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Will Your Ratings Get HiJACKed?

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip March 29, 2005

The race is on to introduce the JACK format or one of its clones to a radio dial near you. And for its competitors, the challenge is to avoid a ratings hiJACK.

If you’re a “MIX”-type AC, say goodbye to your “Variety” position. JACK will eat it for breakfast. What – if anything – can you do to prevent or to survive, thrive even, in the face of a JACK attack? Can you tweak your programming and head JACK off at the pass? I doubt it. Here’s why.

All JACKed up with no place to go

JACK succeeds by pursuing its objectives to an extreme: Not just a few more songs, a LOT more songs. Not just a marginally different tone, a VERY different, irreverent, and cleverly produced one. Not just terse DJ’s, NO DJ’s. Tweak what you will. It will not be as dramatic as JACK.

You can move toward JACK, but you can’t get rid of JILL. If you keep your station’s name and all the other elements fixed in the minds of the audience, then you will be attempting to violate one of the keystone principles of positioning: You can’t change a mind. JACK, meanwhile, starts with a clean slate.

JACK-lite isn’t a good JACK and it may not be a good AC. Beware lest you venture into the Valley of Death between two format “hills.” Don’t jump off the ledge before you’re pushed. Remember, if you increase your playlist to 500 songs, JACK still has you beat by another 500! And it’s those other 500 songs that comprise JACK’s secret sauce.

JACK’s all new. You’re just all retooled. There has never been a format tweak which is as powerful as an all-new brand. Novelty maximizes attention and buzz. And that spells R-A-T-I-N-G-S.

Thanks for warming up JACK’s audience. If you have any success with it, adding a JACK flavor to your station may actually backfire and broaden the opportunity for a full-fledged JACK, just as a huge evening Smooth Jazz show proves there’s a market for Smooth Jazz. Remember the Gold AC stations that were squashed when pure Oldies came into town? The more JACK-like your appeal, the more apt your listeners will be to switch to the Real Thing.

Showing you’re scared invites a JACK competitor. The more jittery you are, the more vulnerable you must see your station. That would encourage me to inflict JACK on you, not deter me. The more you tweak, the more urgent it becomes that I hiJACK you now.

How did we get to this?

How is it that there can be an appetite for such a broad mix of songs including many which have long since been retired from our stations because, frankly, not enough folks like them? In our zeal to trim our playlists down to the optimal mix of the good-enough- for-all, we’re ridding ourselves of crap, right? Maybe not.

Maybe there’s a difference between a song without any passion and a song that some, but not most, folks love. Our traditional reading of Music Research treats these songs the same. If they don’t meet a threshold of acceptance, out they go – if we even test them at all.

But the hits of the few are the cult favorites, the novelty tunes, the spice. And as anyone who has ever eaten Indian food knows, it’s the spice that fires the flavor. It’s that little pizzazz, that zing, that makes the whole so tasty. It’s the flawed hero we most relate to, not the flawless one. It’s the tousled hair that’s sexiest, not the perfectly coiffed do. It’s the blemish, the in-grown hair, that makes the CGI character look real. By removing every imperfection we remove what makes us authentic.

You can take this logic too far, of course, and create Really Bad Radio. It’s still the “hits” that sell, after all. But the JACK formula is 100% proven hits from one time or another. So the fact remains, just when you think you know all the answers, up pops a fresh and spicy new one.

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