Questions For Direct-Response Radio Advertisers

Radio ad maven and fellow blogger Rod Schwartz had this to say recently to direct-response radio advertisers:

If your product or service truly serves a worthwhile purpose, and provides a valuable solution to a significant problem…

And if your commercial message immediately engages a prospective customer, speaks authentically to a felt need, and genuinely resonates with that person…

…you will find it unnecessary, even counterproductive, to bludgeon listeners with endless, mindless repetition of your toll-free telephone number.


Because – surprise! – the person who really wants what you’re selling will remember you and will make the effort to find you and do business with you.

As a listener, I share Rod’s distaste for commercials that give the phone number ad nauseum. But I have a feeling that the folks who do these ads — the best of them, anyway — have a good reason they do it this way.

The best direct response marketers in all media — radio, TV, direct mail, etc — test the heck out of their copy. And there are only two things that matter to them in a campaign where the call-to-action is a phone number: number of phone calls, and number of sales that result from those calls.

My guess — and it’s only a guess, because I’ve never had a chance to ask someone who’s done the testing — is that they repeat the phone number so often because when they do it less often, they get fewer phone calls and make fewer sales.

There’s some logic to this, because in many cases the phone number is unique to the campaign, and can’t be found in a phone book or on Google. The product might have a web site, but it may not be related to the radio campaign. And if the customer decides to find the product in a store, that’s not the “direct response” the campaign is designed to elicit.

The most sophisticated marketers may be tracking results by station, by time of day, and by show. They may also be experimenting with, and tracking, other aspects of the copy and the offer

If the object of THAT campaign is to get people listening to THAT station to call THAT number, they need to do everything they can to make sure the listener remembers that number and calls it, rather than trying to track the product down elsewhere. Giving the phone number over and over again is one way to accomplish that.

The direct marketer’s job isn’t to entertain listeners, or make good radio. His or her job is to sell product. My somewhat-educated guess is that they pound the phone number for one reason: it works.

But I’d love to know for sure. If you do direct-response radio work for a living — the kind where the only response that counts is a phone call to a specific number — and you’ve carefully tested a variety of methods, here are the questions of the day:

  1. How many times does the phone number need to appear in a :60 to generate the maximum number of calls?
  2. What happens when you deviate from that formula?


Email Phil Bernstein here.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for Phil Bernstein’s free advertising and marketing e-newsletter here.

Become a Facebook Fan of Phil Bernstein, Portland’s Advertising Expert  here.


Sign up for my blog updates and never miss a post. I'll send you the first two chapters of my new book, Breakthrough Prospecting, as a thank-you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Your Chance to Be Heard -- Comment Here!

3 thoughts on “Questions For Direct-Response Radio Advertisers

  1. Good post exploring direct response radio advertisers. I think the question of how often a 60 second spot needs to repeat the phone number is a valid one. Looking forward to seeing more replies.

  2. They repeat the phone number in the futile attempt to help listeners remember — but the human mind is incapable of remembering random number strings. Have you ever heard an advertiser say “just visit us on the web, at ? No! That is why they invented domain names comprised of words! By the same token, advertisers can now dispense with random 800#s, and allow prospects to simply SAY the brand name or promotional keyword to connect. How? See it here: or or

  3. Recently we ran an ad campaing in Austin Texas asking listeners to text us for a discount code. We received 662 texts. Listeners received the discount code and a link to our website.
    The amount of people texting is was excellent. However the amount who actually purchased using the code was low. I believe that was the result of factors outside the ad itself. Poor web site, possibly wrong age and wrong income levels, or any mix thereof. However, the ad did drive listeners to respond. As soon as we can find someone who is an expert in direct response radio advertising, we will be back. So far we haven’t found anyone capable of running an ad campaign that will deliver ticket sells. Still looking:)