Contributor: Angela Jeffrey, VP Brand Management, ABX

In a recent study of 168 COVID-19-related Radio ads measured by Advertising Benchmark Index (ABX) since March 4, advertising effectiveness scores were amazingly high. Radio spots featuring thanks to first responders, helpful advice to listeners regarding resisting the virus and conveying a serious tone in their announcements all did well. Below is a look at how Radio is performing right now, including a close look at five of the top ten COVID-19 spots, showing how effective Radio can be during a time of crisis.

Stunning Results for COVID-19-related Radio Spots

In a recent ABX Advisory post, “COVID Advertising Effectiveness can Increase 175% with Right Focus,” we see that consumers are not reacting negatively to advertising during this COVID-19 epidemic. Rather, they seem to have welcomed it and have responded more positively to advertising overall, compared to how they reacted before the pandemic got started.

In a similar ABX survey of 14 countries, we have learned that average ad creative scores have improved since the beginning of March by 13% in the U.S. and 11% in Europe, as well as the Americas and Austral-Asia. Those with COVID-19-related content performed better than those without, by 175%. This tells us that advertisers can become authority figures during times of crisis if they play it right.

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At the forefront of this good news is Radio advertising! Some 65% of radio ads tested by ABX have been successful at generating COVID-19-related messaging. This messaging has generated some of the highest ABX Radio ad effectiveness scores ever recorded.

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To understand this chart, note first that the ABX Radio norm is the gray dotted line and is furthest to the left. That means the array of scores in the norm are well below the others. The blue line is next and shows how well even Non-COVID-19 radio spots are doing at present. Finally, the orange line shows the COVID-19 spots, which is skewed to the right where the highest scores are. All that to say that this time of crisis seemed to “lift all boats” and demonstrates the strength of radio for such periods.

Radio spots featuring thanks to first responders, helpful advice on how to resist the virus and messages carrying a serious tone all did well. When we look at ABX radio norms, it is significant to say all but a handful of radio ads with COVID-19-specific messages were above the norms and long-term averages. The chart below shows radio effectiveness score AVERAGES for each brand since March 4. There were too many spots to chart individually, but some detailed spots are shown below.

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This waterfall chart shows the average ABX Index on the left-hand side and all the brands that have been tested by ABX to date. Even the lowest-scoring ads that fall below the yellow line are above the Radio norm of 93.


As you evaluate these spots with us, keep in mind that an “average” ABX Index score across all media is 100. Unfortunately, so much radio is poorly produced, that the ABX Radio norm is only 93. So, when you see radio creative scores in the 130s and 140s, you know they are either exceptionally creative or they had exactly the right message conveyed in the right way for their audience at that time. The latter is absolutely true for five of the Top Ten COVID-19 spots below.

IHOP – “Share IHOP’s New Family Feast” – This :15 spot appeared very early during the crisis and immediately offered an IHOP Family Feast for Four for only $24.99, either delivered to the customer or provided at curbside pickup. The male voice is friendly and enthusiastic about the value being offered but is clearly operating within the new boundaries. While this spot is a bit more commercial than we’d expect to see with an incredible ABX Index of 142, IHOP was out very early with the message that the restaurant is open; it has modified its approach for safety and social distancing and it offers delivery and pickup options. The scores below are extremely high for Message, Reputation and Action. You can hear the spot by clicking on the link above. 

Pizza Hut – “Pizza Hut now Delivers Pizza and Beer” – This is a clever :30 spot, starting with a “weather report” and then announcing “Pizza Hut now delivers to your door – both pizza and beer.” Everything is right in this spot as evidenced from an ABX Index of 138 to Brand Awareness and Message. As the announcer says, “When you are home and worried about becoming sick, having pizza and beer delivered is about as good as it gets.” Comforting and caring at a time of crisis, Pizza Hut yielded a strong Reputation of 224 and Action score of 135.

Comcast Xfinity – “The Coronavirus has Affected …” In 60 seconds, Comcast delivers a high-scoring, informational spot delivered by a male voice with no sound effects, that deals with giving free internet access to consumers at all hotspots nationwide throughout this crisis. No data fees will be charged, no late fees, etc. Comcast is truly “giving” to the community through this offer. Not only is the ABX Index huge for this radio spot (138), but the Message scored 148, Reputation scored almost 300 points and Intended Action was good, too.

Panera Bread – “As so many of us adjust our daily routines …” This :30 spot is lovely in its presentation. A female voice-over plays over the gentle guitar music forms a perfect atmosphere for discussing Panera’s healthy and delicious food while weaving the COVID-19 story in and out. Panera is here for us throughout this time with pickup, “contactless delivery,” and whatever else is needed. The scores below are among the highest ever for Radio.

Subway – “Feeding America’s Network of Food Banks” … this :30 Subway spot starts out talking about the huge problem of hunger during a time like this and then announces that it will donate 15 million meals, one meal for each footlong sandwich purchased before the end of April. The spot is produced with suitable music beneath the female voice track. This spot is in the Top Ten COVID-19 spots, but might have had a slightly higher score if so much of the spot wasn’t legalese. Still, an ABX Index of 137 is right at the top for Radio, and the Message at 157 and Reputation at 249 are tremendous accomplishments.

Through the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve seen in a new way that Radio, as a communication medium, is powerful. When done well, radio ads can improve the effectiveness of any campaign.