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Radio Ads Still Drive Sales

But they aren't equally successful across product categories

Even though we increasingly spend time with digital media, traditional media ads still motivate. That's because channels like radio have massive reach.

Our September 2018 forecast shows that despite radio only accounting for 11.4% of time spent with media daily, 91.5% of the US population listens to AM/FM or satellite radio in 2018. 

Nielsen's Q1 2018 figures show the same: 92% of US consumers listen to radio weekly. And while younger adults consume content on smartphones more than average, radio still had the highest reach among millennials (91%).

But does reach lead to real-world sales?

A new TagStation and Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) study set out to quantify the impact radio ads had on retail sales. The research included 10 brands across four categories, and on average radio spots resulted in a 22% lift in store traffic.

Automotive and beauty retailers experienced the most lift (32%). Quick-service restaurants got a 23% boost while radio ads had the least impact on visits to home improvement stores (7%). 

It's not always prudent to generalize by category. For instance, one automotive brand had a 45% lift while another experienced 18%. But radio ads for all three home improvement brands ranked lowest in effectiveness. 

A similar study was released in March 2018 by Nielsen Catalina Solutions and Westwood One. They focused on a men's personal care brand radio campaign that ran for seven months. Ultimately, it created an 8% sales lift among US households where male AM/FM radio listeners were exposed to ads. Notably, the parent company received an $11.96 return on $1 of ad spend across all households compared with the $1.23 return for the specific brand advertised. 

In many surveys, when consumers are asked about their purchasing influences, traditional media ranks below digital media—especially search—while a recommendation from family or friends usually trumps all. 

That isn't to say that radio has no effect on consumer behavior. In a January 2018 Murphy Research survey, 14% of US internet users said radio ads or programs were influential sources of information. And according to Delineate, 24% of US internet users made purchase decisions based on a radio (or TV) ad, and these same formats prompted one-quarter of US digital fashion buyers to visit a fashion site, per Astound Commerce