Direct Response Radio – The Future Is Now

In a world of satellite television, smart phones and iPads, radio seems as antiquated as print. To embrace radio as a hot medium for direct response advertising looks at first like a Luddite’s step backward. But we shouldn’t invest in new mediums just because they’re buzzy, nor should we abandon proven media just because they’re as familiar as well-fitting old sneakers.

The Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) says that 235 million Americans listen weekly, on average three hours a day. While that’s exactly what you’d expect from the RAB, such a large potential audience offers unique advantages to:

  • Affordability. Any DR client can afford radio. Revenue-hungry stations discount rates frequently-and all offer remnants-resulting in low CPMs. Per-inquiry schedules are available, so advertisers can pay only for what works.
  • Expanded DR client pool. “Pitchmen” spent last summer on Discovery Channel dismissing candidates for DRTV campaigns because the products weren’t suited to jaw-dropping demos. Since radio can’t utilize video at all, killer demo isn’t fatal to DR ambitions.
  • Built for multi-tasking. DRTV spots lose power if the viewer is only half-watching while ironing, preparing dinner or reading e-mail. Radio is designed as a companion medium, to be consumed simultaneously with other activities. Messages crafted for “just listening” obviously lose nothing when the audience isn’t looking.
  • Easily obtained spokesheavies. Commercial reads are business as usual for radio personalities-from a city’s quirky local radio DJs, to nationally syndicated powerhouses like Hannity, Ramsey and Dobbs.

If you’re like most drivers, you’ve programmed your car radio with a line-up of favorites. If you only want to hear music, you probably start punching pre-sets once unwanted songs play or commercial blocks start. On television, consumer impatience has some DR advantages: infomercial discovery relies on viewers clicking impatiently. But for one- to two-minute spots on both TV and radio, preventing that switching boosts message consumption.

While direct response has always required agile reactions to fluid media and consumer realities, overall media strategy may well be morphing from embracing given mediums (TV, radio, web, mail) to embracing genres of timely content that appear there. Similar to our messages themselves, this content is less entertaining than informational. All mediums deliver “don’t touch that dial” entreaties, but they really only work if missing what’s next exacts an undesirable penalty: being out of the loop.

The future of DR radio isn’t any dramatic change in creative execution-it’s the increasing utilization of news, weather, sports and talk radio. Did my team win the game? Is it going to rain all next week? Listeners needing answers to these questions are simply more likely to stick around. Making the ad sticky is our job.

Previously published in Electronic Retailer Magazine, August 2010

Author of over 175 published articles, Tim Hawthorne is Founder, Chairman and Executive Creative Director of Hawthorne Direct, a full service DRTV and New Media ad agency founded in 1986. Since then Hawthorne has produced or managed over 800 Direct Response TV campaigns for clients such as Apple, Braun, Discover Card, Time-Life, Nissan, Lawn Boy, Nikon, Oreck, Bose, and Heifer International. Tim is a co-founder of the Electronic Retailing Association, has delivered over 100 speeches worldwide and is the author of the definitive DRTV book, The Complete Guide to Infomercial Marketing. A cum laude graduate of Harvard, Tim was honored with the prestigious “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) in 2006.

Author: Timothy Hawthorne

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