Sunday, June 21, 2009

Spots Before Our Ears?

Well, we’ve finally done it, haven’t we? Everybody is now convinced that Radio Commercials are bad. Even the RAB, who just last week decided that no commercial created and submitted this year by a Radio Station was good enough to receive a Radio Mercury Award.

Nobody seems to like Radio Commercials any more.

And why should they? For decades, Radio Stations have been touting “Fewer Commercials” and “Commercial Free Hours”. We heap the commercials into a pile of lasting up to 8-minutes bookended with a (highly produced) station promo at the beginning and some sort of (highly produced) imager or jingle at the end.

Commercials are bad. Twice an hour, we say, “Listener—you are dismissed for the next 5-minutes or so, but make sure you come back when we start playing the music again!”

Radio’s financial problems do not stem from its air personalities and program directors. But THEY are the ones who have been blamed for radio’s troubles and are being laid-off in record numbers.

Fewer personalities—more commercials. You’re kidding me, right?

I recall a conversation I had with a National Sales Manager in the 1980’s at a (not-Country) Denver radio station. She was concerned because all her national reps wanted “value added” schedules. Her concern was well-founded. The big-ticket national advertisers—as early as the 1980’s—didn’t think Radio was a very good vehicle for their commercials, but saw great value in Radio’s Promotional Power.

They’d buy the spots, but only with a promotion attached--or value-added.

And the commercials! These big national advertisers were simply using the audio from their television commercials! She knew these television-on-radio spots wouldn’t work, and so did her clients. But they didn’t care. It was the promotion they wanted from radio, so they just filled our air with garbage.

And we let them!

Now, half-way through 2009, we’ve “discovered” that our listeners and our clients now agree with us: Commercials are bad.

“Selling Radio is such a dog-eat-dog business…no wonder they call them spots!”

Our beloved medium is coming up on being a century old and still, the currency of modern radio continues to be the 30-second spot.

We all accept this.

Problem is: our clients now reject it. In fact, some of our largest national advertisers have been rejecting it for going on 3-decades! And yet, we keep pushing spots.

I listened to a demo of the original KHJ/Los Angeles yesterday on You should do that, too. L.A. Radio at the time was slow, tired and old-sounding. Too much talk—too many commercials. And so, Bill Drake instituted a format that not only put music and personality on the front burner, but the commercials, too.

In fact, the policy was a listener is “never more that 70-seconds from music”. That included commercials, news and talk—even in morning drive! Listening to those 60-second LIVE reads for Thrifty Drug and Discount Stores and right back into music made me think of “product placement”.

Product placement. Naming Rights. Endorsements. These are the things that get advertisers the results they now demand. It will cost much more than a 30-second spot, but it could be the key to getting consumers—and clients—back to an understanding that Radio Sells!

This should become Radio's Currency.

Somebody is going to try this. It’s just a matter of time. Who will it be? I don’t know, but I do know this: the person who perfects it will be spending a great deal of the rest of his life hitting golf balls.

Any takers?