How Long should I Test New TV & Radio Ad Campaigns Before Changing the Commercial


We hear this pitch from startup companies all the time: “We’re just about to launch The Next Big Thing here. What we want is a one-week test campaign which uses direct response radio advertising. Our budget is $1,000, and we want it to air in the San Francisco (or other large metro market) area. We’re expecting this budget will bring us at least 100 calls/leads. Can you guarantee us that number of calls? Can you give us some call data from another client of yours in the same industry as us?”

A few years back, I might have been a bit more diplomatic. My answer now is this: “Take your thousand bucks to Vegas, go to the roulette wheel, and bet it all on red. You’ve got a 48% chance of winning that bet, which is about ten times the odds of you making a successful direct response radio advertising test with that budget in that time frame. If nothing else, you’ll have a good time there, which is more than you’ll have if you go through with this.”

If your small business is anything like 98% of all other businesses out there, you don’t exist in a vacuum: there are other businesses competing with you in the same business segment. And when that competition is running radio advertising or TV advertising in the same market as you, it doesn’t matter how big you put the words “CALL NOW” next to your phone number, you literally can’t afford a short-term, underfunded advertising test: your competitors will be doing the same thing as you, and they’ll be doing it with deeper pockets.

#1 Getting a direct response radio advertising or direct response TV advertising test to work for you starts with picking the right target market. Pick based on how much you have to spend first, and on which markets have the most demand for your product/service second. No one knows more about your business than you do (or should). Your advertising partner can help you best if you tell them everything they need to know about your business.

#2 Your test should run in your target market from 8 to 16 weeks. Campaigns only start to build momentum after your potential customers hear your message (including direct response radio advertising and direct response channels) at least five times. With the right radio ads frequency, it will take your average listener 4-5 days to hear your message five times, so your test should run for at least a month; 2-3 months will give you more accurate information.

#3 Take advantage of the “big fish in a little pond” theory to make the most of your test. Only advertise in a market that you can afford to run in long enough and often enough to get results. If you’re planning to run two spots a day on just one station in just one market, you’d be better off hitting the blackjack tables.

Please note that we’re not some great big advertising agency talking to you about GRPs (gross rating points). I’ve been on the client’s end of the subject myself, trying to grow a business and maintain acquisition/leads costs. I speak from experience when I say that frequency is crucial and can make or break a test campaign. In the past 11 years, I have never seen an underfunded test campaign work. I’ve only seen a handful of short-term tests get anywhere, and those were for hot new gadgets that had never been advertised through TV or radio before. These products had not entered the mainstream. Unless you have something truly unique and remarkable that no one else has, you’ll need an 8-to-16-week test in an appropriate market – and the budget to run such a campaign.

If your business is located in Seattle, WA; Phoenix, AZ; Minneapolis, MN; San Diego, CA; Nassau-Suffolk-Long Island, NY; St. Louis, MO; Denver, CO; Baltimore, MD; Portland, OR; Pittsburg, PA; Charlotte, NC; or any of the other 305 radio markets, you can call our office with any questions you may have about TV or radio advertising. Even if you are not our customer, we are still happy to help your business out.

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Mike Brown – G.M.