Why 30 Second (and shorter) Radio Commercials Are Bad for Advertisers and The Radio Industry

by Ben McWhorter

Any radio salesperson that tells you otherwise is either untrained, doesn’t have access to a professional copy writer or is lazy.

All of the research I’ve ever seen suggest that 60s are superior to 30s in listener recall.

If you haven’t already established your business’s name and services in the marketplace like the big budget advertisers have (McDonald’s, Home Depot, Verizon, etc.) then you’re really hurting yourself by using commercials that are less than 60 seconds.

Units less than 60s are fine for radio advertisers who are already well known and branded in the marketplace, but if your business doesn’t fit into this category, then you should run 60s instead of 30s.

While 30 second radio commercials look like a “good deal” on the surface, is it really that good of a deal?

For example, let’s assume you have a monthly advertising budget of $3000.00. For a simple example, let’s assume the cost of a :60 commercial is $100. Typically, 30 second commercials are priced at 80% of the price of a 60, so that would be $80 per spot.

Let’s see what you get for your money for a $3,000 budget:

$3000 / $100 spots for :60s = 30 commercials

$3000 / $80 spots for :30s = 38 commercials

Buying :30s looks like a better deal, doesn’t it?


By purchasing 60s, you actually get 30 minutes of commercial time.

By purchasing 30s, you get only 19 minutes of commercial time.

So why do some radio salespeople suggest that you buy 30s rather than 60s?

1. Because most stations have gone to time-based sales (rather than unit-based which limits the number of commercials an hour, regardless of the length). Stations can make more money by selling 30s that’s why management pushes salespeople to sell 30s.

2.Most sellers haven’t been trained and don’t know the difference in recall between 30s and 60s recall, and therefore are selling the cheapest thing in their sales arsenal, which is not the most effective thing for an advertiser with a smaller budget. Bad salespeople always sell the cheapest thing they have to sell, which isn’t necessarily what the client needs.

3.Most salespeople can’t (or don’t want to) write effective radio copy. Writing a 30 is easier than writing a 60, plus it takes less time. This is a key benefit to a salesperson that has a manager’s boot kicking his or her rear-end.

If you’re a local advertiser without a big budget, you should definitely opt for 60s instead of 30s.

Not only is the proliferation of 30 second spots bad for the local, limited budget advertiser, its bad for the radio industry too.

To the listener, hearing 10-12 minutes of commercials an hour with mostly 30 second commercials sounds a LOT more cluttered than 10-12 minutes an hour that are composed exclusively of 60 second commercials. The listener can’t tell the difference between a 60 or 30 second spot, but they can tell when there is an interruption. The more spots that are running, the more interruptions that are perceived by the listener. And selling more 30s, means a lot more interruptions.

Advertisers ask me all the time “Are people still listening to the radio?”

The factual answer is that the same number of people (percentage-wise) are listening as there were decades ago. The problem is that they aren’t listening as long, thanks to the fine folks at iHeart Media (Clear Channel at the time) who introduced the “less is more” concept to the industry in all of their markets. This concept allowed inventory to be sold at a time-based limit per hour instead of a unit-based (a limit on the number of commercials, regardless of length) per hour.

They reasoned that going from a unit-based system limit on the number commercials each hour- regardless of length- to a time-based limit, would yield them more money. This also sounded like music to their stockholders’ ears.

Example, if a 60 second commercial was $100… what if that same “minute” comprised of 2 30 second commercials instead, with each 30 second commercial costing $80 each! Instead of yielding $100 in this example, they would yield $160 for that same minute. This is the “more” out of the “less is more” concept. Doing this math over the number of minutes there are in every hour, every day, on over 1200 radio stations would yield a huge windfall!

The “less” part of this concept was Time Spent Listening estimates. For those in the business, TSL. TSL is a key component of the Average Quarter Hour persons number that is a part of the ratings business currency.

Because iHeart is in almost every radio market in the US, when they encouraged their sellers (and in some cases, actually paid them higher commissions) to sell more 30s, while the competition responded by doing the same- selling more 30s so they could compete with the lower iHeart rates. This is what got us to where we are today.

In other words, just because radio sellers are schlepping 30 second commercials doesn’t mean it is in the small advertisers’ best interest.

After 12 years of this “less is more” concept was introduced by iHeart (and mimicked) by the vast majority of radio stations around the country, it’s a proven to be a disaster for advertisers, radio’s TSL and the perception of the medium as a viable advertising medium.

While the finger pointing on the time spent listening problem points towards Pandora (and similar services) and satellite radio, the TSL problem is self-inflicted by the addition of clutter (more interruptions) each hour due to 30 second commercials and time-based limits per hour instead of unit-based limits.

Although iHeart’s math on the “less is more” concept looked good on paper, it didn’t work. Note that iHeart Media is over $20 Billion in dept right now.

Ignoring the needs of the listeners and advertisers is very costly. Money is not the root of all evil. The love of money is the root of all evil.