 per cent four years ago.

But like many averages, this one masks the detail and in doing so disguises the true extent of radio’s acceptance as part of the communications mix among advertisers.

Much of the recent growth has been fuelled by large injections of spend in absolute terms by retail and motoring advertisers, as well as by government departments. These are categories which have historically shown an affinity with the medium. Analysis of Register-MEAL reveals that there are other sectors which are starting to take a keener interest in the medium.

Over the past three years alone, the likes of drinks, pharmaceutical, government and luxury goods advertisers have actually doubled their commitment to radio. But of these it’s only the government sector which spends proportionately more on radio than the average for the sector.

As well as the government sector, advertisers in categories such as household furnishings, entertainment and publishing all have a greater propensity to use radio. Each of these devote over eight per cent of their media budget to radio – significantly more than the industry average of five per cent.

By contrast, there appears to be less conviction among those in mail order, cosmetics, food and financial services. That’s not to say all advertisers in these sectors reject the medium – the Woolwich Building Society, Nestlé and Hélène Curtis stand out as exceptions – it is just that within these categories radio has yet to be universally accepted.

What is also interesting to observe is how different types of advertisers actually choose to deploy their radio spend.

In many cases, the distribution of radio spend seems to make sense to the onlooker. For example, drink advertisers tend to bias their radio spend to the summer months, when everyone is thirsting after carbonated soft drinks and lager, and to the year end, in anticipation of the Christmas and new year binges.

The run-up to Christmas is also popular among luxury goods and pharmaceutical advertisers, the latter presumably because we all get more hangovers, coughs and colds during November and December.

Summer is the favoured period for gardening advertisers (what better time to catch us pottering around the garden with our transistors on?) and motoring advertisers (principally dealers turning up the heat in anticipation of the August registrations). Patterns of spend in other sectors are much less easy to interpret; why does the food category not choose to increase spending in the run-up to Christmas. Intriguingly, why do advertisers in the family planning category elect to commit 70 per cent of their modest budget to August and September alone: presumably their own research has revealed these months to be the “hottest”?

It is also interesting to observe advertisers’ preferred day of the week.

In general, it would appear that advertisers allocate between 14 and 16 per cent of their budget to each weekday. Saturday is slightly less popular, taking just over a tenth of radio spend, while Sunday is by far the poorest relation.

Once again, however, patterns of spend vary considerably between advertisers. For example, motoring advertisers prefer to increase the proportion of radio spend throughout the week so that it peaks on Fridays. Clothing advertisers do likewise.

By contrast, pharmaceutical advertisers prefer to weight their radio spend towards the beginning of the week possibly because this is when we are at our most fragile?

And the weekend is not totally rejected. Gardening advertisers, typically garden centres, favour using Saturday and Sunday. In addition, mail order advertisers are particularly strong supporters of using radio on Sundays; are we at our most vulnerable when we have completely wound down?

This brief overview of how commercial radio is used by different groups of advertisers is necessarily summary. An in-depth study is required to gain a deeper understanding of this discipline’s role.

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