Willy Wonka’s Rules for Radio

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip July 19, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory exploded into movie theaters this past weekend, and that legendary chocolatier Willy Wonka has some great advice for Radio marketers.

Here’s an interview with Mr. Wonka, chock full of lessons aplenty.


In my estimation, Radio Stations tend toward one and only one flavor, vanilla. I’m a businessman and have the same financial pressures every radio station has. But I also understand that innovation and risk-taking are what set me apart from my competitors. My job isn’t to defend what I have, it’s to create exciting products for the future. Your audience will get excited when you do things designed to excite them.

I created a chewing gum that never loses its flavor and another that tastes like a four-course meal. I made an ice cream that doesn’t melt – even in the sun. These are things my competition can’t even imagine, and it’s because they don’t try. Yet they’re exactly what inspire so much passion for my products.

Radio stations need to understand that risk and reward always have and always will go hand in hand. And innovation is inseparable from risk-taking.

I ask “why can’t I…?” So should you.

Why is your “Golden Ticket” contest so unlike a typical Radio Station contest?

Radio Station contests are usually about cash prizes. I know that’s partially because that’s what people tell you they want to win. It’s also because cash works – but not always. In fact, does it work even half the time? And does it work better than anything else? Or just better than anything else you bother to imagine?

What people need to solve their everyday problems and what fires their imagination and fuels their dreams are two very different things. Yet it’s the latter we live for. The former just helps us subsist. When you can fulfill a fantasy you haven’t just awarded a prize, you’ve transformed a life.

My prize was all the chocolate you can eat and what I called “an extra prize beyond your wildest imagination.” Charlie was tempted to sell his winning ticket to the highest bidder, but as his grandfather told him, “there’s plenty of money out there, but this ticket, there are only five in the world. Only a dummy would give this up for something as common as money.”

There seems to be a lot of mystery about your company. Can that air of mystery work in Radio, too?

Nobody had been inside my chocolate factory for a generation. Part of the thrill of the contest was peering inside those mysterious walls.

Sometimes what listeners don’t know can create intrigue and curiosity. When I listen to Howard Stern (don’t tell the kids I listen to Stern!), it sometimes takes half an hour to know who he’s talking to. I used to think that was “bad Radio.” But now I see it differently.

Figuring out who Howard is talking to is like a puzzle, a mystery. It engages the minds of listeners to struggle through this puzzle and that keeps their ears pinned to the Radio. It’s what they don’t know, sometimes, that keeps them listening.

Mystery can sell radio as well as it can sell chocolate.

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