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Why radio advertising is a really, really stupid waste of money in 2020

By Marcus Sheridan

Why radio advertising is a really, really stupid waste of money in 2020

A while back, I was invited to a ‘branding conference’ for Clear Channel Radio in Richmond, VA. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I was quite interested to learn anything about marketing and branding that might help my company.

The conference consisted of a dynamic presenter who combined his oratory skills with substantial visual aids and charts explaining the psychology behind what it takes to achieve branding status for a small business. But within just a few shorts minutes of his linguistic eloquence, I realized that this seminar really wasn’t about small business branding at all—it was a hypnotic attempt to convince small business owners that radio was the best and most essential means of taking one’s business to the next level.

A 'free' personal brand manipulation

As soon as the presenter was through with his seminar, each business was given a ‘free’ personal brand evaluation with a ‘brand consultant’ from the presenter’s company. Therefore, within minutes of listening to the electric presentation, hundreds of small businesses were sitting down with individual ‘consultants’ who were there to essentially pressure them into committing to long-term radio advertising campaigns with the ‘promise’ that they would achieve brand status within 12 months or so.

Luckily for my business partner Jason and me, we knew going in to this meeting that we would not commit to further radio advertising. Not only had we wasted thousands on this medium in past years, but this was going on right about the time when we started understanding the future of advertising, and the fact that ‘interruptive’ marketing methods like radio, TV, print etc were going the way of the dinosaur.

So, despite our consultant’s best and quite convincing efforts, we stood our ground and said no to signing up for a year-long radio campaign.

A sad waste

When I look back at this experience, I feel sadness toward the many business owners I watched that day make long-term marketing commitments they could in no way afford and that would by no means ‘brand’ them as this hired oratorical gun had promised. Frankly, this event was a slick move by Clear Channel. In my opinion, they knew radio was floundering so they brought in a company that specialized in mentally manipulating any vulnerable small business owner into spending thousands of wasteful dollars.

And when I say thousands of wasteful dollars I am by no means exaggerating. If my business partner and I had decided to do the branding campaign this company was recommending to us, we would have spent about $30,000 over the following 12 months. Although such an amount might not seem like much, for many businesses it’s a huge amount of money that could literally sink them once the monthly bills start rolling in without the promised results.

What’s crazy is that there are radio companies today singing this same tune and practicing these same manipulative measures. Despite the fact that many companies and marketing departments are finally realizing just how ineffective and wasteful radio advertising can be, there still exists a large portion of helpless business owners frankly not bright enough to see the world around them and recognize the changes within the consumer buying process and mindset.

Slow to embrace web 2.0

I have a friend who works for an auto dealership in Canada who told me recently about the fact that his company was spending thousands upon thousands of dollars a week on radio advertising but yet did not want to support his efforts in setting up a blog that would also promote the company. Are you kidding me? How dumb can a business possibly be?

Speaking of blogging and search engine optimization, this is the exact reason why radio advertising is such a joke.

Think about it for a second. If your business advertises on the radio this week, will that same add magically reappear on the airwaves in six months without any cost to you? Well of course not, because every radio ad that hits the airwaves is a larger hole in your wallet.

But SEO and blogging are the gifts that keep on giving. In other words, just by writing good content search engines will reward you by sending consumers back to that content over and over again. Wow, now that’s what I call a good deal!

Not only is blogging and the creation of quality content essentially free, but it will also be a never ending seed that produces more and more fruit over time. How about that for a return on investment?

But don’t get me wrong here. There are occasions and instances when radio may be a good option as a marketing medium for small businesses (so don’t email me upon reading this and scream from the rooftops that radio sometimes works). Such occasions may be to announce company sales or similar events.

But in general a long-term campaign on the radio is an absolute waste of money when one compares it to the return on investment from a solid internet/SEO/social media marketing campaign.

Facebook vs radio

For example, I have a very good friend here in Virginia, Talmadge Newsome, who owns a successful ‘mom and pop’ style burger joint called Newsomes. Because Talmadge has such a small marketing budget and could never afford the miserable results of radio advertising, he has leveraged Facebook as his advertising platform over the past year.

This has resulted in over 500+ fans to his Facebook Group page and has lead to more traffic to his company website as well as more food sales at the counter. Every day, Talmadge updates his company’s group page with daily specials, general announcements, videos, and photos.

So, while many of his competitors are wasting their hard-earned dollars on radio ads that essentially are saying all these same things, Talmadge is doing it all for free. Nope, it hasn’t cost him one stinking dime to do all he has done thus far on Facebook. This is a perfect example of how to leverage social media as a business and another example as to why anyone choosing radio over internet marketing is living in the stone-ages.

So if you are debating on sinking more and more of your hard-earned dollars on radio advertising, I’d strongly urge you to get with the 21st century and invest your money into your website.

  • Start a blog.
  • Embrace Facebook and other social media.
  • Take back the keys to your company website and stop paying someone to do what you should be doing.
  • Realize your own creative powers and abilities as a business owner by leveraging content management systems that allow any dummy (like me) to build and design their own website.

All of the tools and actions are within everyone’s capabilities today, it only takes the understanding that times have changed and in reality, such changes are wonderful for the business owner that wants to spend less on advertising but receive so much more.

Your thoughts?

So what are your thoughts on radio? Are you still using it effectively and think I’m nuts? Has social media or blogging enhanced your company’s marketing efforts? As always, I am grateful to those persons who put their thoughts and opinions below.

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How does your inbound marketing measure up?
Take this free, 5-minute assessment and learn what you can start doing today to boost traffic, leads, and sales.


Content Marketing
Published on November 8, 2019

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