Way Off the Mark!: Making the Listeners Work

Way-Off-The-Mark-Logo-2By Mark Margulies

For many years, radio executives have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on research, which has resulted in one universally accepted notion: the great source of audience tuneout has always been commercials. But while radio stations will allow research to dictate everything from budget cuts to playlists, they aren’t about to let research take away their bread and butter. So, the conclusion everyone has always reached with regards to those results was: the problem isn’t the commercial itself, it‘s the fact that the commercials aren’t any good. Better, funnier, more creative commercials would keep the audience listening. Funny thing is, they’re sort of on the right track. Sort of. But the real issue isn’t creativity; it’s the fact that we create spots that make the audience work too hard.

Think about it. Why do YOU listen to the radio? Unless it’s to get your news/weather/sports or just be informed on a current news story, most listeners are there because they want to be entertained. Radio is supposed to be an escape. People want to laugh, to think, to shout back at the talk show host or to sing along with a favorite tune. Instead, if you create programming that makes listening work, the audience vanishes. That’s why radio stopsets tend to set listeners scurrying; they know they’re about to get assaulted. So what happens? They shut down. They tune out. And we, as an industry, lose our effectiveness.

That’s why our job is not to just be creative—as I said, the radio execs sort of have it right—but being creative is only part of the job. The other, more important aspect is we have to make things simple. A commercial doesn’t have to be funny or engaging to be effective. A boring commercial can work just as well as a Dick Orkin classic. The standing example is right here in Denver Colorado, where Tom Shane, a jeweler with an average radio budget, has been using a monotone, almost laughable delivery to achieve radio success for over 30 years. His droning, focused commercials would make any Program Director scream. Yet, he’s created name recognition for his company by delivering a single message in a consistent manner. People listen because he doesn’t make them work too hard to do so. That’s why, much to our chagrin, even “bad” radio commercials sometimes work, if the message is simple enough. There’s an important lesson to be learned from that.

When you write and produce radio ads that are complex, complicated or packed with too much information, the listener tunes out. After all, they’re assaulted with information everywhere else in their lives; now the radio ad is also demanding them to concentrate. A radio ad with too many pieces to it is doomed from the start. Again, listeners aren’t interested in working; they want entertainment. They want escape.

So start thinking ONE. One. One idea to convey. One problem to solve. One way to contact the client, be that an address, a phone number or a website. Instead of creating a classified ad that lists as much information as possible, guide the client to be a little more selective. Remember, the people you are trying to influence have not had the luxury of hearing the spot, reading the spot, or listening to it, like the client does, over and over and over. They may only hear the ad once in its lifetime. That means, the listener really has no idea of what you are trying to tell them. To be effective, the spot has to be able to grab attention, no matter where it ends up being heard.

So keep the message simple. Then, get as creative or basic as you want. By simplifying what the audience has to take away from your ad, you make sure it never becomes work for the listener. And that listener then says “thank you” by paying attention, and possibly by reacting to the product or service. As the saying goes, you can make just as much of an impact with a whisper as you can with a scream. So think ONE—because the less you make your audience work, the more you’ll find they respond. 

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