Radio Enables Campaigns to Work Smarter not Harder

Political • March 7, 2024


The lion's share of political ad spending traditionally goes to linear television. But recent Nielsen data highlights major disruptions in the video landscape, which have some serious implications for campaigns. While it still makes up the majority of video consumption, broadcast and cable TV usage is shrinking. Linear TV as a whole is down -19% over the past two years, led by cable (-21%). Consumer behavior is trending towards streaming video across a growing number of platforms, many of which are not ad-supported. Although video streaming is gaining in overall viewership, it is becoming increasingly fragmented and much of that viewing is out of reach for political advertisers. 

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As a result, campaigns relying on TV and digital media deliver LESS reach now than they did last year. Linear TV is losing voter reach that is not being recouped by digital and CTV. Political campaigns need to shake up their media mix in 2024 and think beyond video to include local media platforms that complement their campaigns and reach those missing voters.

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AM/FM radio should be considered a priority for reaching voters across the board. New and compelling evidence from a "first of its kind" study merges L2 Voter Data with Nielsen audience data, revealing the media consumption for actual voters. AM/FM radio ranks alongside digital media as the top reaching media for party voters - ahead of TV and CTV. Radio’s high reach extends to voters across all ages, ethnicities, geographies, voting frequency, and more. 

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Drawing from Nielsen's insights into the media landscape, it becomes evident that current political campaigns not using radio are willingly leaving voters on the table - but they don't have to. New Nielsen Media Impact analyses illustrate how simply redistributing a campaign's existing media budget can remedy the situation and increase voter reach. 

Nielsen finds that campaigns would not benefit from merely shifting more spend to CTV & digital media, as they only generate modest lifts on top of TV. Investing more in CTV would actually end up reducing total campaign reach due to diminishing returns at investment levels near 30% and negative returns after 35%. But by adding radio to the media mix, shifting 20% of the total spend to radio, campaigns can fill the voter reach gap at no extra cost. The optimized media plan with radio reaches +17% more voters (+15M), with NO change to the overall budget. In fact, the campaign becomes more efficient with a lower CPM. That 20% slice of the budget works SMARTER on radio than it does on TV, CTV and digital, so campaigns don't have to work harder spending more to reach voters. 

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Nielsen further reveals that when added to campaigns, radio delivers incremental voters across party lines, age breaks, and among light TV viewers. Radio’s biggest impact in incremental reach occurs among younger voters, especially those under 30. 


Reach is only part of radio’s story. Being an ideal "sticky" ad environment is another major benefit for advertisers. A recent consumer study from Nielsen found that radio is the least-skipped ad platform, meaning consumers are engaged with ads when they air – unlike video streaming services and TV. Ad avoidance plagues video streaming services, whether they are free, paid, or even live. Nearly two-thirds of viewers who watch free with-ads streaming services like YouTube avoid ads most/all of the time, with one-third admitting to always skipping ads. Linear TV does not fare well either, as half of cable and broadcast TV viewers take steps to avoid watching ads - levels on par with live TV streaming and paid with-ads streaming services. On the other end of the spectrum is AM/FM radio, where two-thirds of listeners rarely (if ever) take action to avoid ads. Candidates investing in radio will have a better chance of resonating with voters, compared to streaming video services and TV. 

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Nielsen advises campaigns to use radio early and often for maximum impact. To illustrate how radio makes a difference in contentious races, Nielsen examined a Pennsylvania Senate race and the Georgia runoff election. Both candidates invested in radio, driving incremental reach - voters missed by their TV and CTV buys. For both Fetterman and Warnock, radio complemented their TV and CTV campaigns to give them an advantage in their local race. Ultimately both candidates defeated their opponents by narrow margins. 

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