Three weeks from today, the election mercifully will be over (OK, at least the voting part). For broadcast radio, the only sad part of this story is the torrent of political advertising will have likely come to an end.
Yesterday's post talked about new research that shows the efficacy of radio attribution – a collaboration between General Motors and Taco Bell that shows how radio truly fast food visits.
Chances are in just a few weeks, we may learn how radio drives the vote, especially in those all-important “battleground states.” Depending on the outcome (and how it's spun), radio just might get a lot of credit for the results – a reversal of fortunes from past years.
Let me take you back nearly seven years to the first (and apparently last) Nielsen Client Conference/Jacobs Media Summit. Arbitron had just sold its assets to Nielsen, and the latter felt obligated to go ahead with an already-planned conference at their Columbia headquarters.
It was a productive day. We presented our Jacobs Summit sessions in the morning, followed by the Nielsen (OK, Arbitron) panels and keynotes in the afternoon. The one that got my attention was uniquely political. Larry Rosin and Joe Lenski from Edison Research, the company that still handles exit polling for the major networks and news organizations, moderated a panel of political consultants. OK, “spin doctors.”
Both political parties were represented – Mark Mellman on the left, David Winston on the right. And it was obvious from the git-go these two consultants had little in common. Except for one thing:
They each believed – strongly – that radio advertising had very little place in their respective marketing arsenals. As Mellman explained, radio simply had not demonstrated its true return on investment, despite decades of politicians running ads:
“You've got to show people, in a controlled experiment, what the impact was (of radio).”
He and Winston felt radio had simply not proved its mettle. And that was that. For a medium that's been inextricably involved in the political arena since F.D.R.'s famous “fireside chats” during the Great Depression, radio has played a role in elections throughout the 20th century.
I wrote a blog post about this encounter – “Political Animals” – truly one of my most depressing days in radio.
Fast-forward to right now today, and (if James Cridland will excuse the cheap Buggles reference), “politics may save the radio star.”
That's because both Presidential candidates are putting a lot of chips on broadcast radio for this upcoming showdown, heralded by many as “the most important election of our lifetimes.” It's hard to argue with that.
Take President Trump, for example. Last Friday, after being stricken with COVID-19, he spent two hours chewing the fat with Rush Limbaugh. The bombastic radio host called it a “Mega MAGA Rally.”
Perhaps so, but when it comes to media access, the President knows what works. Limbaugh's “Excellence In Broadcasting Network” runs on 650 stations nationwide, the prefect way to reach his base – perhaps his key to his getting elected or rejected.
A recent think piece in the New York Times by Paul Matzko connected the dots. In “Talk Radio Is Turning Millions of Americans Into Conservatives,” Matzko makes the case that conservative talk's 15 million strong weekly audience has been successfully influencing politics in this country for at least two decades.
Yet, few media and political pundits give radio its props. As Matzko notes, “Talk radio still somehow manages to fly below the national media radar.” That's because so many educated professionals and pundits don't listen to it, much less understand it.
He also credits radio's unique, ubiquitous, and multi-platform properties:
“Talk radio is not bounded by physical space. It can follow listeners wherever they go, from the car radio while commuting to the radio resting on the workbench to a radio app on a smartphone. It has the potential to dominate the construction of a person's worldview in a way that other media simply cannot.”
Not bad for a medium that “no one listens to,” that has no demonstrable R.O.I., or that has simply become passé. In fact, Matzko submits that whether Trump remains in office or leaves Washington, conservative talk radio “will also outlast him.” And you have to wonder at some point whether he might not become a part of it.
And then there's the Biden campaign. In a story last week in The Hill, Marty Johnson reports how Biden's strategy is to go after Black, Latino, and rural voters in “battleground states” like Texas, Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan, and others.
What does that look like?
McClatchy's Adam Wollner says Biden is doubling down on radio as we head into the stretch run of this campaign. In a special election coverage section calls “Impact 2020,” the story's title says all you need to know:
What are the Democrats thinking? Wollner explains how the Biden campaign is using an “old-school platform” to laser target rural, older, Black, Latino, and Christian voters.
If your station's Q4 perks up, it may be because you're licensed to a market in one of those Electoral College “tipping states” where every vote truly counts. Wollner says Biden has poured $15 million into radio since early September. And as you'll notice from the chart below, he's focusing radio dollars on some states most Democrats usually couldn't find on a map: Georgia and Texas among them.
As we know, this election may go down in history as a referendum on a lot of things – and among them, the efficacy of radio advertising. Back in 2013, we were looking at an environment where radio ads were out of favor. Buys were placed when TV was sold out. Today, radio could be a difference-maker in determining the Electoral College outcome, and in the process, the election itself.
That the Biden campaign is surgically choosing the radio formats and stations in key markets, regions, and states speaks to the value and ease of radio targeting. We vividly saw this in our COVID 3 study Paul and I presented yesterday in collaboration with the RAB. Because the pandemic has become so politicized, we have been asking respondents for their party preference.
In this new study, we had enough sample (27,000+ respondents) to break it down by format, a useful tool for programmers and salespeople – not to mention politicians.
Cynics, doubters, skeptics, and haters will no doubt mention that each candidate is a septuagenarian – decades older than radio's most desirable demographics. You'd have to wonder whether Mayor Pete would have been as bullish on radio.
And to be fair, many more dollars are being poured into other media categories by both campaigns. In the big scheme of things, the Biden campaign now has the financial edge. In a chart that appeared in a Bloomberg Government email, Advertising Analytics lays out each campaign's ad spend this way. (Apologies on the graphic – I am waiting for the original and will make the necessary replacement.)
Yes, Biden has a huge advantage in overall campaign advertising at this point in the contest, and you can see his advantage on TV (labeled as “broadcast”), satellite radio, digital, and cable TV.
But it's in radio where Biden's brain trust is placing their chips. $30 million dollars isn't a rounding error. Nor is it a “let's throw a few dollars at radio and see what happens” tactic. It is part of Biden's communication strategy in key markets and races.
And that means it's a test case for radio.
It sure looks like November 3rd will be an important day.
Thanks to Steve Goldstein & Bill Jacobs.
- In Radio, Whatever Happened To “4 And Out The Door?” - December 7, 2023
- An Open (News)Letter To Radio - December 6, 2023
- The Case For Handcrafted Radio - December 5, 2023