If you're in radio, there are actually three guarantees in life:
Death, taxes, and commercials.
From the dawn of Marconi, Tesla, Drake, and McClendon, programmers have been designing, scheming, and juggling clocks. PPM has exacerbated the problem, as so many major market stations settle for the “bowtie” model. But Media Monitors and other research confirms what everyone in radio knows – when commercials play, the audience scatters.
And why not? Quantity is, of course, the yin of the problem. But the yang is quality, and it's a topic we've tackled more than once over the years in this blog.
Philadelphia broadcasting guru, Jerry Lee, has been a one-man band, championing the industry to focus on that 17% of the hour of commercial content. Through his own research, he has developed a tool kit for radio advertising, designed to make them better and more effective.
And without fail, Jerry has consistently preached about the importance of growing revenue through better commercial creative. And over the past half year, Tom Taylor's NOW has dutifully published Jerry's learnings every Wednesday. Too many broadcasters skip over these important tips to get to the newest speculation about deregulation, who's rumored to be buying what, or “You Can't Make This Up.”
The fact is, programmers have all but given up on improving commercials – or even neutralizing them – while the salespeople simply grab the order and move on to the next one. Commercials – bad ones, in particular, are a fact of life. And while PDs strive to maintain time spent listening while building more “occasions” with sophisticated tools like music research, M Scores, and even music streaming data and Shazam, those 10 minutes an hour (or more) are simply a concession to the inevitability of radio's business model.
It's almost always been about workarounds, rather than confronting the commercial problem head on.
But now that attribution is in the air, it would behoove radio executives to rethink the placement and the effectiveness of commercials. Because as AI, data analysis, and digital dot connection become more sophisticated tools, the focus will inevitably return to the content and qualaity of the commercials themselves.
Broadcast radio moguls want the analytical tools that will ultimately prove radio's proof of concept to advertisers tired of the “spray and pray” tactics of broadcast ads.
Commercial radio is not the only media platform wrestling with this dilemma. But others are more actively trying to do something about it.
Much of this may be by necessity as criticism from the advertising world continues to rain down on Facebook, Google, and other major players. Commercial placement, errors in judgment, and overall neglect have placed many advertisers on new media platforms in less-than-optimal positions. That's led to much agnst in the marketing community.
YouTube isn't just sitting still. Taking a page out of the Jerry Lee playbook, it has announced a Creative Suite of resources to help its advertisers design, test, and track commercials.
A recent article in Techcrunch outlines some of these tools, including Voice Experiments, a tool that will test video ads before a more expensive campaign hits the platform. Described as an alternative to focus group testing, the idea behind Voice Experiments is to use a real ad environment to test the waters.
Another feature – Director's Mix – is all about ad personalization, swapping out work parts of video ads, making them targetable to narrow audience groups. Campbell's Soup is already experimenting with this tool, described in an AdWeek article, “YouTube Lets Brands Make Thousands Of Videos From One Ad.”
YouTube hopes the results will deflect advertiser complaints, while helping marketers more effectively use their platform. Of course, better ads might also keep viewers watching videos longer – extending their time spent viewing.
These are all indicators that advertising platforms will have to do more than just display reach, frequency, and even crude engagement data like “clicks.” They will now have to prove out the efficacy of a medium's business proposition.
Given the state of radio's commercial quality, this can't be a good thing. In fact, when it comes to attribution, we should be careful what we wish for.
There's no question the medium “works,” moves eyeballs, generates downloads, motivates coupon use, and even drives votes at the ballot box.
But once testing tools are in place that remove much of the ambiguity from the marketing mix, replacing it with a truer sense of bona fide results, the pressure on the creative segment will only intensify.
John Wanamaker was a success American merchant, religious figure, and political icon who lived in the 1800's. He's credited with saying:
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I just don't know which half.”
Soon, we'll know.
YouTube (and other digital behemoths) is both sweating bullets and details, trying to answer that question.
Radio should be, too.
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.