Presidential campaigns using radio for pinpoint ads


Democrat and RepublicanA report from NPR’s All Things Considered notes the carpet bombing strategy that characterizes the advertising strategies of both the Obama and Romney campaigns. Radio is also being used, but in a much different way.

The ability to target precisely-defined audiences with radio are guiding how it is being used. The campaigns are sending specialized messages to the group of people they expect to reach when buying time on stations with a particular format.

One key use is to energize the base with messages that would not likely resonate with the general population, or worse, might tend to alienate many in a more general audience.

The role of the nation’s commercial radio stations is not so much to broadcast a message, but to narrowcast a message, reports NPR’s Brian Naylor.

Discussing the radio ads themselves, University of Missouri professor Marvin Overby told Naylor, “They tend to be very program driven, and a lot of that is going to revolve around the music that the station chooses to play, and music tends to track demographics very well. So you don’t have middle-aged white soccer moms listening to the same radio stations as 20-something urban African-Americans.”

Naylor closed by mentioning a huge advantage radio retains over television to this day: He said, “Campaigns also like the radio because it’s harder to tune out as it were. Viewers watching TV can DVR past the commercials or get up off the couch for a snack when the ads come on. Not so easy to do when you’re in the car driving home.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We’ve been making the point about radio’s tactical advantages for a long time. Naylor didn’t mention that along with the efficiency of reaching a tightly-defined demographic, there is also bargain pricing compared to the prices typically charged for television flights, not to mention much cheaper production costs and turnaround time.

We hadn’t even thought about the fact that you can’t flip channels with a remote or fast-forward past commercials when you’re listening to the radio. The captive audience that has the radio on and is crawling through one of America’s many traffic snarls will at best give your message the full attention it deserves and at worst, will at least hear it.


  1. While using raising tactically for “carpet bombing” a targeted market, it seems that the consultants miss a real opportunity to utilize radio as a strategic tool to communicate with loyal audiences well before elections.

    Remember- the Tortoise vs the Hare? A steady slow soaking rain vs a thundershower? Cultivation (Farming) vs Slaughtering/killing (Hunting). Regardless, how you look at it Radio can deliver a strategic and tactical solutions to large and loyal audiences for the battle of ideas in the mind.

  2. Good point, John — it seems like the political media planners just don’t understand radio. This has always been a missed opportunity for candidates to benefit, and I think that the radio business must figure out a way to educate them. Maybe this is something that should be taken up at the state association level.

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