Warning: Ignoring AM/FM Radio Might Be Hazardous For Your Business.


A new blog post by Cumulus Media/Westwood One Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard chronicles the consequences of a successful AM/FM radio advertiser abandoning the medium and trying to forge a media plan without it.

“Advertising case studies usually depict brands that find the right audience, optimize their plan, and achieve strong impact,” the post says. “This case study starts that way. From there, things quickly go off the rails.”

The case study, Bouvard writes, starts three years ago, with a relatively new (and unnamed) brand investing heavily in AM/FM — as were two major players competing in the same category. The investment yielded an immediate impact.


The upstart brand quickly gained traction, according to MARU/Matchbox, which was retained by Cumulus Media/Westwood One to track the campaign’s effect in 2017 and 2018. “The brand went from an also-ran to a strong performer in the category,” the post says, “gaining parity with the two major players. Brand equity grew. Usage shot up. It was a huge success story.”

The campaign for brand growth, driven by heavy AM/FM listeners, saw substantial gains in unaided awareness (+65%), aided awareness (+44%), weekly usage (+81%), consideration (+117%), average product image (+114%) and AM/FM radio ad recall (+36%).

It was, indeed, a huge success story — until it wasn’t.


Last year the brand, whose category users consist mostly of adults 18-49 (73%), exited AM/FM radio and doubled down on its television investments. The problem? On AM/FM, the brand’s campaign impressions skewed 18-49. But on TV, only 36% of TV impressions were in the 18-49 demographic. The majority of TV deliveries (64%) occurred over the age of 50.

“The demographic imbalance of the TV plan also extended to key targets for the brand,” the post explains. “Compared to heavy TV viewers, heavy AM/FM radio listeners are far more likely to be members of the brand’s frequent shopper club, have access to their distribution platform, and are much more likely to be heavy category users.”

This older skew of the buy, Bouvard writes, isn’t the fault of the media agency. Rather, it’s the state of American linear television today.

“Since 2012, the TV audience has aged considerably,” he writes. “Seven years ago, 65% of TV viewing came from viewers under 55. Today, only 47% of viewing is from those under 55. The share of viewing among 55+ has ballooned from 36% of 2012 to 52% in 2019.”

The end result? After AM/FM radio was removed from the media equation, brand equity took a beating, with weekly usage and consideration both enduring double-digit declines.

“For brands, it is easy to fall victim to misconceptions about AM/FM radio and assume dropping the medium will not incur any negative consequences,” Bouvard writes. “However, AM/FM radio is a medium that can be used to reach younger target audiences, build a brand image, and drive usage, consideration, and ad recall.”

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