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What is the Best Local Advertising for Small Businesses?: Part 2

Jeff Duff has college degrees in English, psychology and safety management. He has spent 16 years as a local radio advertising consultant.

What is the Best Local Advertising for Small Businesses?: Part 2

In Part 1 of "What is the Best Local Advertising for Small Businesses?", I reviewed and discussed these questions: what is local advertising and what is free advertising? I also focused on one of the oldest and largest of the local advertising media, the local newspapers. Now, in Part 2, I will zoom in on local billboard advertising, local radio advertising and local television advertising. Let's go!


Burma-Shave was one of the earliest national businesses to use roadside billboards. (This is a World War 2 era billboard ... but how effective is this message?)

Burma-Shave was one of the earliest national businesses to use roadside billboards. (This is a World War 2 era billboard ... but how effective is this message?)

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Local Billboard Advertising

Beginning with the first crude billboard newspaper advertisements in the 1830s, through the 1860s as the industry became more sophisticated, local billboard advertising continues to be profitable for their owners today. The internet has done nothing to harm billboard advertising, as the two media really don't compete with each other. Today, local roadside billboard advertising shapes up like this:

ADVANTAGES - (1) Roadside billboard advertising is absolutely dependent upon motor vehicle usage in America. Fortunately for billboards, motor vehicle usage in the United States climbed by about 41% from 1993 to 2019. This is according to the statistical storage website, Statista. Clearly, motor vehicle usage in the United States is showing no signs of a serious decline, thereby supporting the roadside billboard industry. (2) To a limited degree, a billboard advertiser can 'target' his advertising message to his preferred audience. Obviously, advertising on a sign within your local marketing territory is one advantage (depending on the availability of billboards in that area). Another is the image on the billboard: if a business is trying to reach families, display an attractive family with children; trying to reach Asian men, show an Asian man smiling as the image; trying to reach homeowners, show a nice home benefiting from your product or service, etc.

DISADVANTAGES - (1) Billboard advertising can range between about $400 per month on the low end to $10,000 to $20,000 (and much more) per month on the high end. Why so expensive? Well, the land or building owner must be compensated, the advertising must be sold, the graphics must be produced, the huge sign must be printed on special surfaces, the sign must be put up and eventually, taken down. Rural signs are much less expensive to rent than suburban and urban billboards, but usually have fewer viewers in any given time period. Frankly, many small businesses have insufficient advertising budget for such a large monthly outlay. (2) The "Rule of Three and Eight" prevails in billboard advertising: Because the motor vehicle drivers must be able to notice and comprehend the billboard advertisement in 3 seconds or less, the signs that do the best must have 8 words or less ... and the image used can not be overly complex. Even motor vehicle passengers will generally have less than 8 seconds to notice and comprehend a roadside billboard sign, before the vehicle they're riding in drives past the sign. Many businesses and professional practices can not properly advertise themselves in eight words or less and in one (or at most, two) easily comprehended images.

In a sense, newspaper (and magazine) advertising is the polar opposite to roadside billboard advertising. Newspapers can handle complex advertisements and some of their readers will take as much time as necessary to read and comprehend a complicated or wordy advertisement. But, roadside billboards are best for simple language and ‘minimalist’ advertising graphics, to be comprehended in just 3 to 8 seconds. Before you advertise your small business with either newspapers or billboards, make sure you completely understand your businesses' products or services, so you can choose wisely between these two media.

Listening to radio programs (and advertising) back in the 1930s and 1940s.

Listening to radio programs (and advertising) back in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Local Radio Advertising

Having spent 16 years as a local radio advertising sales representative and copy writer, I'd venture to say that I know more about this form of local advertising than any other. But, I had to understand the other types of advertising media in order to compete for local businesses' advertising dollars.

Beginning with the first commercial radio advertisements in 1922, local radio stations have been profitable enterprises for their owners. The internet and satellite radio have both had a small but negative affect on radio listenership, especially since about 2000. Commercial radio has withstood the onslaught of the internet and satellite radio for five reasons: (1) it's free for listeners, (2) it's available almost everywhere and any time, (3) it has such a variety of formats and programs that almost any listener can find something they like, (4) radio and billboard are the few media that can be experience while driving or riding in a motor vehicle, and (5) radio is an aural medium that can be used, even simultaneously as people are on the visually-oriented internet. So, let's dig into radio advertising for good or worse:

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ADVANTAGES - (1) Radio reaches more people of all ages, almost anywhere and any time, than any other media; (2) The cost per impression (i.e., when a person hears or sees your advertising message for a single time) is the lowest for radio, which is an important factor for most small business people and professionals; (3) commercial advertising production for radio is usually the cheapest for any of the local advertising media, which helps to keep radio relatively inexpensive, (4) According to Statista, American consumers in 2020 spent an average of 95 minutes per day listening to the radio (compare that to American newspapers' average of 9 minutes per day).

DISADVANTAGES - (1) Radio is strictly an aural (listening) media, so no visual information can be provided to listeners. A well-written advertising script can create a mental image and that is often enough. But, if your product or service has a, "You won't believe it until you see it", factor to it, then radio advertising may not be right for you and your advertising; (2) Radio ads come and go quickly (usually 15, 30, 45 or 60 seconds in length) so if you don't grab listeners' attention right from the start, your ads will not be truly understood by most listeners; (3) Radio music, programs and advertising is sometimes kept low in volume, so it is merely in the background, rather than in the forefront of your prospective customers' consciousness; (4) You and the radio sales representative must make sure that the station's programming format is appropriate for the audience you want to reach. (Usually you or the representative will know the best format for you, but I have heard Bridal Shop ads on hard rock stations - a heavily male format - and I have also heard motorcycle advertising on 'beautiful music' stations, which reach a mostly a middle-aged and older female format.) Don't waste money advertising on stations that do NOT reach your preferred target audience!

There is no such thing as a perfect, 'all purpose' media for advertising - and radio is no exception. If your advertising requires a lot detail, complexity and/or visual graphics, then radio advertising should not be your first choice.

Mother, father, the kids and the dog, all watching television back in the late 1950s.

Mother, father, the kids and the dog, all watching television back in the late 1950s.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Local Commercial Television

Beginning with the first commercial television advertisement in 1941, local television stations have been profitable enterprises for their owners. But, the times are changing for local television companies. Cable television, pay-for-view television (such as Netflix and Hulu) and the internet have all had a significant negative affect on local television viewership, especially since about 1990 through 2000. Commercial television has seen a double-digit drop in viewership, with all of this competition. But, according to Statista, television of all types is still watched by Americans for a large average total of 229 minutes per day! (Only the internet can beat television, with the internet averaging a whopping 451 minutes per day in 2020, according to Statista.) So, let's check out TV advertising for small businesses:

ADVANTAGES - (1) Commercial television has an advantage that no other media has been able to match, until cable television came along in the 1980s and the internet came on to the scene in the 1990s. Namely, moving pictures and sound, all in one. In one fell swoop, free commercial television instantly advanced beyond local newspapers, billboards and radio! Between consumer/viewers and television broadcasters, it was a match made in heaven; (2) TV offered the ability to display both simple and sophisticated graphics - like newspaper - but in motion, 'just like real life' (and since 1964-65, it was in full color!); (3) Nothing feels like a 'you are really there' personal experience like television, which is an absolute advantage in both programming and advertising.

DISADVANTAGES - (1) All of these visual and aural advantages come at a price, though: commercial television has one of the highest cost-per-impression, roughly on par with newspaper advertising (and both billboard and radio advertising have much lower cost-per-impression advertising rates); (2) Both commercial television and billboards both share the same handicap, namely a high cost market of initial entry (say, a couple of thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars for television commercials), which is beyond the budget of many local small businesses; (3) The television viewing marketplace is 'chopped up' into hundreds of pieces, with many households having instantaneous access to 50, 100, 200 or more television stations and channels. Who knows how many people will be watching the channel your advertisement is on, at the time it will air?

Note: Only billboards have minimal splintering of consumers' attention, usually billboards being in singles, doubles or triples in any given space beside the road. Newspapers also have relatively little splintering between competitors, with larger cities rarely having more than two to four newspapers serving a single community. Broadcast radio usually has 10 to 60 radio stations that can be received on a car radio at the same time, with more stations receivable in urban areas and far fewer in rural areas.

So, simply based on first impressions, it is possible to conclude that commercial television is the perfect advertising medium for every advertiser, small or large! But, as in many things, 'the devil is in the details'. Televisions' high cost of advertising production and broadcast expenses - plus badly splintered viewership - have made it harder to justify buying television advertising, particularly in the last 30 - 40 years. Because of the internet - and the recent and numerous cable and pay-view channels - television advertising is enticing, but often too expensive for small businesses and professional practices.


This has been Part 2 of "What is the Best Local Advertising for Small Businesses? Part 2". In Part 1, I discuss and review "free" advertising, newspaper advertising and what is 'local' small business and advertising. Jump over to: What is the Best Local Advertising for Small Businesses? Part 1. For a more in-depth article on radio advertising design and writing, click over to: Why You Should Make Your Own Radio Commercials. Please enjoy and feel free to share these articles with your friends!

© 2021 Jeffrey Duff

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