Radio: Sound of the Old World

In the days before the pandemic, chances were that upon entering a friend’s car, you might be handed an auxiliary cord and asked to DJ the drive. Perhaps it was a Bluetooth connection in a newer model car, or maybe your friend had a cassette adapter in their well-loved beater. The point is you didn’t listen to the radio.

In the world of Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and Apple Podcasts, it would seem that radio is in trouble. The industry, which is heavily reliant on advertising dollars, experienced a 4% decrease in revenue over the past five years. Stay-at-home orders have decreased the reach of drive-time talk shows, and the newer, alluring platforms of internet and TV indirectly pull attention away from radio.[i]

Despite this decline, insurance and real estate companies still spent approximately $257.7 million on radio advertising in 2019. In terms of radio ad spending, insurance and real estate only falls behind retail, communications, and miscellaneous services and amusements.[ii] Though this is a fraction of their overall budgets, insurance companies are still developing smart, catchy radio spots that effectively catch the listener’s ear. 

Take Progressive, for example. In 2019, Progressive spent $1,618 million on advertising, outspent only by Geico.[iii] If you visit their YouTube page, the company is running at least five marketing campaigns concurrently though digital media and television, including “Dr. Rick: Parenta-Life Coach,” “Sign Spinner,” “At Home with Baker Mayfield,” and “The Motaur.” Not to mention their pandemic-specific “Work From Home” campaign, which features the motley Progressive crew on a Zoom-like platform.[iv]

But Progressive hasn’t forgotten about radio. At the beginning of 2020, Progressive topped Media Monitors list of radio’s leading advertisers, running 54,890 ads in one week.[v] Later that year, they launched the “Sounds of the Old World” radio advertising campaign. 

The ads, which cannot be found online, are laugh-out-loud funny, and they feature sound bites from everyday events for which many listeners find themselves longing in a quarantined world. One particularly memorable ad features a sports fan getting up to grab popcorn at a baseball game, saying “excuse me” every time he bumps someone’s knees. 

A picture containing stadium

Description automatically generated
Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels

At a time when marketers and advertisers have become caught up in tying their campaigns to pandemic-related experiences, the “Sounds of the Old World” campaign stands out for its outstanding use of humor. It successfully avoids pitfalls like Zoom-fatigue and stays with Progressive’s brand of humor rather than forcing an inauthentic, sentimental tone.

The thing is that radio may not be as dead as we might think. The medium still reaches up to 90% of the adult population in the United States at least once per week.[vi] The estimated revenue of radio broadcasters in 2018 was $20.5 billion.[vii] Radio advertising has been a staple in the average advertising budget for years, and it doesn’t seem companies are going to do away with it just yet. 

The vast majority of Americans still listen to the radio, according to the Pew Research Center. However, they’re increasingly tuning in online.[viii] This may be why companies like Geico actually host their radio adsonline, too.

A close - up of a game console

Description automatically generated with low confidence
Photo courtesy of Pexels

This isn’t to say, however, that radio will outlive digital platforms or even the television. Though the ads are generally placed in bulk for all three platforms, allowing for repetition of the company’s message, video will always beat out audio for a consumer’s attention. Radio faces the unique challenge of having no accompanying visuals at all and so must be more descriptive in nature. Because online and TV ads use visuals, marketers can spend more time developing the creative storyline, rather than simply describing a product or service. [ix]

Say what you will about radio advertising, but the thought of laughing at something as humdrum as a man buying popcorn at a baseball game seemed a remote possibility just over a year ago. It certainly won’t be forgotten. 

Questions for Marketing Managers to Consider:

  • Do you believe radio advertising is dying? What alternatives might one consider?
  • Why do you think insurance and real estate companies spend so much on advertising annually? What strategies do they employ that might be applicable elsewhere?
  • What tactics have you seen, utilized, or experienced in pandemic-related marketing? Which were most successful, and which fell flat?

[i] Egan, Sean. Oct 2020. “Radio Broadcasting in the US.” IBISWorld. NAICS 51511. Retrieved from

[ii] Statista. 2020. “Radio in the U.S.” Statista. Dossier. Retrieved from

[iii] Advertising Age. 2020. “Advertising spending of selected insurance brands in the United States in 2019.” Advertising Age, Kantar Media. Retrieved from Statista. 

[iv] Progressive Insurance. 2021.

[v] Radio Ink. 2020. “Progressive Tops Radio Advertising List.” Radio Ink. Retrieved from

[vi] Egan, Sean. Oct 2020. “Radio Broadcasting in the US.” IBISWorld. NAICS 51511. Retrieved from

[vii] Statista. 2020. “Radio in the U.S.” Statista. Dossier. Retrieved from

[viii] Egan, Sean. Oct 2020. “Radio Broadcasting in the US.” IBISWorld. NAICS 51511. Retrieved from

[ix] Milano, Steve. 2021. “Differences Between Radio and TV Advertising.” Chron. Retrieved from