Radio’s Siren Call to Online Marketers

For better or worse, radio is in the news.

Apart from the emergence of satellite radio, followed by the word that shock jock Howard Stern would make the switch from terrestrial radio to Sirius a few years ago, this medium hadn’t been front and center for some time. Recently, however, that’s changed.

Though the Don Imus saga drew attention to the medium, a more positive episode refocused marketers’ attention: Google’s launch last year of Audio Ads. The media empire has made it possible for marketers to create, target, launch, and manage radio ads online, using the AdWords platform advertisers already use for paid search.

Last week, Google further enhanced its offering with a Clear Channel Communications partnership that provides it and AdWords advertisers (at least those acting as Audio Ads beta testers) with access to part of the radio network’s premium inventory.

As a result of the agreement and additional network deals, Google can now deliver ads to the top 10 stations in 24 of the top 25 U.S. markets, over 1,500 AM and FM stations, and 46 percent of all consumers over age 12.

But don’t think radio’s relationship with the Web ends with Google. Like local media television sites, radio station sites have plenty to offer savvy local and national advertisers — including listeners.

Last year, comScore Media Metrix reported an increase in online radio usage concurrent with continuously improving streaming capabilities. Radio site traffic increased overall by 27 percent to reach 33.5 million unique visitors, while visits to top radio network Clear Channel Online grew by 31 percent to 9.8 million visitors. The study also found consumers aged 35-44 are 22 percent more likely than the average user to visit online radio sites, and Internet users are 27 percent more likely to visit during the workday.

There are also benefits to advertising in conjunction with streaming radio that don’t exist with the offline variety. According to a 2006 study by Arbitron and Edison Media Research, Internet radio is popular among online shoppers. Forty-two percent of Internet users listen to streaming radio while researching a product or service online, and 27 percent listen while actually making an online purchase.

From a content standpoint, radio sites have moved beyond the sparse properties of old. Most now offer far more than just playlists, contests, and local event news.

Local news, sports, weather, and entertainment feeds — some sourced from sister TV station sites — aside, the more unique radio site features include personality pages for on-air talent. This also affords cross-promotion opportunities for radio advertisers as well as on-demand music services featuring exclusive in-studio artist performances and concerts.

Clear Channel’s radio site network alone offers Stripped, an in-studio music site featuring 150 artists, including James Blunt; New, which provides music from emerging and independent artists; Sneak Peek for album previews prior to their release; and In Concert, with live performances in theaters, stadiums, even small venues accessible to select crowds. Each gives the ability to target by artist or music genre and is promoted on associated Clear Channel radio sites for maximum exposure.

From a radio site to a live music destination, online radio advertisers have a number of placement options. In-stream ads are popular on station sites, as they can differ from their on-air counterparts. Fifteen-second pre-roll video ads can be incorporated into the multimedia player, and your rep work will work with you to devise effective strategies for encouraging listeners to revisit a minimized player, such as offering coupons associated with your product. Of course, banners are always a possibility as well.

It’s taken some big industry news to push this tried-and-true medium back to the forefront of media plans. Its traffic, fine-tuned content, and ad formats are what will keep it there.

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