Q It Up: When is it time to freshen those sweepers?

Q-It-Up-Logo-3Q It Up: How often do you replace generic imaging elements because they’ve “burned”? Do you decide when to change them or does the Program Director tell you it’s time? How often do you think imaging elements should be changed? What about promos? Will you cut a single promo for, let’s say, a 6-week promotion, and run that promo for 3 weeks, all six weeks, or will there be multiple promos with short runs, keeping them “fresh” all the time? Are we changing this material too quickly for the audience to even grasp it? Is new and fresh better than old and stale?

For those of you on the commercial side of things, what are your thoughts? Do you get access to schedules to see how many times the spot you’re creating will play? Does this help you determine what kind of commercial to create? Generally speaking, do you think clients are better served with lots of “fresh” commercials for their schedule, or is it better for them to run one good commercial over and over? Let’s take for example, a schedule of 100 spots spread out over four consecutive weeks. Would a fresh spot every week be better than running the same spot all four weeks?

Salespeople have tools to tell them and their clients how many times a spot should run to reach a certain percentage of the audience a certain number of times. Agencies use the same formulas and encourage clients to repeat their message over and over. Do you use these same concepts and formulas for your promos and imaging elements? If not, should we be using this approach to radio’s promotional and imaging messages?

My personal experience on this subject has gone from one extreme to the other over the years. There have been programmers that are dedicated to constantly freshening promos and imaging elements, to programmers that say, “When we start getting sick of hearing it, it’s time to run it even more.” I’m sure there are PDs that would say I’m just trying to avoid work by supporting the latter strategy, but especially in the PPM environment -- knowing the dismal truth of exactly how often and for how long our listeners tune in -- I’m even more convinced that burning promos and imaging elements is key in delivering the message. Play it until the listener can recite it word for word. That’s what I call branding. Obviously, there are exceptions, but when you have a message, why sprinkle it in? Pour it on. For example, why do stations start promoting their weekend promotions on Friday at 3pm, or maybe Thursday, if they’re really prepared? Take a top ten station in a major market. Their listeners may tune in for 10 minutes at a time, maybe 4 or 5 times a day. And trust me; they’re not totally focused on every little thing going on during those 40 or 50 minutes of listening. How often, and for how many days do you really think you need to play that promo before even half your audience gets it? If it were me, and I wanted listeners to “make an appointment” to tune in over the weekend, I’d start promoting the weekend promotion on Tuesday morning. And if it’s not worth that much attention, then it’s not worth doing to begin with. Use the time to promote something else.

What are your thoughts?

Craig Jackman [Craig.Jackman(at)ottawaradio.rogers.com], Rogers Media, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: While some PDs I’ve worked with want 6 versions of the same promo and dozens of splitters to run over a 6 week promo campaign, I think we’re doing ourselves and listeners a disservice. Sure, things get logged to air 12 times in a 24 hour period, but who do you know listens for 24 hours a day? Doesn’t the mythical “average listener” tune in for an hour at most per day? How often are they going to hear your promo? How often are they going to hear it when they hit the next station preset button at the first sign of a spot or promo anyway? I have no problem with having generic material on the air for a year, so long as it’s good and fits as the face for the station. I also see the point of wanting to freshen something up after a couple of weeks of heavy running. Just know that most listeners won’t be sick of it, heck most won’t even acknowledge having heard it the first 40 times. What I like to do with promo campaigns is to start with a promo or 2 and some splitters. I then add in new promos and winner promos and keep everything in rotation over the length of the run.

Shaun Whynacht [shaun(at)bluecowcreative.ca], Blue Cow Creative Design & Production Ltd., Coldbrook, Nova Scotia, Canada: Speaking from the perspective of a producer and not a radio production executive, I listen very closely to radio in my day to day life. Having worked in radio, produced shows and been on air, I have a strong passion for well executed radio. It’s this reason that makes me very critical in my observations. I’ve lived in a major market where radio imaging is kept fresh even on a weekly basis. Flip that to a smaller market where I’m hearing the same imaging elements that were being aired when I was in radio school (over ten years ago). I tell my clients who ask me how often should I update my material, “you should be constantly updating your elements”. That doesn’t mean trash them all and start fresh every week, that would be murder for your brand identity, but rather change it up a bit and stagger your releases of new elements over the course of a month, then it will appear each week your listeners will be hearing something new every time they tune in. Think of it like this, we all had that friend in high school who loved a certain piece of clothing, whether it was a sweater of a pair of pants. So much so that he/she would wear it over and over again (sometimes in consecutive fashion). It wasn’t obvious when it first happened, but over time more and more people in school started to notice and it became the joke of the school, “here comes so and so with their red sweater on again... laugh”. You want to avoid your station becoming the red sweater wearer of the media family. One little side note to add, if you intend to produce elements that are timely funny, meaning you are playing off the current news of the present time to make people laugh, these need to have a short run life. There is nothing more horrible sounding than hearing an image piece go to air that is a joke about something that happened months previous and people don’t care about it anymore. Keep It Fresh, Keep It Current, Keep It Real.

Jeff Berlin [yeti(at)squirpy.com], www.jberlin.com: First I’d like to ask why is it listeners don’t mind hearing their favorite song over and over - thousands of times over the course of a few years? Yet a commercial they like or think is funny they’ll usually give 4 listens before they tune it out? I believe the song has emotional equity, and triggers a different brain response. The commercial is information which they’ve already processed (left brain), with no need to hear again. With this in mind, most of our sweepers on Kiss 108 ran for several years (never more than once an hour). They were short, non obtrusive, did the branding cleanly, and were designed to incorporate with the flow of music. They were tested at some point, and enjoyed listener acceptance. If they didn’t burn, there was no reason to change them. Promos (information) - a different story - those got changed up as much as possible just to keep the promotion fresh. Jerry, I agree with you regarding weekend promos. I always felt that weekday promotions should extend into the weekend, not burden the listener with more promo clutter. A two day weekend promotion is over before the average listener realizes it’s on. Usually weekend promotions were vehicles to fulfill a sales or record company initiative that didn’t fit in anywhere else.

Rod Schwartz [rod(at)gracebroadcast.com], www.rodschwartz.com: David Ogilvy was of the opinion that advertisers should not pull their ads or change their copy simply for the sake of changing it, i.e., because they were getting tired of the ads. He believed that as long as an ad continued to pull, it should run.

I have clients whose ads change every 2-3 weeks. I have others who’ve been running the same ads for years, without listener fatigue (we’d hear about it, believe me) or diminishment of results for the advertiser. This may be due in part to the fact that we’re in a college town (two land-grant universities 8 miles apart), with considerable turnover in the population every year.

The granddaddy of them all is an auto body client of mine, running a minimum of 100 ads a month, who’s been running the same 30-second full sing jingle for 12 years. Again, no complaints from listeners; if we hear anything about it at all, it’s usually quite favorable. If you’re curious to learn more or hear the spot, here’s the link: www.radiosalescafe.com/profiles/blogs/the-client-whose-copy-never-changes.

So, my experience of nearly 40 years in the business tells me that good commercials wear well; great commercials often wear remarkably well. But a poorly written, cliché-ridden spot? Hearing it even once can be painful.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Craig, Shaun, Jeff and Rod for weighing in on this month’s Q It Up question, apparently not the most stimulating question I’ve come up with. Nevertheless, the four responses received certainly represent a good deal of the strategies employed with both programming and commercial material. Craig clearly agrees with me on the point of listeners not listening enough to really hear a promo. And I liked Shaun’s idea of staggering new releases of elements over the course of a month or so. I think that is a good way to keep elements running long enough to matter, while at the same time freshening the material often enough to satisfy a hungry programmer’s ear. I agree with Shaun’s “red sweater” analogy to a point. If your imaging element or commercial is poorly done, I think it can become a tattered old red sweaterthat misrepresents your brand. On the other hand, if that sweater is instead a well fitted suit, or military uniform, always clean and pressed, superbly produced, that element can last a year or years.

And Jeff brought up a point I was going to bring up if nobody mentioned it. Programmers constantly study music charts and research to decide when a song is a hit and when to put it in the super hot rotation. Usually, when that song makes the top rotation, it’s after the jocks are already tired of playing it. So, why is it we understand that we have to play a hit record ad nauseam if we want the listener to hear it, but we won’t do that with our promotional messages? Yes, these are apples and oranges, and the execution of each isn’t identical, but the point is, just because we’re tired of hearing it does not mean the listener is. Or more specifically, just because we’ve heard the promo or commercial enough to “get the message” doesn’t mean the listener has.

And Rod reminded me of a commercial I was introduced to when I came to Dallas radio many years ago. My first gig in the Big D was on-air at an AC station. Apparently, when the station was just getting off the ground, they had sold a client some spots… really cheap. He bought a ton of them, and he must have signed a 5 or 10 year contract at these rates. His spots ran about 10 times a day as I recall – seems like every other hour. It could have been every hour. He had one commercial done. It was dry voice. I think it may have been his voice. It was sixty seconds long – rather, a long sixty seconds. This commercial became a logo for the station, a signpost. If you were hearing the Salvage Carpets commercial, you were listening to KAFM. Oh, it ran long past being sick of it. It was more like a mole on your neck that you never got rid of, but just learned to accept, and it was okay because it wasn’t malignant or anything, just sixty seconds of this guy talking about his carpet place. And he sounded sincere, and his message was clear. Later, as Production Director at this station, I asked the salesperson if we could cut another spot for him. The client was consulted. The answer was no. This spot was working very well for the client. So it ran, and ran… and ran. I still remember the day the contract ended. There was a little party with the ladies in the traffic department. A few of us toasted with a beverage of some sort, laughed and went on with our business. But I never forgot that client. Salvage Carpets. If I had ever needed carpet, and wanted it cheap, I’d have gone to Salvage Carpets. This all happened over 25 years ago. I have long since left that station, and I have never since heard anything about Salvage Carpets. Just for grins, I stopped writing and just Googled them to see if they were still around. Yes, there they were, on Mockingbird Lane, still in business. I wonder how many other carpet stores went out of business over all those years. I wonder how much that constant pounding message over the course of 5 or 10 years on one station might have had to do with that success. I wonder if he’s still running that ad somewhere else here in town.

Salvage Carpets was “branded” into my brain. I remember it decades later. It wasn’t a bad commercial; it wasn’t a great one. But it had a message, and it delivered it by means of nothing more than plain and simple repetition. The commercial was indeed a “red sweater” type spot. And maybe that kid in school got laughed at every day. But decades later, his schoolmates REMEMBER him.

jv…

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