The Cost of Advertising Nationally Broken Down by Medium

At WebFX, we’re firm believers that the web is the best way to advertise your business. But what is the cost of advertising? To discover this, we compiled advertising cost data for a bunch of different mediums and compared their costs with the costs of web advertising.

We used numbers from both national and local sources to determine the cost of advertising for each channel. The current national advertising cost data is below. And we were right: the web is the most accountable, cheapest, and easiest way to bring in new business.

Last updated on November 9, 2018. We are periodically updating this post as we come across new data. Feel free to suggest any additional resources or edits in the comments.

Video: The Cost of Advertising: Our Video Breakdown

Click to jump to the data and additional information on each advertising method:

See for yourself how much less overhead there is with the web with our comparison of media advertising costs.

Breaking Down Each Advertising Medium

National TV Advertising

Setup Process Design + Production
Setup Cost $63,000 to $8 million
Cost of Media Average of approx. $342,000 per 30 second ad
Cost to Continue Cost of media + agency hourly rate
Demographic Served Anyone watching TV
Definitive ROI Tracking? No
Pros Exposure
Cons Expensive, wasted impressions on unqualified customers

The advertising costs associated with TV are expensive, and making a TV ad is a complicated process. While many people all over the world watch TV each day, the costs of designing and producing a commercial can really put a dent in your company’s budget. In addition, you’ll pay between thousands and millions of dollars for a 30-second advertisement, making television an expensive media advertising cost right out of the gate.

While some TV ads can be very effective, you really need to ask yourself if the cost of advertising on TV is going to be worth it for your company. After all, nowadays you can film your own YouTube commercial and distribute it through your social media outlets online for a fraction of the time and advertising costs it takes to make a TV ad. And video is taking the marketing world by storm, as it’s a cost-effective way to engage potential and current customers online. As marketers shift ad dollars to online mediums, spending for online advertising is projected to overtake TV advertising by 2019.

National Radio Advertising

Setup Process Design + Production
Setup Cost $300 to $1,000
Cost of Media Approx.

$3 to $500 per 60 second ad

Cost to Continue Cost of media + additional spots
Demographic Served Anyone listening to the radio
Definitive ROI Tracking? No
Pros Exposure
Cons Expensive, wasted impressions on unqualified customers

At first glance, it appears as though radio advertising is an affordable way to reach your potential customers. And a 30-second radio ad is definitely less expensive and easier to produce than a 30-second TV advertisement. However, many businesses want their ads to run during morning and evening commutes, and since there are limited spots, this can drive up the cost.

In addition, the radio can often be background noise. In order for your ad to truly resonate with listeners, you will probably need to run it several times, jacking up the cost. It’s important to keep in mind that the cost of radio advertising varies depending on the station and spots you choose.

And while some stations may offer to produce your ad for free, you have to make sure you don’t sacrifice quality for cheaper advertisements.  With radio advertising, you also waste impressions on customers who aren’t interested in your products or services, which can cost you in the long run.

National Magazine Advertising

Setup Process Design
Setup Cost $500 to $397,800
Cost of Media Average of approx. $250,000 per ad
Cost to Continue Cost of media + agency hourly rate
Demographic Served Anyone reading the magazine
Definitive ROI Tracking? No
Pros Exposure
Cons Expensive, wasted impressions on unqualified customers

While advertising through a national magazine costs less than advertising through national TV, it lacks the dynamics and level of narrative that an action-packed ad can deliver. On the plus side, your ad will stick around for longer than 30 seconds, but are the costs of magazine advertising really worth it?

With the potential to cost up to $397,800, you could run through your whole marketing budget with one ad in one magazine’s special edition. Even if you only advertise in the local sections of magazines with national distribution, marketing costs can be quite hefty, making this a poor move for most small or midsized companies. And why cast such a large net advertising in publications that may not appeal to your target audience?

When you consider how inexpensive online advertising is, magazine advertising costs way too much money to be spending on ads that don’t even have clickable links. By comparison, the cost of national magazine advertising is pretty high. And digital adverting is projected to surpass print advertising as the chief source of consumer magazine advertising revenue by 2019.

National Newspaper Advertising

Setup Process Design
Setup Cost $11 to $1.4 million
Cost of Media Average of approx. $113,000 per ad
Cost to Continue Cost of media + additional design in future
Demographic Served Anyone reading the newspaper
Definitive ROI Tracking? No
Pros Exposure
Cons Expensive, wasted impressions on unqualified customers

Newspaper advertising has the potential to be one of the most affordable and expensive media on this list.

However, one of the big drawbacks to newspaper ads is that they get little notice compared to TV, magazines, or online ads. Like magazine advertisements, the cost of newspaper ads varies depending on the circulation of the paper and size of the ad. Newspaper ads tend to be less colorful and smaller than other kinds of printed ads, and it costs extra if you want to add that extra life into your advertisement.

Plus, taking out a full-page insert in special editions of national newspapers can cost more than a small business is worth. A lot of newspaper options may be cheaper, but without the same engagement as the Internet, the cost of newspaper ads is still comparatively high.

Direct Mail Marketing

Setup Process Design
Setup Cost $50 to $7,200
Cost of Media Approx. $51.40 per order
Cost to Continue Design, publishing + postage costs
Demographic Served Direct mail company’s mailing list
Definitive ROI Tracking? Yes
Pros Targeted
Cons Publishing and postage costs drive up initial investment

At first glance, direct mail marketing seems much more reasonable than the other media on this list. However, when you take publishing and postage costs into account, you’re looking at spending quite a bit more in advertising costs than initial projections indicate. While increased costs of mailing and production have increased spending on direct mail marketing efforts, the volume of direct mail pieces is decreasing.

It all depends on how large your mailing list is. Even if you are willing to pay the advertising costs for direct mail marketing, who actually reads this kind of mail anyway? Most people take the envelope right out of their mailboxes and drop it straight into the trash. Do you really want to be spending your valuable advertising resources on filling up someone’s garbage can?

After all, it’s cheaper to maintain relationships with customers via email and online channels.


Setup Process Script Writing
Setup Cost $1,000 to $5,200
Cost of Media $7 – $70 per hour or $35 – $60 per lead
Cost to Continue $20-$60/hour
Demographic Served People on your telemarketing company’s call list
Definitive ROI Tracking? Yes
Pros Targeted
Cons Extremely annoying, hurts brand image

Telemarketing is a more direct and on-the-spot form of advertising, making it a great way to engage potential clients. But depending on how many outbound calls your company is making, you could end up paying a substantial fee for your advertising costs. Not to mention, you’ll only drive your customers and potential customers crazy with this kind of advertising ploy, which is another cost for advertising that you may not expect.

Few people will tolerate telemarketing calls, and no one enjoys them. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission receives a yearly average of 18,000 complaints about telemarketers. Save your money for advertising campaigns your customers will actually find intriguing.

National Search Engine Optimization

Setup Process Website Configuration
Setup Cost $4,000-$10,0000
Cost of Media Free
Cost to Continue ~$500/month to internet marketer
Demographic Served People actively searching for a company like yours
Definitive ROI Tracking? Yes
Pros Free stream of qualified traffic
Cons Continuous monitoring necessary to maintain traffic stream

Configuring your website for national SEO is a bit more expensive than the initial costs of telemarketing, but it’s even cheaper than direct mail marketing and none of your customers will throw your ads in the trash or hang up on you.

Also, unlike magazine and newspaper ads, SEO allows you to create interesting content that advertises for your business and is shareable on social networking sites. When you implement good SEO strategies, potential customers can search for your company’s website or social pages on Google and interact with your brand online. SEO also boosts your website’s visibility, increasing its rank in search engine results pages.

You can even create commercials for websites like YouTube and Hulu for only a fraction of the cost of advertising on TV. In general, SEO combines some of the lowest national advertising costs with some of the highest ROI.

National Pay Per Click Marketing

Setup Process Website Configuration
Setup Cost $4,000-$10,0000
Cost of Media 5¢-$3 per qualified visitor
Cost to Continue Cost of clicks + ~$500/month to internet marketer
Demographic Served People actively searching for a company like yours
Definitive ROI Tracking? Yes
Pros Free stream of qualified traffic
Cons Easy for amateurs to mismanage a campaign and waste money

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) marketing is an inexpensive and highly-effective form of online advertising. After paying the costs to configure your PPC campaign, you only pay a few cents every time someone clicks your ad.

And who is going to click on your link? People who are searching for the kinds of products and services your website has to offer. This can increase the conversion rate (traffic to sales) of your website and generate more revenue for your company, which make the costs of advertising for this medium incredibly low.

The only thing to watch out for with PPC campaigns is who is doing your PPC management. At WebFX, we have highly-skilled professionals who manage your PPC campaigns for you to ensure that your PPC advertising isn’t mismanaged. We incorporate specific keywords relative to your website to help traffic find your company on the web.

Check out our PPC Management Pricing page to learn more about what this kind of advertising can do for you.

National Email Marketing

Setup Process Email Template Design
Setup Cost $4,000-$10,0000
Cost of Media 5¢-$3 per qualified visitor
Cost to Continue ~$500/month to internet marketer
Demographic Served Your email database
Definitive ROI Tracking? Yes
Pros Previous customers
Cons Inboxes are cluttered

The costs of advertising through email marketing are pretty similar to the costs of a PPC campaign or SEO. That is – it’s inexpensive. According to 72% of adults in the United States, email is the preferred method of communicating with businesses.

And unlike telemarketing or direct mail marketing, email marketing allows customers to interact with your ads in a way that won’t annoy them to death. You can offer customers limited time sales or store credits directly through email, and they can immediately click on the link to go to your website and redeem those offers. Better yet, they can view your email at a time that is convenient for them – something that many telemarketing campaigns fail to consider.

When implemented correctly, email marketing strategies have the potential to be one of the most powerful, cost-effective marketing solutions.

Web Content Marketing Campaign

Setup Process Development of web content assets and graphical elements
Setup Cost $6,000-$12,000
Cost of Media Free
Cost to Continue $0 (If content is written around “evergreen” topics)
Demographic Served All – Web searches
Definitive ROI Tracking? Yes
Pros Content marketing can deliver traffic/leads for many years
Cons Results can be more “hit or miss”

Web content marketing can cost even less than other forms of online advertising. When you take into account the continuing costs of the previously mentioned ad types, you can actually create very effective web content that costs less than other forms of online marketing. Better yet, this kind of content can continue to generate interest in your website years after it was originally created.

Web content marketing adds value to the buying cycle by educating consumers about products or services they may not have previously considered and increasing awareness of solutions. Infographics, blog posts, and content made specifically for social media sites are all examples of online content marketing that can go viral and drive traffic to your site for years.

What’s the Most Cost-Effective Way to Advertise Nationally?

Based on these results, we feel that national SEO, PPC advertising, email marketing, and content marketing are the best and most cost-effective ways that you can reach a national audience. Over time, those are the media advertising costs that will give you the best returns on your dollar.

Although the setup costs may be comparable to other national methods, in the long run, these four methods have two distinct advantages:

  1. They cost far less in the long run, and
  2. They are far more precisely targeted than other advertising methods.

If your company or brand is looking to save money on advertising while reaching its target audience more effectively, you should consider implementing a full inbound marketing strategy. Unlike traditional forms of national advertising, which have come to be viewed as intrusive or interruptive and have a higher cost of advertising, inbound marketing serves potential customers who have already reached your website through search or social media.

There are distinct advantages to inbound marketing. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the ability to track your users and learn from their behaviors and responses to your website and content (via an analytics tool like Google Analytics).

This kind of “feedback” and data can help you adjust your marketing on an ongoing basis, enabling you to better reach visitors and drive them to take action.

To learn more about inbound marketing and how it can save money for your business while reaching more leads, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Inbound Marketing.

Have any additional resources or data updates for this post? Feel free to leave a comment, and we’ll update our information accordingly. Photo Credit: Wrote

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