Radio stations have been painted with the “too many commercials” brush for decades – perhaps since the glory days of Top 40 radio and Bill Drake. But that was in the period where radio stations simply compared themselves to other stations in the market. Today, the yardstick has changed – broadening out to many different channels and services that listeners hold up against radio.
Now, millions of consumers pay a few bucks a month and get nothing but music – with no commercials at all. And a growing number of consumers are opting to pay the price to eschew advertisements of any kind.
But it goes beyond the quantity of commercials and where radio programmers place them in their clocks. The quality of commercials has also become a talking point. The airwaves are loaded with commercials for sexual dysfunction, elimination problems, and other personal products that couldn't have possibly made the made it on the log back in the day. From obnoxious per inquiry spots to remnant ads, commercial load is often the least of radio's problems.
Annoying commercials are nothing new. If you lived in New York City back in the '70s and '80s, Crazy Eddie was everywhere, featuring the irritating rants of owner Eddie Antar. The spots were tagged with “Our prices are INSANE!! – a memorable and irritating line. In those days, I was working for ABC Radio, and our New York station, WPLJ, was a popular host for Crazy Eddie ads. And the higher its ratings, the more commercials they ran. And it reached the point where PD Larry Berger went to the mat to ban those offensive ads from his station – and won.
No way that happens today.
But now it turns out the Larry (and most of us programmers through the ages) may have had it wrong all along. A new study of prestigious Cannes Lions award winners has determined that some of the best commercials are…pretty annoying.
Ace Metrix did the research – a scientific study of nearly 200 winning ads. And the result was creating clusters of commercials that exhibited common traits and similar emotional reactions from respondents. The four most successful clusters are below, along with the percentage of Cannes Lion winners that fell into each:
- Universally funny 7%
- Heartfelt 7%
- Wait, What? 14%
- Annoying 20%
Commercials that make you laugh and bring out your emotions tend to score pretty well. And spots in the “Wait, What?” category often first confuse, then create attention, and often draw the viewer in.
But it's the truly irritating spots that stand out. As the analysts note, they are often “highly polarizing” with strong “hate” scores. Observers use words like “dumb, gross, and mean.” But they work. In fact, one-fifth of Cannes Lion winners landed in the “annoying” cluster.
Here's an example of one of the spots cited in the study. It's an award winner – and yes, it's irritating:
You can download and read the study here.
More recently, you might have seen a combination of “Wait, What?” and the “Annoyance Factor” at work during the amazing Astros/Dodgers World Series. YouTube has brilliantly hijacked these games, creating a marketing moment that can steal your attention.
By perfectly positioning their familiar red “play” button on the backstop, YouTube makes fans feel like they were watching a video – or were they? The net effect was YouTube simultaneously annoying fans, while generating massive buzz especially on social media during Game 1 when it first appeared.
You can see how it worked in this brief video where YouTube owned the game (especially with a right-handed batter at the plate).
Jerry Lee can't be entirely thrilled with the finding that being annoying may be a marketing virtue. In case you don't know, Jerry's the iconic broadcaster behind the legendary WBEB in Philadelphia. And he's made it his life's crusade to improve the quality of radio commercials. No easy task, right?
Working with research firm Sensory Logic, – using a technique called “facial coding” – Jerry has put together a list of “do's and don't's” to help radio production directors make better commercials. From using two voices (rather than one), to not leading with price, and making sure to tell a story, Jerry's punch list is a compelling tool to help anybody in radio at any level produce less annoying and hopefully, more effective commercials.
And when you think about both the YouTube and Geico efforts shown in this post, they capture Jerry's advice to “Keep it close to home by playing off what is familiar” as well as his “3-Second Rule: Pull the listener/viewer in quickly.” These ads accomplish both of those goals – and then some.
By applying some of these “best practices,” you still may not end up winning a Cannes Lion award for your efforts. But you could help an advertiser reach their goal, without losing a diary or a meter in the process.
As for those annoying commercials, maybe Crazy Eddie was onto something.
Tomorrow, we'll look at radio broadcasters breaking the sales business model – and making it work.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.