The Laws of Physics in Radio & OOH Advertising

Every Star Trek fan (at least those of the original series) is familiar with this refrain from Scotty the engineering officer, after Captain Kirk requested the impossible from him. I have written before that while ad agencies and some advertisers are aware that “a lot” of radio listeners are in the car when they hear the spots, they don’t know the extent of it, nor consider the ramifications.

Here’s a reminder of a basic law of (advertising) physics: 8 of 10 radio listeners are in their car when they consume the advertisements. Here is a link to the stats from the Radio Advertising Bureau: which are confirmed elsewhere by Nielsen. That proportion is even higher for subscribers of Sirius XM, who don’t typically carry around a receiver outside their car.

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So let’s consider what this means. Can any of these potential customers immediately visit a website cited in the ad? Not unless they pull over (unlikely, in the middle of a commute). Will they remember to visit later? Perhaps, but there is zero doubt that attrition will occur – many of the interested prospects will “die” on that highway of good intentions (which leads to you-know-where). So this is another law of physics: drivers cannot visit websites. If you accept this logic, then you have to ask yourself “then why are we asking prospects to visit the website, when they can’t do it?”

Last person who tried to visit a website while driving...

Above: The last person who tried to visit a website while driving…

Sure, I’ll give you that they get branding out of it. And after many repetitions of the ad, some prospects will finally get around to visiting the website. However, it’s extremely costly to fund the media for the unnecessary additional repetitions of the spot! And why use a call-to-action that they can’t execute? If you are a direct response advertiser or agency, your campaign just might be committing hara-kiri.

Aside from ignorance of the behavior (whereabouts) of their target audience, the reason “Drive to Web” has become the default for many agencies and advertisers is two-fold. The first is because web visits are ostensibly measurable – however I would argue that Google Analytics and other such tools are highly fraught with false data. There is no good way to separate human and “bot” traffic to the site, and hence traffic is vastly overstated.

The other reason behind “Drive To Web” is that a vast proportion of agencies have given up on phone numbers. Why? Because anything short a true “800” vanity number stands no chance of being remembered by a majority of listeners who were motivated by the ad.  Given the lack of success of 10 digit phone numbers, agencies have logically resorted to URLs / website names, which are usually (not always) easy to recall. And at this time, they may be unaware of a solution for the memory problem of phone numbers — #250. But now you are not!

Remember, drivers cannot visit websites while driving. And even if the prospects do remember to visit the website 20-40 minutes after hearing the ad (when they complete their commute), Radio (or TV or Outdoor) will not be attributed with driving that response. It will show up as Organic Search, possibly causing the agency or marketing director to mis-direct more money to Digital rather than Broadcast.

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No alt text provided for this imageSo let’s stop the insanity. You don’t have to lose out on the benefits of Broadcast (the broadest reach, and highly efficient media dollar) because you assumed there was no solution to both facilitate a phone call while also tracking the media source. It’s common knowledge that calls convert at a higher rate then clicks. Let’s get back to taking new customer phone calls (with #250). It doesn’t even cost a dime anymore.



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