Radio Advertising Is Mostly A Waste Of Money, But Here’s 4 Tips To Give You A Chance At Making A Radio Ad That Works

Radio DJ Mixing Vinyl

Very soon I will share with you 4 tips on how to write a radio ad that actually works. But first, I want you to think about radio advertising from your point of view as a member of the audience.

Q: Why do you listen to the radio?

  • Music?
  • Witty Commentary?
  • Advertising?
  • Because you like hearing the same weather report and news headlines every 15 minutes?

Q: Where are you when you listen to the radio?

  • In the car?
  • On your morning run or bike ride?
  • In the office?
  • On the toilet?

Q: What do you do when the ads come on?

  • Change the radio station?
  • “Zone out” while you wait for the music or chat to start again?
  • Listen carefully for the latest sales and bargains?

You can see that there are a million potential distractions that can prevent your advertising message getting through to your radio audience.

And radio is a mass-media form of advertising after-all, so there is a huge amount of wastage (I hate wastage!).

Your potential audience could be 10,000 people, but how many of those people are:

  1. Listening attentively…
  2. at that precise moment in time…
  3. that need what you are selling…
  4. and are motivated enough to take action?

Probably none.

If you ask a radio advertising sales person what it takes to generate business for you using radio advertising, they will tell you there are 2 things you need:

  1. High repetition/frequency
  2. Say your brand name heaps

That is complete bullocks!

They say “repetition” because they want you to buy more ads.

They say “brand name” because that’s what your boss is more likely to approve the ad because he loves to hear his brand name again and again.

As you can probably tell by now, I am not a fan of radio advertising and haven’t recommended it to any of my clients for years.  I’ve tried it several times, but it didn’t generate any results.

And if you’re not getting results from your advertising (or you don’t know how to measure them), then what’s the point? You might as well flush your advertising dollars down the toilet!

But this morning, whilst running, I heard a radio ad that had all the elements of success going for it.

If any radio ad can be successful I think this is it

I make that assessment on the basis that I heard it once and I remembered several key facts about it.

Try it yourself. Listen to the following mp3 once, and then I’ll test you on what you remember:

Possibly the most effective radio ad ever created (514Kb .mp3)

Have you listened to the ad yet? You have? Great!  Now, can you answer these questions after listening to the ad just once?

  1. What is his name?
  2. What is he offering?
  3. How does he distinguish himself from the competition?
  4. What should you do next if you want to contact him or find out more?

I wouldn’t be surprised if you can answer all these questions.

Do you realise how amazing that is?  After a single exposure?

So what can we learn from this?

What do you have to do to write a radio ad like this that at least has a chance at generating results for you?

Here is your lesson for the day:

4 Essential Components of a Radio Ad

1. Target your audience with your opening sentence

The opening sentence is exactly like a headline in a newspaper. If you don’t like the headline you don’t read the article.  It’s the same with radio ads.  If the opening sentence doesn’t speak to you, you “zone out” and don’t listen to the rest of the ad.  At first, you might think that’s bad, but that’s great!  It means you speaking to your target audience directly, and people who aren’t interested are being filtered out.

2. Use the word “you” through-out your ad

This is just like speed dating.  You only have 30 seconds, so do you talk about yourself or do you talk about them?

You talk about them of course!

Don’t make the mistake of talking about you and your business “we do this, and we do that”. Borrrr-ring!

What do people care about more: themselves or what you are trying to sell them?


So talk about the listener, what they want, what they need, and use “you” and “your” constantly.

3. Distinguish yourself with a single fact

You’ve only got time to state 1 fact.

The amazing thing about this is that is the fact doesn’t have to be overly impressive, it just has to be distinctive.

In this example, Aaron said he was “one of NZ’s youngest celebrants”.  Amazing? No. Distinctive? Yes!

4. Make the call to action a website address

The #1 most common mistake in radio ads is stating a phone number as the call-to-action.

Phone numbers are too hard to remember! (Even word numbers eg 0800 CALL ME NOW). They might rattle around in your brain for a few seconds, but you know that by the time you find a piece of paper and a pen (or your cellphone), they will be gone. So you don’t bother.

A website address works because is probably uses the same brand name that was mentioned in the ad with a “” on the end of it. Easy to remember. Easy for your audience to type in when they next get to a computer (or remember days or weeks later!)

Need More Help?  Need to Generate Better Results From Your Advertising?

If you have a small-medium sized business in Tauranga, then I can help you with your marketing and advertising.

I hate wastage, so I’ll choose mediums that work, I’ll measure the results, and I’ll make you truck loads of cash.

Call me now on (07) 575 8799 or email me for your FREE 45 minute Marketing and Advertising Review.

31 Replies to “Radio Advertising Is Mostly A Waste Of Money, But Here’s 4 Tips To Give You A Chance At Making A Radio Ad That Works”

  1. Yes good points, I think you could go a step further and set up a unique URL to measure hits from the radio ad. Radio otherwise is a hard medium to quantify results from (ROI)

  2. Another great post – your copywriting skills had me wanting to hear the ad and I wasn’t disappointed. Loved the simplicity & personalisation of the script.

  3. I absolutely agree with everything here Sheldon. I also hardly ever recommend radio advertising to my clients – unless there are other forms of advertising in market at the same time (working together) its a complete waste of money. In my experience radio advertising is relatively ineffective when executed in isolation.
    The only radio campaigns that have ever worked for me are when the client has a stand or is present at an upcoming event, so the radio script basically focuses on the event itself and driving people to the stand. I have found that this works well as it compliments other forms of advertising the event organisers already have running.

  4. Hey – you should help me, im at a stage where I need some help for my company…your articles are very attracting and id be keen to talk more…I need to make my products and services work for me and I think you could be just what I have been looking for

  5. I liken 30seconders to the junk mail that turns up in my mailbox each day.

    But let’s look at what makes radio tick – it’s the personalities. That is effectively the only difference between a radio and an ipod.

    You combine your business with a personality and you will get results (i.e. a promotional giveaway, live in-studio or on-site interview etc).

    Picking the right station(s) to suit your own target audience is important – if you are selling bubblegum chances are you aren’t marketing to 70 yr men with no teeth!

  6. I’ve said it all along, “Radio is a complete WASTE of money”….when it’s not done properly….

    Brilliant article mate, it’s a couple of years old but the message rings true. We’re about to do some more radio ourselves (purely for positioning, not really expecting anything directly from it), and this article has really helped.

  7. Ah yes, but imagine trying to tell a client any of this. Sheldon is spot on, I should know, I was Senior Creative at one of Australia’s major media (radio and TV) organisations for mroe than 4 years. Inthe main, people advertisie to themselves on radio. In other words, they want to hear thier own business name on radio.
    My advice: think about your customer or prospect; figure out what they want and give it to them. For instance, if you want to get your brand in front of a truck driver, do you spend thousands of dollars on radio, or do you get a branded ruler into their hands. Trust me, the branded ruler works (I asked truck drivers), and it only costs a coupl of bucks. I’m sure Shedon can come up with all sorts of amazing marketing tricks for you. Great article.

      1. Hi Sheldon

        the next book to be written (currently underway) will be a freebie and is on using branded merchandise and promotional products to improve your marketing. And my spelling isn’t really as bad as that post, I promise.

  8. Really good tips Sheldon. Everyone is an expert at their own business and I consider myself an expert and specialist in the field of Radio. I have actually read that article you posted many years ago as well … It took me a while but I was almost going to credit you with that ground breaking propaganda to attract prospects …. I really hope no one actually fell for it.

    Here is a fact. I have clients that spend 10k per run of ads and consistently return 250k over a weekend, just using radio. Some spend more and some less … The real point is that it is almost offensive that these business owners in your opinion would be so ignorant as to pour their own money down the drain, they are millionaires after all. You my friend, I hazard a guess are not.

    They can subtract costs from turnover after all. The one cost these types of business owners won’t wear is a premium for a so called expert to pile in loads of margin …. The truth is that one should consult a media specialist with the field of their chosen profession as opposed to a jack of all trades … Sounds harsh maybe but it actually makes sense to deal direct because you can’t blame the media then . . . And it’s cheaper! Accountable results drive advertising solutions, make a note.

    I agree, it is not for every business or not for every “marketing consultant”, you actually have to know what you are doing.

    I’ll leave you with this, if it is so wasteful then why is it still here and why do so many businesses still use it? The biggest companies in the world use it and so do the SMEs

    Brands on radio . . . can anyone name a few . . . Listen out folks

    1. Thanks for sharing your view Glen, much appreciated!

      To answer your question “why do so many businesses still use it?” – because of great salesmen like you Glen who passionately believe in what they are selling.

    2. Interesting comment Glen. If you weren’t “talking your book” I might of attached some weight to what you had to say.
      In any case – Just some thoughts
      1) You seem to think that there is something to be gained from pointing out that the articles content is not original…. Taking this line of thinking one step further then…When we want our tonsils removed, we should look out for a surgeon who has an original method for doing this not the well schooled fella who uses tried and tested procedure?
      2) Your contention that if one is going to advertise on radio one should consult a radio media specialist is a wee bit disingenuous … Surely the most important word there is IF… Otherwise its like keeping the fox caged in the hen house…what else is a radio specialist going to do but “talk his book” The first step then would be to cover the “IF” bit… And to do that I would suggest that a more general opinion without any “baggage” to sell would be more valuable. Once you have solved the IF then you can go on to the who does what bit.
      3) I found the article to be very informative and actually quite balanced…After all he even discussed what, in his opinion, was a very good radio ad.
      4) Your justification of Radio adds – vis “The biggest companies in the world use it” Is a facile argument in the extreme… quite frankly ludicrous. Just yesterday I was shown a print ad from about the 1970’s odd.. It said ” More Doctors smoke Camel than any other cigarettes.” That ad has about as much logic in it as your, 1970’s styled, justification for Radio ads

      Anyway my ha penny’s worth is – “Thanks for an informative article, Sheldon. You have got me thinking..which , as my high school teachers will attest…is no mean achievement! “

  9. Sheldon, how long have you been in the ‘marketing’ business? You sound like a snot nose, smart arse kid, whose ear I’d like to twist!
    As far as personality goes with that Jesse Archer comment. He sounds like another snot nose, smart arse kid who thinks the sun rises when he does.
    You both need to get a life and lose your ego. Then you might be successful at what you do.
    Give us a list of your successes to date so that we can judge whether you’ve got any real stuff between your lopsided ears. Micro businesses, what a joke. The truth is you haven’t cracked it enough to have a successful job or business yet.
    Perhaps Jesse Archer should give up his part time (I wanna be a radio star once a week) job, blow his ego out his nose and get a real job, like the rest of us.
    Ask him what happened to the Bop. Word is he destroyed it and a lot of other people with his ego. More FM, beware!
    Shelton and Jesse should get married, they’re perfect for each other.
    They seem to have the same style too. Both live in Tauranga, both spout big words and ideas for little boys.
    Both give out impressive sounding professional histories and achievements that don’t ring true.
    It’s easy to let your ego get the better of you when you can spew jargon and cut and paste.
    Let’s troll through your various websites and contact your ‘happy’ customers for a review of your work shall we?

    1. Hi Polly, thanks for your point of view on this. Yes, go ahead and contact my customers, you are quite welcome to.

      You are a passionate person obviously and I do hope you find constructive things to put your energy into rather than just tearing down other people.

      And if you have troubles in your personal life that are causing you to lash out, I hope you are able to make some changes and find peace.

      Thanks for taking the time to join the conversation.

  10. Hi Polly,

    I welcome you to contact me directly if you feel you may have an unresolved issue with me.

    For the record, I was involved in BOP FM for roughly 30 days before a dispute between directors. I’m not going to comment on what caused it’s demise some 18 months later while I was overseas, coincidentally, at a radio conference discovering new ways to engage with radio audiences.

    I’ve been with MORE FM for the past year – I’m sure if I had no credibility or experience as you seem to indicate above, I would of been gone long ago.

    I suggest doing some homework before you jump on blogs to attack people – I know Sheldon is very hardworking both in his studies and with his work with clients, and I’m sure many of them would be happy to recommend his services.

  11. The adverts that are a real turn-off for me are that half baked couple that share a dialogue, mainly on Coast and to a lesser extent on Magic. Shirl or someone
    A boring attempt at advertising to the brain dead

  12. Hi Sheldon

    I read your article with great interest, and agree with most of your comments. I actually work in radio, and will be as you say “They say “repetition” because they want you to buy more ads”.

    I have a few comments I would like to ad, as there is some great debate here.

    1. That ad was boring. But boring ads and great ads work, when they trigger a response. That is generally the art of creating an ad. Therefore that ad must of triggered a response for you. It wouldn’t have for me.

    We don’t listen to radio for ads. The ads disrupt us. Therefore if you are disrupting someone from their listening pleasure, make sure what you say is what they want to hear. Relevancy. Also make it exciting and delighting. I rather have people talk about my ads when they have absolutely no need for it, because they are the best sales force you can have.

    Its like fishing. You (the advertiser) know what you want to catch, so you prepare your fishing kit. This will mean what time you go fishing, what hook(s) you will use, what bait(s) and all the skill necessary and keep on learning. And its never guaranteed.

    Small budgets or big budgets. They all work depending on what you want as an outcome. The key is having a reliable “radio sales person” to guide you through this. (By the way anybody reading this that wants impartial advice on their current radio or looking at radio please feel free to contact me 0275 777612

    Yes, radio can be a waste of money if you are not “guided”. But it is an excellent marketing tool, especially when combined with some “pull” strategy on digital. As far are testing and measuring, it is so simple. There are many ways. Jingles, text response, web hits, ad recall, store traffic, etc etc

    To be honest if radio was a waste of money, we wouldn’t have such repeat business. But as many as there are making it, there are those that fail. And they failed with radio because of lack of planning and strategy.

    To keep it simple, the guide should be this:

    1. Great ad – don’t put a “me too” ad up unless you like decorating airspace. Simply look to see how your ad can excite and delight.

    2. Target audience – easy to go for the big audience because there must be lots of them wanting to hear our message and a good chance of conversion. Not always the case. Get advice on the radio brands (and there is independent research available) and you might find a smaller radio brand has a higher percentage of your target, and you can reach them far more economically.

    3. Set a budget. Stick to it. Set measurable parameters, and work with the campaign as you go to see what triggers response. It could be as simple as a voice change, or even back ground sound effects that. Or it works brilliant from the get go. (because you got 1 & 2 right) As you win, grow the campaign, or set new challenges. Fishing analogy warning! “you don’t chuck a loaf of bread in the water, when a few crumbs could do the trick!”

    Well, it works for me and my many clients, but it is a constant work in progress to keep winning. Hopefully its helped, but I am happy to debate or assist anyone should they need it.

    Have a great day and time to put the lines in the water.

    Tight lines everyone.

  13. We’ve used radio ads with consistently worthless results – and the best ad in the world wouldn’t have helped. Here’s why: our demographic doesn’t listen to radio! Radio has become steadily more worthless as fewer and fewer people in any demographic listen to radio. Pandora, Spotify, Songza, iTunes – they are increasingly the go-to source. Businesses that ignore trends within their target demographic do so at their own peril.

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