Forecasters project between $8 and $9 billion will be invested in political ad spending in 2022, which would match the presidential cycle of 2020. Yet only 2.7% of that record spend is expected to trickle down to radio. Nielsen VP of Cross Platform Insights Tony Hereau has been making the case to political consultants and campaign advertisers that they can communicate with difficult-to-reach swing voters by using radio.
“Many other brands are spending double-digit shares with AM/FM radio,” he told a recent Radio Advertising Bureau webinar. “This just really screams that radio is underutilized in the political ad space.”
Radio’s share of political ad spend is way out of step with its share of media usage. According to the Nielsen Total Audience Report, 14% of media time goes to broadcast radio. That’s five times greater than its share of election ad spend.
“Radio represents a significant portion of our time spent with media as consumers, yet it doesn't represent that much ad spend for political advertisers,” Hereau told RAB members. “There's clearly a disconnect.”
Part of that comes from political advertisers relying on their shopworn playbook of allocating the largest piece of their budget to TV. Nielsen data show that leads to campaigns becoming oversaturated with heavy TV viewers, who tend to be older registered voters, while missing light TV viewers and the growing number of Americans who watch zero broadcast or cable TV. These zero/light viewers accounted for 45% of all voters, according to Nielsen Scarborough data. That’s up from 30% in 2011.
As TV consumption habits evolve, it’s made it harder – and more expensive – to reach people with the medium, Hereau explained. “It’s important to realize that you just can't rely on past success and use a cookie cutter approach to your media planning because the world is changing,” he said.
Hereau’s presentation shows that political advertisers can only reach about six in ten of the 45% of voters who are zero to light TV viewers by using connected TV platforms like Hulu and Paramount+. “A much easier way to reach these light TV viewers is with radio, which reaches eight out of 10 voters who watch little to no TV,” Hereau said.
AM/FM radio, meanwhile, according to Nielsen, reaches 82% of voters who watch little to no TV, with higher reach among Black and Hispanic voters, and closer to nine in 10 working moms, dads, GenX-ers and baby boomers. As reported earlier by Inside Radio, that number also goes up for those who always vote in local, statewide or Presidential elections. In addition, radio reaches the audience missed by linear TV: those with a median age of 40 who skew toward higher household incomes, college graduates, more likely to have kids in the home, white collar employed and slightly more male.
“This paints a picture for what you get if you start to consider radio to complement your TV,” Hereau elaborated. “It's a pretty desirable group. A lot of nonpolitical advertisers would salivate at having these types of demographics for their incremental reach.”
Using the January 2021 Georgia Senate runoff elections, where both Democratic candidates won by a slim margin of 55,000 and 93,000 votes, Hereau showed how moving 10% of ad budgets from TV to radio in Atlanta for the same cost would make impact by reaching 235,000 more voters, including 117,000 swing voters, in a media environment less cluttered by political ads. “By just shifting 10% to radio, any one of these candidates could have swung the election in their favor,” he said. In terms of actual spend, Democrats spent 7% of their budget on radio vs. the GOP's 4%, which also could have made the difference, he noted.
In another real world example to illustrate the point, radio is being credited as playing a key role in the upset victory in the November 2021 Virginia Gubernatorial race that had first-time candidate Republican Glenn Youngkin overtake former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014-2018, was running for a non-consecutive second term. While usually playing third fiddle to TV and digital in political advertising spend, Youngkin’s use of radio early in the campaign played a disproportionate role in helping fuel his narrow victory, according to research conducted by the Center for Campaign Innovation. This even as his spend on radio was smaller than what the campaign dropped on TV and digital advertising. “Voters who recalled hearing Youngkin radio ads had a 22-point more favorable image and were 13 points more likely to vote for him,” the Center for Campaign Innovation research concluded. “This lift was more than TV and digital combined and suggests McAuliffe’s absence from the radio airwaves provided Youngkin a blank canvas.”
“A lot of political consultants are so addicted to television that they often don't look beyond it,” Hereau said of the Youngkin scenario. “And this example showed that you really can't rely on any one single platform. You've really got to diversify.”