Words From A Master


I recently recalled a speech Al Reis gave almost 20 years ago at the 1997 RAB Marketing Leadership Conference in Atlanta.

Reis is quite the marketing icon, having been inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame by the American Marketing Association; so this guy knows a little bit about what he’s talking about. He, along with Jack Trout, wrote a number of best-selling marketing books and coined the word “positioning.” He’s the real deal. What follows in italics are some of his comments from close to 20 years ago that can benefit us today. Our thoughts follow his.

In all my years of consulting work, in all the discussions I have had about advertising media with hundreds of clients, I have never had an advertising manager, a marketing manager or a chief executive say to me those magic words, what about radio? Television, yes.  Magazines and newspapers, sometimes. But radio, never.

I have suggested radio to clients, but clients have never suggested radio, at least when I was in the conference room. I don’t care how good you are, how effective you are, how powerful you are, how inexpensive you are, you can’t score any runs if you don’t get into the ballgame.

And these words were spoken prior to the rise of the Internet. We all have got to raise our game, penetrating with value the highest decision-making levels at both the agency and advertiser. In sales there’s a saying that “the absent are always wrong,” and while we might have made some progress with this key client “penetration,” we’ve just scratched the surface.

Share-of-mind is critical to an advertiser’s marketing success. It’s also critical to any medium’s share of dollars. We need to be the most aggressive and visible of all media salespeople at the right levels.

The ineffectiveness of the visual approach. Why is television so ineffective?It’s a conundrum packaged in a paradox and rolled in a riddle. Why does television advertising that captures your attention, attracts your interest and creates excitement fail to work? Because it’s picture-oriented, that’s why. And the mind works with words. Words. Words.

While he might have been a bit over-the-top here, still love this. Radio is free from the constriction of visuals. With a picture there’s nothing left to the imagination and the imagination is key to engagement which is key to a message registering.

One could view a picture of a war scene and be “moved,” while one could hear the sounds and screams from the same scene and be brought to tears.

Himan Brown, legendary radio producer of shows from the 1940s and 1950s stated it best when he said, “I have never stopped believing that the spoken word and the imagination of the listener are infinitely stronger and more dramatic than anything television can offer.”

Everyone sees the same thing on TV but everyone hears and digests a radio commercial individually. The words might be the same but their meaning and interpretation are unique to each individual.

That’s the power of radio and the spoken word. If you want to see some great shows, listen to some of the radio programs from the ‘40s and ‘50s.

The most powerful advertising, the most effective advertising, the most memorable advertising has always been word-oriented.

Go back in advertising history. Do you remember the pictures or the words?

People communicate with words, not pictures.

The essence of success in the world today is to narrow the focus and own a word in the mind. And the most direct, the most efficient, the most powerful and the most economical way to do this is with radio.

Jack Trout, another marketing legend, and Al’s one-time partner once wrote, “After analyzing hundreds of effective positioning programs, we ran into a surprising conclusion: The programs were all verbal. There wasn’t a single positioning concept that was exclusively visual. We have come to the conclusion that the mind works by ear, not by eye.” We agree.

You can’t increase radio’s share of the advertising market by selling the medium. You can only increase radio’s share of the market by changing the message that advertisers are sending. There is a way to do this. It’s by selling the power of the word. The single, powerful word that drills its way into the mind.

While we might not agree that you can’t increase radio’s share of advertising by selling the medium, we do agree that we need to do a better job, even two decades later, of selling the power of the spoken word.

There’s a website that we created a 6-7 years ago at Katz, that’s still operational, that might assist in accomplishing this. Spend a few minutes with www.katzpowerofsound.com. It will not only assist in highlighting the power of the spoken word but would be worthwhile for our clients to engage with as well.

And speaking of Katz and penetrating the proper decision-making levels with value, check out the graphic below.



  1. Wunnerful article.
    Your points, Bob, can be further demonstrated when one realizes there are more cortical projections in the brain that process sound than there are for visual input. (Better to hear the beast in the bushes before seeing it.)
    Meanwhile, local radio (generally) continues to produce the least thoughtful and cheapest of spots – spots that are consistent with thin slices of rancid rat-meat.
    That these materials are offered as cuts of prime rib is damning evidence, indeed.
    I suspect you might agree, Bob: Radio may still have a reach, but nothing important is going to happen until it becomes Much More Influential.


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