Silence Is Golden


(By Bob McCurdy) Is there a simple way to enhance commercial engagement?

If there is, that would be a good thing in light of an OMD study which concluded that ad engagement has an eight-times larger impact on sales than gross rating points.

Well, there is and to many it might seem counterintuitive and to some it might seem downright blasphemous. It is the creative use of silence.

The reason silence works on the radio is due to contrast, which is defined as a “striking exhibition of unlikeness.” What is most strikingly unlike anything that comes out of a radio speaker or smart phone ear buds? Silence.

Why does silence command our attention? It has to do with what’s known as an “orienting response.”

An orienting response or “OR,” is defined as an automatic and involuntary allocation of our attention to something novel or surprising in our environment and we don’t have to actively be listening. Hearing is sufficient.

Silence on the radio is “novel and surprising,” so silence where previously there was a wall of sound, automatically hijacks our attention.

There has been research conducted over the years that supports the use of tactical silence in a commercial.

A study titled, “Silence is Golden: Effects of Silence on Consumer Ad Response,” concluded that a silent segment in a television commercial increased attention and recall and stimulated “rehearsal”, a quick mental review of what they just saw.  The great classical composers, Mozart, Beethoven etc. also understood the importance of a brief moment of silence between their symphonic movements, allowing the audience to more thoroughly appreciate and reflect upon what they just heard.

“Conceptual closure,”is when the brain takes a moment to integrate what it has heard/seen/experienced. It takes those breaks based on certain cues in the environment that suggest this might be a good moment to do it. A brief moment of silence in a commercial can be that cue.

A researcher named Xinshu Zhao concluded that commercials are impacted by the proximity of other ads and that the effect of preceding ads were stronger than those that followed. This is significant in that most commercials are preceded by other commercials, as there can be only one first-in-pod. A tactical moment of silence at the beginning of a commercial could serve to reset the listener’s attention, distancing it from those that ran before.

Not having copy filling every second of a :30 or :60 is akin to print advertisers use of “white space” which is when an advertiser uses some smaller portion of the purchased space to grab the reader’s attention and focus the reader’s eyes. Silence in radio can effectively focus the listener’s attention on what’s about to be said while enabling them to more effectively absorb what they just heard.


Consider using a moment of silence as a buffer to create some “distance” between your commercial and the commercials that precede it.

Consider using a brief moment of silence at the end of a commercial, creating a moment in which the listener can reflect upon what they just heard before the next commercial attempts to commandeer their attention.

Consider the use of a “pregnant pause.” “Pregnant pause” is defined as “a pause that gives the impression it will be followed by something of importance.” These pauses command our attention. We use pregnant pauses to great effect in our professional and personal lives so why not utilize them in radio creative? An Old Spice commercial titled “Life”, a 2017 Radio Mercury Award finalist, used this “pause” very effectively recently.

The tactical use of a few moments of silence effectively deployed throughout a commercial can do more to enhance its impact than another dozen or so words.

Bob McCurdy is The Vice President of Sales for The Beasley Media Group and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Fully agree with proper and effective use of silence.
    And now, before anybody actually gets excited – a reality check:
    Radio producers have been editing out announcer breathing for decades – in order to get a few more nano-seconds of extremely important content rammed in there.
    A lot of thought went into that one, too.

  2. Well said, Bob. Radio has 4 colors in its palette: voices, music, sound effects, and silence. In our rush to cram as much into each spot, we often forget that silence is often the strongest one to generate listener interaction.


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