Broadcast radio – are data-driven ads the future?

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

Back in the mid 1990s, I was doing the afternoon drive shift on a radio station. The only computer in the studio was my little personal organiser, which I used to tap notes out on; otherwise, the songs were played off CD and vinyl, jingles and ads were played using cartridges.

I can still remember a big red note written on top of my paper ad log. An enterprising local advertiser had decided to vary their ad copy based on the weather forecast. The message, written in red by one of the two commercial traffic staff, said: “If rainy, play cart 3705. If dry, play cart 3706.”

This was pretty unusual. And, to be honest, I don’t now remember the ad copy nor the advertiser. But you could imagine how useful “dynamic ad copy” like this could be.

If the weather is going to dip below freezing tonight, a plumber might want a different ad on-air specifically talking about burst pipes. If it’s a sunny day, it’s a good time to sell convertibles. If rainy, the gutter-cleaning companies could benefit.

There’s a company called “A Million Ads” taking this one step further for online advertising. They were recently profiled in a podcast. Their system automatically, on the fly, mixes and produces an ad for every individual listener online (using human voices, too).

Imagine a Starbucks ad that has, in the background, a barista shouting YOUR name, and your favourite drink. An ad for McDonalds that reminds you where your nearest restaurant is. An ad for a charity that highlights local organisations who’ve benefited. Or an ad for a travel agent that knows you’ve booked a flight but not a hotel. “Hey, James, if you need a hotel for New York in July, we’ve got over four thousand to choose from.”

OK, so the last one is a bit creepy – but that kind of advertising is now technically possible: online, at least.

There’s a tendency to look at this stuff and think “that’s cute, but of course we can’t do this with broadcast radio”. I’m not so sure.

Broadcast radio is capable of this kind of personalisation too – perhaps not with personal data, but certainly with other information sources. Ads for money exchangers could be automatically remade as currency values change. Betting companies, of course, could benefit. So could too-popular venues, with advertising that only runs if they’re quieter than usual.

Live broadcasting probably doesn’t mean running ads that were produced two months ago; and given we’re a mass-market medium in the way that podcasts dream of, perhaps we stand more to gain from this kind of tailored advertising.

Perhaps, too, it’s a method of managing yield and pricing – and, perhaps, reducing the amount of ad-minutage we hear on the air.

Lots of questions about how this could work: but it strikes me that for broadcast radio to discount this kind of data-driven advertising might be a mistake. We might just need to think a little harder about how we can benefit.

About The Author

James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at

Contact James at [email protected] or @jamescridland