Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Harness the Power of a Five-second Commercial

I sold my first five-second radio commercials back in 1975. (For the record, that's thirty years before Clear Channel would proclaim "Less Is More" and with great fanfare begin offering five-second "adlets" or two-second "blinks." Twitter founder Jack Dorsey had not yet been born. Heck, Al Gore hadn't even invented the Internet, though he may have been toying with the idea. But I digress.)

I started selling five-second ads because a legendary radio sales trainer taught me how effective they could be. He wasn't alone. The Radio Advertising Bureau also reported that some stations were having success with what they called "eight-word ads."

There are at least three advantages to shorter ads:

1) They force the ad writer to craft a clear, concise message. There's no room for "fat" in a five-second ad.

2) It's much easier for a listener to comprehend, retain, and recall a short message in its entirety. It's in-and-done before the listener can even react to it! (Stick around and I'll share with you a powerful technique for demonstrating this effectively to a prospect.)

3) Because five-second ads cost less than :30's or :60's, the advertiser's budget buys him greater frequency (more repetition of his message).

Short ads can be deployed to trip the recall switch, reminding the listener of something he's heard about in greater detail in a longer commercial. Think of this technique as "clutter busting" - referring not so much to the other ads on your station as to all of the messages that bombard us daily everywhere we turn, from computer monitors and cell phones to the chatter of our co-workers, from in-store POP to ads on public benches, buses, billboards, and buildings, television, newspaper, magazines. While there may be disagreement as to how many advertising messages we see or hear in each day, we can agree that there's plenty of competition for a listener's attention. We live in an age when distractions are plentiful.

So, let's say you've sold your client a schedule of :30's or :60's to get the word out about his big store-wide sale. His commercials include a number of price-and-item illustrations, maybe a special financing offer, prize drawings, and so forth. Let's imagine that he's running ten commercials a day for ten days, and these ads are scheduled to run between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Assuming even distribution, he's running one ad every 78 minutes.

By adding just ten five-second ads per day to his schedule, you've doubled his frequency, cutting the time between exposures in half. Add another ten and now your listeners are being reminded about his sale every 26 minutes. The marginal cost of the additional five-second ads has tripled his frequency!

All other factors being equal, this advertiser is going to enjoy better results from his buy on your station, which ought to bring him back for more.

Sometimes longer ads aren't even necessary. It's quite possible to build an entire campaign around five-second ads exclusively. I have a client who for many years has sponsored the weather update following network news at the top of the hour. His five-second message - usually a positioning statement, but occasionally a call-to-action - runs once an hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For all intents and purposes, his advertising message reaches the station's entire audience.

Every listener, every day.

Think about that. How many of your advertisers can claim with reasonable certainty to reach every single listener on your station during the course of a day or a week, let alone all year long? It's terrific exposure, and much easier for an advertiser to achieve and afford with a five-second ad.

The proliferation of satellite-delivered syndicated programming has all but eliminated the flexibility most stations once enjoyed when it came to scheduling commercials. If your station does all its own programming, consider yourself fortunate, indeed. You still have the freedom, or at least the potential, to schedule ads of any length, in any combination, at any time. The world is your oyster. Go for it. Stations whose programming comes via a bird in the sky have little choice but to fill fixed-length breaks with fixed-length ads at fixed times, with few opportunities for deviation from the :30/:60 standard. It might be worth sitting down with your Program Director and asking him to identify any possibilities for running short ads (such as the :05 weather sponsorship mentioned earlier).

If you are able to identify and secure the appropriate inventory, and you're ready to put it to work for an advertiser, here's a technique you can use to demonstrate to your prospective client the power of a five-second ad:
First, write the copy. Create the actual message that you're going to propose the client run for this campaign. Take the time to make it a good one. (I recall this Jim Williams classic: "Don't Make a $500 Mistake. Bob's Used Cars.")

When you're sitting across from the prospect, tell him, "I'd like you to help me with a little experiment." Pause. Make sure you have his undivided attention. Then, read the five-second copy aloud, with appropriate feeling.

Read it a second time.

Read it a third time.

Then, ask him to repeat what you just read.

In most cases, he'll repeat it verbatim without hesitation.

"You've just demonstrated the power of a five-second ad. I read it to you only three times and already you have it memorized, the whole thing."

Rehearse the advantages of the five-second ad with him:
1) forces lean, concise copy;
2) more easily understood, retained, and recalled by the listener (as he just demonstrated)
3) allows more frequency within a given budget

Then, present your proposal. Make the sale. And enjoy the results.

More than three decades ago, I used to drive the 55 miles between Winona and Rochester, Minnesota, two or three times a week. One Sunday I tuned in to Chicago's WGN (720 AM) and kept it there to hear what was happening in my old hometown. I don't remember the name of the host (though as I recall he had the most wonderfully soothing rich bass voice), but to this day I do remember two ads that he read live, several times each, during the course of my commute:
"Seven-Up, the Uncola. Chicagoland's Number One Refresher."

"Chapped Lips Need Blistex. Buy Blistex."

I swear, I never intended to memorize them. It just happened.

Like magic.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Share Your Radio Station-Produced Entry to the Mercury Awards...

Patrick Cleary is upset with the Radio Advertising Bureau. In an article in this morning's RBR, the president of Lost Coast Communications, Inc., parent of Ferndale, CA stations KHUM, KWPT and KSLG-FM isn't mincing words as he shared his displeasure over there being no Radio-Mercury Award for Radio Station-produced commercials this year.

As you've probably read or heard by now, the final round judges (all agency folks) determined that the quality of this year's station entries wasn't good enough to pass muster, so they invoked a Mercury rule that allows them to drop the category and award no station prize this year.

Ouch, that stings.

I share Mr. Cleary's disappointment. As an annual RMA entrant since 2004 (with two horses in this year's race), the judges' decision took the wind out of my sails, too. It took me a couple of days to adjust to it. I called Meghan Buonocore at the RMA headquarters in NYC shortly after receiving the finalists announcement on May 21st, to ask her what was going on. She said that the judges had "raised the bar" and none of the station entries measured up this year. End of story.

Disappointed as I was (and am) at the absence of radio station representation from this year's Mercury competition, I cannot bring myself to endorse Mr. Cleary's call to withdraw from the RAB.

Yes, the organization has its share of weaknesses and inconsistencies (who doesn't?) - as, for instance, its clarion call to stations to write and produce superior commercials, while at the same time providing its own members who come looking for ideas with cliché-ridden pap that ought to have been rejected upon receipt, let alone archived to spread around the industry like a bad cold.

Nevertheless, I believe the RAB's strengths outweigh its shortcomings. As I posted earlier, their offer of a personal membership is something I'd been wanting for a long time, and I jumped at the chance to acquire my own. Even if the RAB were to purge its archives of the stuff that doesn't measure up to its lofty aspirations, there would remain an extensive body of valuable research and creative inspiration, of significant benefit to radio advertising sales professionals and their clients.

That said, Mr. Cleary's message deserves a thoughtful response from RAB's leadership. Some of radio's best and brightest are unhappy with what they perceive as a cold shoulder from the very organization that should be their champion, their advocate, their friend.

Meanwhile, I suspect lots of radio folks would enjoy hearing the Radio Station-produced entries that were submitted to this year's Mercury awards. I know I would. So, over at Radio Sales Café we've created a special forum where station producers can upload their entries to share with others in the broadcast community.

Here's my introduction to that forum:

"The Risk of Insult is the Price of Clarity." - Roy Williams (The Wizard of Ads)

OK, so I'm going to take the plunge and post the two commercials I submitted for this year's Radio-Mercury Awards competition (links below).

They're not stunningly produced, but I believed the copy was sufficiently engaging (it certainly was from the clients' perspective) to be airworthy, if not competition-worthy.

Though, frankly, I'd hoped at least one of them would make it into the finals, even if I didn't expect either of them to win the prize.

I have been supporting the Radio-Mercury Awards since 2004, the year I first entered any of my work into competition. I was surprised and humbled when I learned that my submission had won the Radio Station-Produced award that year. But I was also encouraged by it and determined to improve the quality of all my work.

The following year I entered 5 or 6 spots; one of them was chosen as a finalist. Each year thereafter I've entered at least one or two spots, though I will admit that none has equaled my 2004 entry (which, by the way, is still running on the air as part of a multi-spot campaign for the client, and still producing measurable results for him). Nonetheless, I've thought it important to support radio's premier advertising competition, to continue to raise the bar for our industry and advertisers.

On May 21st I received the email from RAB announcing the finalists and immediately noticed, to my great dismay, the absence of any station-produced finalists. A telephone call to Meghan Buonocore at the RMA headquarters confirmed this, and I have to confess, it took me a day or two to come to grips with the judges' decision.

As one of the early round judges this year, I had an opportunity to hear what I considered some good examples of station-produced advertising. (Listening to the best of them cemented the realization that my own entries weren't likely to win, place, or possibly even show.) It surprised me to see none of them emerge as finalists.

After reflecting on the situation, my biggest personal takeaway was a resolve to do better work next time. But I can understand, and to a certain degree share the feeling expressed by other radio station folks that maybe the playing field for radio work wasn't completely level.

That's water under the bridge now.

I'd like to urge the RAB - Radio Creative Fund to consider balancing the final round panel of judges, by including representatives from the radio side, and not solely the agency side, to avoid the appearance of elitism.

To the extent that this year's RMA competition has been tainted by the wholesale exclusion of the Radio Station-produced category, the RAB would do well to reach out to its station members to answer any questions, address their concerns, and attempt to make next year's RMA a happier occasion for everyone in radio.

So now, let's hear what you did!

Friday, June 12, 2009

An Offer You Can't (or Shouldn't) Refuse...

When I learned that the Radio Advertising Bureau has begun to offer personal memberships, I could hardly wait to sign up.

At $210 a year, it's a bargain.

$210 a year. $4.04 a week. About the price of a 20-ounce Espresso drink. Or a Happy Meal.

For a veritable treasure trove of research and resources quite likely unsurpassed by any other advertising organization.

The RAB's vast archives contain tools to make creating and selling radio advertising easier, more productive, and more likely to generate results for radio advertisers.

Now, I've not agreed with everything RAB has said or promoted over the years. Decades ago, they often seemed to reflect and reinforce Radio's inferiority complex, the idea that the highest and best use of our medium was in a supporting role to print or TV, as part of a media mix. (If the ad buy were a martini, Radio was the vermouth or the olive.)

But gradually the RAB reflected a growing confidence in our medium, i.e., that Radio as a primary medium was capable of carrying 100% of the weight of a campaign and make it work!

Beginning with radio sales trainer Jim Williams, his protegés Chris Lytle, Chuck Mefford, Darrell Solberg...along with folks like Sean Luce, Dave Gifford, Jim Taszarek, Paul Weyland, and Jerry Frentress...and more recently Norton Warner, Jeff Dostal, Michael Tate and Matt Hackett, radio advertising sales professionals have had unparalleled opportunities to understand and unleash the unlimited potential of our medium. Support from the ad creation side has come from folks like Roy Williams, Dan O'Day, Jeffrey Hedquist, and others (watch for a guy named Doug Zanger to be making big radio waves in coming years). I'm sure there are many more I've failed to name (Jason Jennings just came to mind).

The point is, for many years now the RAB has been leveraging the talents of these folks and others for the good of our radio team and every last player.

$4.04 a week ought to be impossibly attractive, like the sizzle and smell of a prime ribsteak on a bed of hot coals (sorry ... it's Friday dinnertime and I'm fantasizing).

Personally, I was thrilled to be able to secure a personal RAB membership, for my benefit and ultimately the benefit of my clients.

Eric Rhoads, publisher of RadioINK, wrote a thought-provoking piece in which he expressed his concern for the future of RAB, which is facing cutbacks in the support it typically has enjoyed from the largest broadcast groups. They recently (and undoubtedly painfully) announced layoffs that included veterans George Hyde and Mike Mahone, themselves champions of education and training for thousands of radio advertising salespeople.

Whatever the reality of their present circumstances, of this much I'm certain: every membership matters to RAB.

Please consider supporting them with yours.

Thank you!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

$8000+ Advertising Workshop Sells for $1.29 on eBay

I was a little surprised to see the folks at Aria offering their "How to Advertise in a Tough Economy" workshop on eBay to the highest bidder.

Billed as an "Economic Stimulus Package" for radio stations, the workshop is said to have a value of between $8000 and $25,000, depending on market size.

I was more than a little surprised to see the final bid: $1.29.

Perhaps business isn't as bad as some folks are saying it is.

Or...maybe it's worse?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

$2500+ for Thirty Seconds: "Don't Tax That Dial!"

The NAB has announced a contest, open to all over-the-air U.S. broadcast radio stations, to create a thirty-second political spot encouraging defeat of the so-called "performance tax" on radio stations. The (mainly foreign-owned) record industry, represented by the RIAA, is trying to compensate for a failing business model by levying a fee on radio stations that play music, utterly destroying the symbiotic relationship that has existed for many decades, to the mutual benefit of artists, stations, and listeners.

According to an article in RADIO magazine:
The winning entry will be awarded $2,500 and be recognized at The 2009 NAB Radio Show in Philadelphia. Additionally, airfare, hotel accommodations and complimentary NAB Radio Show registration for two will be provided to the winning entry. Entries for the competition, open to over-the-air U.S. broadcast radio stations, must be submitted to the NAB no later than 11 p.m. EDT on July 31, 2009. Stations must complete a Political Agreement Form and place it in the political portion of their public file for a period of two years. Complete rules, guidelines and supporting material can be found on the NAB website

OK, so here's an idea: invite several of the station's best clients to participate in the effort personally. Presumably these advertisers have a vested interest in the continued existence and health of the station, their valued marketing partner. So, they talk about the station's importance to them, both as listeners and as advertisers, and urge their fellow listeners to contact their legislators to reject the Performance Tax. Advertisers enjoy some additional exposure, reinforcing their ties with the station and its listeners, and the station gets the message out in a "bigger" way.

Everybody wins.

In fact, stations could even sell these opportunities to advertisers (rather than giving them away) - with an offer to share the cost of the schedule in view of the shared benefit. I can think of a few advertisers in our own market who would take advantage of such an offer.

After all, it's essentially cause-related advertising, right?

Only in this case, the cause is us.

Worth considering.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

You Can't Recall the Bullet After You've Pulled the Trigger!

Sent an email to 100 local clients earlier this week, announcing a new format and a chance to win $7200 worth of advertising. I spent over half an hour composing the message, getting it just right, and making sure the two attachments were correct.

As is my practice, I sent the email to my own address as well.

You can only imagine my chagrin when upon opening my confirmation email, I saw (in 18 point type, no less) the name and email address of one of the recipients pasted into the first sentence of my correspondence, breaking the sentence, the flow, and the appearance of the message.

I cringed. I winced. I said bad words.

It looked stupid. I looked stupid. In front of 100 people.

And there wasn't a thing I could do to change it.

However, I couldn't in good conscience let it pass without acknowledging and attempting to correct the mistake, so I sent a follow-up email with the following message and illustration:
"Caution: bullet cannot be summoned back
into gun once trigger has been pulled."
(Rod's lesson for Monday)