Does Radio have a Marketing Problem?

adio has always been a channel that has divided the nation – it’s almost a bit like marmite. You either love it and tune in every day, or you don’t. But interestingly, changing consumer behaviour during the global pandemic points towards a fundamental shift in the number of people listening to the radio, and other audio outlets such as podcasts. Some could say radio is making its most significant come back yet, and when speaking with family, friends and colleagues, this seems to be the case. 


With listenership metrics reportedly rising, particularly in the commercial radio space, pulling in an average of 2.7 million more listeners than those of the BBC [1], there is a clear opportunity here for brands to connect with their audiences in a more authentic, human way. But are they making the most of this opportunity, or does radio have a marketing problem? Considered less ‘sexy’ than TV, radio can be left out when marketers are designing their channel strategy. Does more need to be done to champion radio as an active channel in the media mix? 

A New Goal: keeping the nation connected in lockdown

Radiocentre commissioned research agency DRG to explore how the coronavirus crisis has changed listening behaviour. It showed that the ‘newly working from home’ group is the driving force behind increased listenership. [2] 90% of respondents agreed that commercial radio kept them in touch with the outside world, and 84% cited that the radio keeps them company while missing social activities. 


I was listening to the Future Proof Podcast with Jane Ostler and Steve Parkinson, Group Managing Director at Bauer Media. They discussed some of the critical considerations their radio channels were having to make, including the fact that the morning routine has now changed. Steve said, “people are taking advantage of a reduced need to travel by sleeping in, and people are now having breakfast together” [3]. This change impacts programming and stations have had to get creative with evolving their content in line with behaviour, including the dialling up or down of entertainment, education and information. 


Radio channels have shifted gear since the pandemic to retain and attract new audiences. Commercial stations have created virtual festivals and club nights to replace nights out on the town, along with a shift in content to include regular news updates. Consumers tend to turn to radio stations to hear from a trusted voice, and as the research suggests, people are looking for some company while being in the house 24 hours a day. This shift in behaviour provides a window of opportunity for brands to target existing and new audiences, at a fraction of the cost of TV. But, are they taking it?


What does this mean for advertising?

Brands will likely get a better deal than usual during this period as fewer brands are competing for air time. With lower entry costs, this provides accessibility to smaller brands, as well as more significant players. What’s interesting is the radio is adaptable as a channel and is more affordable than TV. 


When considering further benefits of radio advertising; 

  • Brands can be selective in their targeting approach to ensure they are reaching the right audiences via demographic data. 

  • An increased frequency amongst loyal listeners means that your audience will hear the ad repeatedly. 

  • Radio ads are perfect for driving brand awareness as they are considered more memorable than written ads as they can use emotion and sound to capture the audience’s attention. 

  • Ads can be measured on a more real-time basis, and if needed, you are more easily able to test and learn, switching out content that doesn’t resonate. 


With much talk about marketing budgets being cut during this time, radio could be a serious contender for some brands, especially those looking to make progress against their competitors.


The Verdict

Yes, radio probably does have a marketing problem and isn’t seen as the ‘go-to’, but I’m optimistic that this will change soon due to more brands converting to using this channel and realising its potential. We should also start to see more case studies becoming available post-pandemic to understand the impact radio advertising has had on certain brands. 


As with all channel strategies, it comes down to your audience. Ultimately it’s about capturing them at the right time, in the proper context, with the right message to make an impact. If the radio can provide that platform for your brand, then it’s worth considering as part of your channel strategy, but I will say that it always works best as part of an integrated approach. 



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