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If I told you our experiment was constructed specifically to test radio versus newspaper, I’d be lying. Like most discoveries, we stumbled on this one by accident.
Here’s how it happened: Lifestyle Centers of America is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to lead you and me to a healthier, happier life through better nutrition, physical activity, and helpful new habits. My team was recruited to give them marketing advice. We accepted the challenge.
Our first assignment was to craft a message that would drive interested persons to a brand new website. We decided to test our messages using a series of quarter-page newspaper ads.
The first thing we did was locate a newspaper that would deliver a quarter-page display ad to 89,000 subscribers for only $900. Total circulation would be much higher, of course, due to newsstand sales and pass-along readership, but we were looking strictly at paid circulation for the Sunday edition. If you’ve ever looked at newspaper rates, you’ll recognize this to be an extremely efficient, low-budget buy.
The second thing we did was craft a message for our client. My secret hope was to see 300 to 400 unique visitors show up within 48 hours at PlantFiberDiet.org, our virgin website. We got 71 visitors. I didn’t blame the newspaper. I blamed my message. “Tweaking” wasn’t going to get me where I needed to go, so I scrapped the whole concept of the ad and created a new message from scratch.
Two weeks later, that second message got us 217 unique visitors within 48 hours; a definite improvement, but not enough to make us happy. But I knew my message was stronger than the results were indicating. That’s when I said to one of my media buyers, “Find me a radio station that will let us air 36 sixty-second ads in one day – two spots per hour, 6A to midnight – for 900 dollars. If the program director limits us to only one spot per hour, hang up and call someone else. When you’re driving traffic with a 1-day schedule, there’s no such thing as too much frequency.”
No surprises so far, right?
Now pay attention because this next part is where most people would screw up an otherwise valid media test. To be reliable, the test has to be dollar for dollar, message for message, time for time. If we spent 900 dollars in one day with one newspaper, we needed to spend 900 dollars in one day with one radio station. “Dollar for dollar, time for time.”
Too often, advertisers want to take a one-day newspaper budget and spread it out over several days on the radio, or worse, spread it out over several radio stations. To be a fair test, we had to spend all the money in one day on one station. But radio needs repetition, so I refused to buy stations that would have delivered huge reach but with lower frequency. My 36-ad schedule was non-negotiable. Call me nuts if you want. I’ll tell you how it ended in a minute.
Take a look at the newspaper ad.
Listen to the radio ad by clicking the audio bar at the top of the page.
You’ll notice the messages are identical.
We created the radio ad by asking Joe Hamilton to read the newspaper ad into a microphone. Joe’s not a professional voice talent. He’s just the guy whose photo was in the newspaper ad. We had a better-than-average newspaper layout and below-average radio production. Newspaper was given every advantage. We even waited 2 weeks for the newspaper traffic on our website to die down to zero visitors per day before launching our radio schedule. We didn’t want radio to have the benefit of residual traffic generated by the newspaper campaign.
The result of spending $900 in one day on one radio station? Our first test yielded 4,308 unique visitors within 48 hours. This seemed too good to be true, so I told my media buyers I was worried they’d gotten a radio buy that wasn’t typical. “Find me a deal the average buyer could buy, any day of the week, for the same price we’re paying.”
We then waited another 2 weeks until residual traffic died down to about 150 unique visitors per day, then ran the second radio campaign in a town 1000 miles from the first campaign.
As I had expected, our net result from the second test was lower than the first city where we’d gotten far too good a deal. After deducting 150 visitors per day, the first 48 hours yielded only 3,033 unique visitors for $900. This was 30 percent less than our first test, but still 14 times more visitors than our best newspaper results.
Newspaper and Radio were given an identical message with an identical budget spread over an identical amount of time.
Radio delivered 14 times the results.
Radio beat newspaper.
We're continuing the test in additional cities, pitting the local newspaper against a radio station in the same town. Dollar for dollar, message for message, time for time.
I'll keep you informed.
Roy H. Williams