Radio has traditionally captured only a fraction of political ad dollars as campaigns stick with the TV-heavy playbooks they have relied on for years. Convincing political media consultants to make AM/FM a more significant part of their mix remains an uphill climb but there are signs that some are starting to get the message. A handful of radio-using political advertisers told Campaigns & Elections how they use the medium and why it works.
One radio attribute cited is its ability to provide longer-form messaging. “The 60-second radio format is [more] useful for telling longer stories than a 30-second TV ad or an even shorter digital format,” Martha McKenna, head of Democratic media agency McKenna Media, told C&E, which serves campaign professionals with publications, conferences, events, and awards. Republicans have long relied on radio to deliver negative messages, especially in rural areas, where people spend a lot of time with radio, McKenna added. But she also said radio is “a strong part of the media mix for Democrats across the board, too, in rural, suburban and urban areas.”
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 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 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.”
Veteran GOP media strategist Tom Edmonds told C&E that rural radio “has probably been more important in winning elections for Republicans than any other single medium,” while acknowledging that this fact has been lost on the current generation of political media consultants.
While radio has long been seen as an effective tool to get out the vote, typically used in the final days before Election Day, Edmonds says he also likes it for compare-and-contrast ads.
And Casey Phillips, a principal at The Hereford Agency, told C&E the most effective radio ads are those done with a real conversational tone. “The best radio ads are the ones that are written like people talk and take advantage of the extra time radio advertising affords you,” Phillips said, adding that radio is a natural for airing energy issue ads that target people while they’re driving. “At a time of high energy prices, you often have an upset captive voter who has just paid a small fortune to fill up their tank and will be very open to our message of energy independence and lower fuel prices,” Phillips said.
The article also quotes Tony Hereau, VP of Cross Platform Insights at Nielsen, who has been making the rounds at state broadcaster association conferences and other gatherings with a study showing radio can be effective in reaching swing voters this year. “You can really just use radio to make your TV campaign better,” Hereau, told C&E in a recent interview. “A lot of political advertisers haven’t realized that because they haven’t used radio. They haven’t tested that impact, but in other forms of advertising they see that same halo effect, so you really don’t need to deviate that much from the same message that you have on television with radio.”
Read “Why Some Consultants Like Radio’s Blank-Slate Approach To Creative” HERE.