Analysis: Radio Fills The Political Ad Gap, Reaching Voters That TV Cannot.


The first political ad window is already open as Texas will hold the state’s primary on March 1, a mere three weeks away. Four more state primary ad windows will open next month, with 20 more in April. While a spattering of advertising has been spent so far, the months to come will bring the real money in the midterm elections. By some estimates, politicians will funnel as much as $215 million in ad buys to radio. But a new analysis of Nielsen data shows that some campaigns may be bypassing some potential voters by their concentration on television advertising. It shows that 45% of voters watch little or no television, meaning they never see all of the clear ads that campaigns are dumping on TV stations.


To reach those voters, Nielsen says radio is a solid reach alternative since 82% of light television viewers listen to AM/FM radio. Those rates are even higher among African Americans and Hispanics where radio’s reach is even higher than the market overall. Nielsen Scarborough data shows radio reaches 84% of light TV viewers who are Black or Hispanic.


Nielsen Scarborough data also shows that radio overdelivers on light television viewers who are in the key voting age segments. Radio reaches 89% of both Generation X and Baby Boomers who are light television viewers.


To illustrate how radio reaches voters in a way television does not, it examined the Georgia Senate runoff election in late-2020. If found that had 10% of the ad spending been shifted from television to radio, it would have added eight percent incremental reach or roughly 235,00 additional voters in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Most notably, it would have come without adding any additional money to the media buy.


But in the weeks leading up to the election, Nielsen says Atlanta radio stations were running half as many political ads as TV stations did. In some weeks, local television stations had nearly triple the political weight as radio. But Nielsen says candidates that focused more ad dollars on radio -- in this case, Democrat Raphael Warnock -- was able to capitalize on radio's reach. Warnock ultimately won the election.


“Radio is an efficient way to boost TV and maximize campaign impact,” says a Katz Radio blog detailing the Nielsen data. “Radio provides a politically uncluttered environment where candidates are able to earn an outsized share of voice,” it says.

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