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Beware “Hail Mary” Marketing

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip May 19, 2004

When all else fails, when ratings stall and sales enthusiasm wanes, when the morning show is under-performing the rest of the station, the refrain is consistent and familiar: “Give me more marketing money.” But is a desperate injection of marketing dollars really the best medicine? Or is it the Radio equivalent of football’s “Hail Mary” pass?

“Show Me the Marketing”

Usually when we talk about marketing, we’re really talking about advertising. Advertising dollars are not a panacea. They won’t cure the cancer of listener boredom or sweeten the stench of a stale station. They won’t fix the music, correct the target, craft a compelling position, or transform a bland station into a remarkable one. Frogs do magically turn into princes – but only in fairy tales.

I am always shocked that so few stations do perceptual homework on their listeners yet still expect their station to win. I am shocked at the miniscule attention given to HOW marketing dollars are spent, just so long as LOTS of them are spent. This is “Hail Mary” thinking at its worst.

Marketing Belongs IN the Product

I’m not arguing we don’t need to market our stations. Quite the contrary. Where we go wrong is viewing the marketing need strictly as an ADVERTISING need – outdoor, TV, or direct mail. Marketing isn’t something we BUY, it’s something we CREATE. It’s not a way to SPEND money but rather a way to BUILD fans.

Marketing, as author Seth Godin likes to say, belongs IN the product. The personal digital TV behind every seat on JetBlue is marketing. The free sample handed out inside every Krispy Kreme doughnut shop is marketing. According to Ad Agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky president Jeff Hicks, “People have forgotten that the best tool for selling a product is the product itself.” These are the guys that dressed Molson in a label with icebreakers like “I’m with the band” and “Of course they’re real.” Result? Molson U.S. sales are up 40% in the past year. Total expenditure on TV advertising during that time: Nothing.

You Don’t Sell What’s Free, You Give It Away

The best tool for selling a product is the product itself. Highlight that and post it over your desk. Remember, unlike JetBlue or Krispy Kreme or Molson, we have one key advantage: Radio is FREE. We literally give it away. How hard do you have to convince someone to try what’s free? Answer: Not hard at all. But the product must still be worthy, it must be unique, it must be remarkable, it must be buzz-friendly, it must be interesting, it must be attractive. It must be, in other words, all the things it often isn’t. All the things we use advertising dollars to pretend it is.

If I were you here’s what I’d do. I would rethink every aspect of what’s on the air, how to make it remarkable, and HOW I spend marketing dollars off the air. Spending money has always been easier than doing what works. More stations don’t get marketing dollars in part because senior management is not convinced the investment will provide a reasonable return. Marketing isn’t what you SPEND, it’s what you DO and HOW you spend it. It’s the hard work that makes princes from frogs.

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