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A Loyal Reader Writes:

I write/produce/voice commercials for a living.

Our sales staff has been told sell more 10s, 15s and 30s. Sixty-second ads, according to research in People Meter Markets, are tune outs because people won’t listen through a 60-second ad for a product that they aren’t interested in.    

The example given to me was people won’t listen through a 60-second ad for Lasik eye surgery if they don’t need it. Apparently, they will listen through a 30-second ad for it, though.

I’m curious if this cuts across all demos and formats.  

Dan Replies:

It cuts across all demos and formats…but not across all stations and programs.

More about that in a moment. But first….

Two Predictions About That Radio Station

If your sales manager (or perhaps it’s a consultant?) believes it’s the radio station’s job to maximize the number of people who will sit through commercials that don’t interest them, then:

1) I can confidently predict that your station experiences a high turnover rate among its clients


2) God help business owners who rely on your account executives for wise counsel and guidance in maximizing the return on their advertising investments.

We didn’t need to wait for the advent of the Portable People Meter to know that for many listeners, commercials of any length — 10-second spots, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 60 seconds — are potential tune-out factors.

One Variable PPM Cannot Control For

One variable the PPM research is unable to control for is “people who will listen to bad 60-second commercials vs. people who will listen to good 60-second commercials.”

Many people assume a “good” radio spot must be “entertaining.”

They further assume that “entertaining” = “funny.”

They are mistaken.

An entertaining ad that doesn’t attract the attention of the target audience isn’t a good spot.

An entertaining commercial that attracts the attention of the target audience but doesn’t communicate a single Core Message that motivates that audience to take the action the advertiser wants them to take isn’t a good spot, either.

A good radio spot might be entertaining…but it doesn’t have to be.

It might be “interesting” or “compelling” or “provocative.”

Quite possibly it’s interesting only to the audience it’s trying to reach…regardless of the commercial’s length.

A 30-second radio commercial that begins, “Attention, plumbers!” might well attract the attention of the targeted listeners while encouraging everyone else not to pay attention to the rest of the message.

It’s not that commercial’s “job” to keep the attention of people who have no interest in the product or service being advertised.

Its job is to generate the well-defined desired result from the people it’s attempting to reach.

The Two Ways to Get “Disinterested” Listeners Not to Change Stations

There are only two ways to get “disinterested” listeners to sit through a spot whose message is irrelevant to their lives:

1) Make that commercial listenable even to non-targeted audience members.


2) Give those audience members a reason to keep listening.

3 Sure Ways to Keep People Listening

The three surest tools with which to keep people listening are:

• Compelling programming

• Promoting (an upcoming element)

• Teasing (an upcoming element)

Earlier I mentioned that the PPM research cuts across all demos and formats…but not across all stations and programs.

The stronger the affinity listeners have to a station and, especially, to a host, the longer and more willing they are to sit through a block of commercials.

The great radio personalities craft their shows and hone their performing skills to the point where their listeners are afraid to tune out even for a couple of minutes, for fear of missing something.

Y’know what? Forget “great.”

A jock only needs to be “good,” because keeping the audience for as long as possible is part of the challenge of being a personality.

“Giving people a reason to listen even when a ‘boring’ commercial airs” is the job of Programming, not Sales.

It’s certainly not the job of the copywriter/producer/voice talent.


A Loyal Reader Writes:

Is it okay to say that you don’t like a song a listener called in and requested? I’m only asking because I have a fellow broadcaster who sees nothing wrong with this, and I see it as alienating your radio audience (or at least a small portion of it).

Dan Replies:

Lacking further details, let’s assume we’re talking about:

– A mainstream music station

– A show that’s part of the station’s overall music programming (not a specialty show)

– A jock whose primary job is to present the music show. To listeners, the music is the big draw…not that particular host.

At first I thought this was going to be the question I’ve been asked hundreds of time: “Is it okay to tell listeners you hate the song that you just played?”

This time, however, there are two actions being questioned.

1) Is it okay to intro or backsell a song on the station’s playlist by telling listeners you dislike it?

2) Is it okay to tell a listener that the song (presumably on the station’s playlist) they requested is bad?

Bad-Mouthing the Song the Listener Requested

Presumably the radio station has some sort of mechanism in place that either solicits or encourages people to call in and request songs.

When a member of your audience requests a particular song, that person is endorsing that song. They’re telling you they like it.

Remember, we’re assuming it’s a song that the station, too, has endorsed by having it on the playlist.

Under those circumstances, it’s a slap in the face to show disdain for the caller’s musical preference.

Bad-Mouthing a Song on Your Playlist

Here’s the argument some jocks make for telling listeners they dislike the song they’re about to play or the song they just played:

“I’m just being honest. I’m not going to be a phony and pretend to like a song that I hate.”

Not telling listeners you dislike that song isn’t being phony.

This is phony: “I like that song” (referring to a song you dislike).

This is honest: Saying anything else about that song that’s true.

Something about the artist. About the sound. Where it was recorded.

Who the singer was influenced by when growing up.

Something about the message the song is trying to communicate — even if you think the songwriter/artist/producer failed to communicate it well.

This Guy Walks into a Restaurant…

You go to a nice restaurant for dinner.

You select an entree from the menu.

When the waiter asks, “Are you ready to order?” you reply, “Yes, I’d like the trout almondine, please.”

As he makes note of your order the waiter mutters, “Good grief. How can anyone eat that crap?”

Is that waiter “just being honest,” or is he acting stupidly?

Couldn’t he honestly say, “That’s one of our most popular dishes” or perhaps simply, “Trout almondine…And to drink…?”



radio advertising sales tipsA Loyal Reader Writes:

“Previously I worked at a different AM station that subscribed to Arbitron (now Nielsen). The station I’m working at now doesn’t subscribe to any ratings service. So I don’t have any ‘numbers’ to prove. So it’s a challenge. Why are folks so biased against AM Radio stations?!”

Dan Replies:

It doesn’t sound as though you’re a victim of radio band discrimination.

You say you “don’t have any numbers” with which to prove the your station’s effectiveness.

With few exceptions, time buyers need ratings to help them get the lowest “cost per point” for their clients. “We need 18 to 34 year-old females.”

Whichever station or cluster can document their ability to deliver a large enough slice of that audience at a cost per point (aka cost per thousand) lower than their competitors wins.

Of course, not all 18-to-34-year-old-female cohorts are created equal.

“18-to-34-year-old-females” is a demographic…a limited demographic (gender, age) that doesn’t include variables such as ethnicity, educational level, income, Zip Code, marital status.

Psychographics — a listener’s values, habits, hobbies, etc. — are ignored completely.

I suspect there are significant behavioral differences between “18-to-34-year-old-females who voted for Trump” and “18-to-34-year-old-females who voted for Clinton.”

When you buy “18-to-34-year-old-females,” you get them all.

But…Those kinds of simplistic numbers are better than no numbers, and they make it easy for time buyers to buy “efficiently” (a bunch of them at a low price) rather than “effectively” (a bunch of well-targeted, well defined listeners).

What Is More Convincing to a Business Owner than “Numbers”?

If you’re a local business owner, probably you’re more concerned with “effectiveness” than a time buyer is. But without an objective measure of a station’s effectiveness, the local business owner, too, falls back on “the ratings.”

(Unless, of course, the business owner buys whatever station s/he listens to, assuming that the company’s customers share their own listening tastes and habits.)

If your station is worthy of advertisers’ business, it should be able to provide prospects with documented results.

The “professional” term for that is “case studies.”

The business owner isn’t interested in the full color charts, graphs and illustrations in an account exec’s “sales kit.”

Q: “Would you like to hear some of our case studies?”

A: “No. But if you can give me the details of how businesses like mine made money by advertising on your station, I’ll give you a couple of minutes.

If you can show one local retailer how another local retailer earned a positive ROI on its advertising investment, you’re halfway to a sale.

If you can show one local retailer how six different local retailers generated a net profit by advertising with your station, you’re more than halfway there.

But What if Your Station Doesn’t Have Any Advertiser Success Stories to Share?

If you can’t present a track record of helping local businesses succeed, why should they gamble their money on your station?

If you can’t present a track record of helping local businesses succeed, how can you look that business owner in the eye and say, “Buy an advertising schedule with us, because it’ll help your business”?


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