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The Key To More Effective Radio Ads? 'Say More With Less.'


Note to radio ad copywriters looking to get as much information as possible into a 60-second spot: research, along with several of the best minds in the creative business, highly recommend a far simpler approach for getting results. Significantly reducing the number of words and messages in an audio commercial increases its effectiveness and listener response, according to an analysis of studies in Westwood One's weekly blog.


Findings from a study of more than 10,000 audio ad campaigns airing between 2019 and 2021 – including 615 national brands across 22 advertiser categories – conducted by UK media analytics firm Colourtext, shows a link between word density in ad copy and effectiveness. Essentially, the lower the audio word count per minute, the more a brand will stand out.


Colourtext found that regardless of the average number of words per minute in ad copy, which varies by ad category, for every 10 words of copy eliminated, an ad's creative standout – as in, when consumers surveyed say “this ad stands out” and give it a rating between eight and 10 on a 1-10 scale – increases by 1%. At the same time, knocking out 10 words also increases consumer web traffic by 0.25%.


“Creative is crucial at driving sales effect,” Cumulus Media/Westwood One Audio Active Group Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard says. “Creative standout in audio advertising is strongly linked to ad response via website visits. If you reduce the word count in your audio ads, you can really enhance creative effectiveness.”


Examining AM/FM radio campaigns with reach of 33 million persons age 15+ in three word count categories – 147, 171, and 195 words per minute – it was found that 24 extra words in a 30-second spot lowers ad response by 27% and web visitors by 160,000. Additionally, ads with 195 words per minute lower the average creative standout score from 39.6% to 32.9%, and the average web response rate from 1.8% to 1.3%. Conversely, removing 48 words from a 60-second ad script results in a 20% increase in creative standout score, and a 38% gain in web response rate.


Strengthening the argument for less-cluttered spots, the blog also cites research from Kantar Millward Brown showing the fewer the messages communicated in commercials, the greater the consumer recall, and vice versa. For example, an ad with as many as four messages generates a recall of 24-43% for each, vs. 100% recall for just one clear message.


Recommendations from award-winning ad writer and Plot Twist Creative Principle and Chief Creative Officer Chris Smith, a major advocate of clearer and simple radio ad messaging, are also included in Westwood One's blog. “In advertising, you need to have one thing to say,” he says. “AM/FM radio’s sixty seconds of ad time just gives you the chance to say it in an entertaining and memorable way.” Smith also notes that “a radio spot is not a hotel, you don’t have to fill all the space. No commercial needs to be wall-to-wall talking, sound effects, or music. Sometimes silence draws people in more.”


Adds Bouvard, “Word density can be a good proxy for an ad’s ability to let the other emotional, non-linear qualities of audio communication perform their magic. When it comes to creativity in audio advertising, it’s usually better to say more with less.”

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