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Advertrial – A Secret Weapon to Build Cume

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip May 23, 2006

There are two kinds of ratings problems: The Cume ones and the TSL ones. This article is about the Cume ones.

Once up a time there was a TV show called House. Yes, lots of folks watch it now. But this was not always the case. In fact, House used to reach a mere 6.5 million viewers. Then something happened. And suddenly, House was reaching 17.3 million viewers – almost three times the audience.

What happened? What was it that caused such a vast “Cume” increase for House? Did the network advertise the show? Did they promote it? Did they hang some banners? Did they send around some direct mail? Did they launch an outdoor campaign? Did they call you at home or at work? Did they whip up a new positioning line?

No. The “something” that happened was another little show called American Idol, broadcast right before House on FOX.

What is “Advertrial”?

American Idol is, of course, the “lead-in” for House. It’s the destination program that rallies the audience to one place at one time, thus making them available for what follows. House will rise or fall on its own merits, but only if the audience is there to begin with. For House, American Idol is what I call a “trial engine.” And it’s what your station needs to propel your Cume to new heights.

Consider the similarities between your radio station and House:

They’re both free, they’re both available anywhere in the market where there’s a reception unit (TV or radio), everyone owns such a reception unit (there are five radios in the average household) so it’s both convenient and easy (just a flip of a dial with no “learning curve”).

In other words, listening to your station should be the easiest thing in the world. But many people don’t. It may be because it doesn’t meet their needs (no station is for everyone), but suppose it does meet their needs. Why don’t they listen then? Not because they’re unfamiliar with it or they don’t understand what it plays or they can’t appreciate its benefits. It’s really because they haven’t tried it.

See, unless a listener tries you, they cannot understand what you play. Unless she tries you, awareness doesn’t matter. Unless she tries you your benefits will be vague and non-specific. For a product that’s free, easy, ubiquitous, well understood, and “always on,” the primary goal you must achieve is “trial.”

This is the difference between conventional marketing and “Advertrial.”

The Rules of “Advertrial”:

1. Ask for less. When I was designing a direct mail piece many years ago I insisted on making the listening threshold as easy and short as possible. “Just five minutes” is what I asked for. Not three times a day at specified times. This is not a puzzle, it’s an invitation. If you get them for five minutes, you might get them for five hours. If you don’t get them for five minutes you certainly won’t get them three times a day, Monday through Friday. Ask for less. Get more.

2. Ask different. Because you’re not selling a “high involvement” product, one where much deliberation and lots of money is at stake, promoting your station in a way that stands out is absolutely critical. You don’t need to communicate a lot of facts because there is no cost to the consumer of making a mistake by trying you. Standing out from the pack is the hard part for your station.

3. Ask often. Aha, but the “low involvement” cost of trial cuts both ways. Because so little is at stake it’s almost too much bother to spin that dial in your direction. That means your message must repeat and repeat and repeat – in different ways and in different places. Repetition increases the odds of trial for a product with little risk or incentive.

4. Maximize word-of-mouth. We believe our friends long before we believe our sponsors. A WOM campaign should be an integral part of every station’s marketing effort, and it should be designed from the perspective of “what’s in it for the listener?”

5. Be compelling. I find that most radio stations are terrified of taking risks, even those risks which are congruent with the spirit and soul of the station. But being compelling – being interesting – is not just a risk, it’s the only route to win. When Saga’s “The Hog” in Milwaukee debuted, they passed out hog snouts to listeners all over town – even the artists were pictured with snouts on the station’s website. This was fun, it was compelling, it was interesting and attractive, and it invited trial.

6. Bring the trial to the listener. Remember the days when stations sent out audio tapes or CD’s of their content to the audience? This is trial that comes to you, the listener. It’s equivalent to the Schick shaver I got a while back in the mail. I may not have bought it in the store, but when it was delivered to my door, why not try it? This is also why Podcasting is important for your station – it’s a downloadable “sample” of your product that allows the listener to “try” you (and, perhaps, send to a friend). When you distribute “samples,” you’re facilitating trial.

Trial has limits

Needless to say, Advertrial cannot work miracles. If your station is not different from the rest, if it’s not “remarkable” in some meaningful way, if it’s simply bad, then all the Advertrial in the world is pointless. As the great Bill Bernbach said so memorably “A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster.”

And some great Advertrial will make a great product top-ranked.

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