Newswise — David Allan, a marketing professor and former radio executive at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia is studying the impact of advertising changes that some broadcast radio groups are making in response to challenges from iPods and satellite radio. "With Howard Stern on Sirius and Major League Baseball on XM," he says, "the radio industry is facing new and diverse challenges to its ability to grow revenue from competitive sources." At issue is the effectiveness of 30-second versus 60-second radio commercials.
Professor Allan has completed a new study, funded by a grant from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and delivered April 27 at the Broadcast Education Association's 2006 conference in Las Vegas. The paper, "Comparative Effectiveness of 30- versus 60-second Radio Commercials on Recall and Rate," explored the effectiveness of 30-second and 60-second radio commercials on un-aided recall.
Taking its lead from Clear Channel, the largest owner and operator of radio stations in the United States, some radio executives are now promoting the benefits of advertising via 30-second commercials instead of 60-second spots. "While the 30-second spots are half as long as the 60-second ones, they generally cost 75 to 80 percent of the 60 second ones," Allan says. The argument is that, if radio stations include fewer on-air ads in a spot break (a commercial break from programming), say, four 30-second ones instead of four 60-second ads, the shorter ads will have more of an impact. "Less," they maintain, "is more."
Clear Channel, with over 1200 stations broadcasting across the United States, responded to increased competition by satellite radio in July of 2004 by reducing the length and amount of commercials. The move was promoted as "a company wide initiative to improve the value of radio to listeners and advertisers." Included in the plan were limits on the length of commercials in a spot break and shorter ads. When other companies, and even some independent stations, followed suit last year, Allan decided to take a close look at the trend.
Some believe that "a thirty-second spot will deliver better response" and are pitching the shorter advertising approach as an effective and cost-effective ad strategy. Allan says Clear Channel has suggested that "listeners will be able to recall the ads more readily." While Clear Channel executives have reported that the initial feedback from advertisers on the plan had been "positive to overwhelmingly positive," Allan says some advertisers were not so enthusiastic calling the plan "giving you less, charging you more."
Some in the popular industry press following industry trends agree that "less" isn't necessarily "more." Allan's research seeks to help set the record straight.
Allan arbitrarily selected four different nationally televised brands—Macy's Home Depot, Cavit Wine and Lasik Plus—that had 30- and 60-second commercials available. He played two different versions of the commercials (4 :30's or 4 :60's) integrated into radio programming from a Top 40 station for a group of 85 test subjects. All were in the 18-24 target demographic age range common for the Top 40 format. The participants were then asked to complete a questionnaire related to the recall (unaided) of the brands and the advertising messages from the commercials that were included on the tape.
"The study is designed to provide the radio and advertising industries with an objective, theoretical foundation to what is being called 'less is more' in the business," he says. "Unlike television, which runs 15- and 30-second commercials, radio has relied primarily on the use of 60-second commercials," he explains. "Although radio currently does run some 'piggybacked' 30-second commercials in syndicated programming."
The results indicate that the brand recall of commercials of these different lengths is not significantly different and can be as effective for branding campaigns. However, the general and proven recall of advertising messages from 60-second commercials is significantly greater than from 30-second commercials.
"Based on these results," says Professor Allan, "this study further suggests a possible rate of these 30-second commercials at 50 percent below that of a 60-second commercial." Allan suggests that radio stations charge advertisers less for the :30 commercials requiring the recall of advertising messages and encouraged advertisers to use the savings to purchase more commercials to increase frequency offsetting the less effectiveness of the :30 commercials. While this will cause additional inventory clutter for the radio stations this can be offset by additional not longer stop sets.
Professor David Allan http://www.sju.edu/hsb/marketing/pages/dallan/index.html is a veteran broadcasting scholar with more than 20 years of industry experience, including previous work in programming and operations at Clear Channel.