10/26

What’s Wrong with Radio Advertising?

What’s the biggest problem with radio advertising?

It’s that everybody in the message pipeline – from advertiser to broadcaster to listener – views commercial spots as negatives.

How else to explain the silly reaction of Kroger’s agency to the term “commercial-free.”  It shines a negative light on the messaging, they argue, even as they (and we) go out of their way to create messaging that deserves that negative light.

How to explain that Pandora will run spots – unless you “upgrade” to a “premium” tier for a fee, where the first and most important benefit is “no ads”? In other words, “we know you hate ads so much you will pay us to avoid them, thus we will define our premium tier by what it subtracts rather than what it adds.”

The history of the “spot” is the history of an interruption to the content – the value – that you look to the brand for.  This was fine in an era when there were few media options, all of them configured with their own interruptive and faceless ads of similar length.  Consumers came to tolerate but never like these interruptions.  And they rewarded media that circumvented those interruptions either through their own patronage (e.g., public media) or through ratings (run your station commercial-free for a couple months and see what happens to your ratings).

The beauty of Big Media is that even in an Internet age we still marshall tons of ears and eyeballs in one place at one time for one thing.  We are a really efficient place for advertisers to connect with consumers.

And don’t our clients NEED to connect with those consumers?  Don’t they NEED to promote ACTION to drive consumers to do things, go places, and make purchases?

And don’t consumers NEED information which helps them make better decisions in the marketplace?

Isn’t a medium like radio with its vast reach and habitual usage an IDEAL venue to solve the problems of both advertisers and consumers, together?

Yes to all, I say.

So then why does everyone hate spots?

Why do advertisers bristle at our use of the term “commercials,” reflecting their own anxieties over the bitter disdain they, their consumers, and your listeners have for spots.

Why will listeners do virtually anything to avoid spots despite their need for information?  After all, broadcasters shuffling and positioning “commercial-free” breaks is just a reflection of the tastes of the audience.

Is it just about “better spots” or “more relevant spots”?

No.

It’s about value.

As Tom Asacker put it to me recently, “how do we make advertising valuable to our audience such that when you remove it they will be unhappy?”

Maybe it’s time to take advertising “out of the spot business” and into the value business.

Value-creation takes a lot more work than selling a schedule based on cost-per-point.

Value-creation is about ideas which, when executed, enrich the experience consumers have with the brand even as they fulfill the needs of the advertiser to communicate their message meaningfully.

Value-creation makes fuzzy the border between content and advertising.

Value-creation is not in :10 or :15 or :30 second intervals, because that’s not enough to satisfy audience demand.

Why are spots such a necessary evil?  Maybe the problem is that we see “advertising” as “spots,” while audiences and advertisers would prefer to see it as “value.”

Or they don’t want to see – or hear – it at all.

So what should you do?  You should ask your team this question:

“How do we weave real value into our ‘advertising’ such that both advertisers and audiences can be happier with it than without it?”

I have long argued that the definition of “radio” is changing.  So is the definition of “advertising.”

Wouldn’t you really rather talk about some aspect of your brand other than the one everybody hates?

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