Macaroni Grill Turns Up the Volume on Radio Ads

A new study suggests it is time for restaurants to rethink their relationship with the radio dial.

That's the takeaway of a report released this spring by radio company iHeartMedia, which partnered with Marketing Evolution, a firm that conducts real-time cross-media measurement for brands.

Last fall, the two teamed up to analyze the effectiveness of Romano Macaroni Grill's marketing strategy, which relied heavily on television on the heels of a new menu rollout. Macaroni Grill’s menu awareness campaign was running on national cable TV and targeted adults ages 25-54. Research suggests restaurants with strong top-of-mind awareness get a higher percentage of sales.

"What we were trying to figure out was whether adding radio to the mix would help," says Radha Subramanyam, executive vice president of insights, research, and analytics at iHeartMedia. "They were introducing a new menu and top-of-mind awareness was what they cared about the most."

During the test, which ran Sept. 15 through Oct. 13, 2013, iHeartMedia found that radio ads—a historically misunderstood medium, according to Subramanyam—worked well in conjunction with TV to create significant top-of-mind awareness with no additional investment from Macaroni Grill. Specifically, the marketing mix that worked best for the casual-dining restaurant was 77 percent TV and a 23 percent radio ratio.

"Sound is extremely important," Subramanyam says. "It gets to people at both subconscious and conscious levels, and in the very specific case of Macaroni Grill, it was even more suggestive than TV. Especially when you have a new menu or new items you are trying to market, it’s not enough just to have some other form of awareness."

The one-two punch of TV ads followed by radio raised top-of-mind awareness 8 points for Macaroni Grill in the test markets of Cleveland, Denver, Dallas, and Tampa, Florida. iHeartMedia chose these markets to study because they are representative markets of different areas of the country, and Macaroni Grill already had an established footprint there.

The 60-second radio spots were also more cost-effective than the 15-second TV ads the Italian restaurant was using. Radio also can feel more personal to listeners, Subramanyam says, as radio ads have the potential to appear like a testimonial from a friend rather than a corporate message on TV.

Their campaign drove not just awareness, but brand affinity and actual sales. Marketing Evolution saw that with the 77/23 marketing mix, Macaroni Grill had the opportunity to boost its marketing impact by 34 percent.

"With any medium, you have the flattening out of the curve: You're just talking to the same people over and over again—and radio builds awareness much faster than TV," Subramanyam says.

The study did not examine the impact of social media on the awareness and marketing strategy, but Subramanyam says she believes radio and social media are highly synergistic, and a conversation that starts in one medium should follow into the other.

By Sonya Chudgar

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by WTWH Media LLC.