Responsive Advertising Blog

Your Radio is Watching You

3 minute read

Imagine driving down the highway at 8 p.m. You’re listening to your favorite radio station. Rain hits your windshield. You flip on the wipers. They leave streaks on the glass, making it harder to see. You’ve been meaning to replace them, but it’s the last thing on a to-do list that just keeps growing. You crank up the wiper speed but that only makes it worse. The rain falls harder. You’re cruising through a wall of water. You can barely see…

Then, your radio grabs you by the ears.

“Are you driving scared in a rainstorm? Can’t see past the front of your car? Are your wiper blades only making it worse!? Get off on 494 and 62 and take your first right turn. Because Mike’s Auto Repair is giving away FREE wiper blades to the first 100 drivers that stop in tonight to take advantage of an exclusive offer…”

This scenario may seem like science fiction, but it’s actually closer to reality than you think. Targeting consumers in real time based on factors like weather and traffic are becoming viable with an emerging system for ad placement called programmatic radio buying.

Inspired by the way digital ads target consumers based on their search history, programmatic radio buying utilizes advertiser specified criteria to place radio ads nationally. An automated system scours the country for intersections that fit the advertiser’s specifications and automatically places an ad at the earliest opportunity. No human interaction required.

That means, with programmatic (in theory), you can actually hear an ad on FM radio selling umbrellas in Florida mere minutes after a hurricane hits. An ad for insect repellant when pollen counts get high enough. An ad for a mortgage lender when enough people in your area refinance their homes. That may sound like a marketer’s dream, but due to a few nagging issues, programmatic has raised more eyebrows than hands of advertisers signing up to participate.

Programmatic: Automatic or Problematic?

Programmatic already has a firm foothold in the digital space. According to, in 2014, 86 percent of agency executives reported using programmatic buying for their display ads. And 60 percent of those surveyed also used programmatic for both mobile and video ads. According to Jelli, a programmatic ad platform, $10 billion were spent in 2014 on programmatic ad buys, a 130 percent increase from 2013.

Executives pioneering programmatic are calling terrestrial radio, “The Next Frontier.”  They’re saying it’s a crucial move for the industry to eliminate human error and the archaic manual systems currently used for radio ad placement. In addition to removing waste, the automated process is supposed to give advertisers the best possible target match for improved campaign performance.

If you’re skeptical that an automated system can navigate the intricacies of national radio buying, you’re not alone. Of the $10 billion spent in programmatic in 2014, $0 were spent in audio radio ads. Despite programmatic’s rapid growth in digital, a lack of trust is holding advertisers back from embracing it for traditional media. Many advertisers have been burned by Programmatic ad tech companies running their ads on questionable sites to bolster their numbers. In some cases, ad tech companies even claim ad impressions that no one actually saw. While advertisers may be willing to risk small dollars that way in the Wild West of digital, they’re still waiting for a proven model before they take a closer look at programmatic for radio.

Beyond the trust issues, the top three challenges with programmatic perceived by potential buyers are inventory quality, transparency and technological complexity. The sweet spot intersections (the Glengarry airings like an ad for an umbrella during a rain storm), are sold at a premium—often by auction. Some of these auctions are by invitation only. So while automation may eliminate time sinks in the current model, programmatic has replaced them with a new one. One that sticks you in the middle of a bidding war that can dramatically undermine the profitability of your campaign.

There is one benefit advocates for programmatic radio are promising that everyone is excited about. A benefit that will finally solve the ROI puzzle for radio advertising. It’s a benefit that Marketing Architects already delivers. In a proven model with more than 17 years of experience as the No. 1 radio advertising agency in the country…       

Accurate, Reliable, Results Reporting

A challenge facing most radio advertisers today is proof of performance. For most, it’s impossible to know if any given radio spot actually affects a listener’s buying behavior. Programmatic advocates claim that they’ll one day be able to deliver clearance data with immediate proof of performance. We already do. For direct response advertisers who need to make every marketing dollar count, a proven model today is a far safer bet than a “maybe someday.”

Chuck Hengel

By Chuck Hengel

Founder & CEO

Share this article

Blog Comments