How To End “Projection Bias” Agencies Have About Radio


(By Bob McCurdy) Over the past several weeks, a couple of clients hit us with three firmly held and confidently stated opinions that reconfirmed that “projection bias” continues to play a major role in the media selection process. We were glad we were there to begin to address this.

What’s troublesome about these mind-sets is that, if not identified, they could have long-lasting repercussions, not only negatively impacting our client’s business but ours as well. The only known antidote is early detection, time, trust, and a healthy dose of properly and tactfully presented facts.

“Projection bias” is a phenomenon that’s quite common in life, and we all fall prey to it from time to time. It occurs when an individual subconsciously or in the following three instances, consciously, projects his or her own attributes, thoughts, emotions, and even media usage, to others. This projecting becomes a problem in that while we might think we’re like everyone else, we usually have no idea what everyone else is truly like.

An agency executive once said something to us that still resonates: “There can be no ‘me’ in media.” She went on to explain that as key media decision-makers, we should never let the media-consumption habits of our friends, family, or ourselves influence our opinions, or choice, of advertising vehicles.

We believed then, as we do now, that she nailed it.

The comments we encountered came from three different, experienced media decision-makers that required some discussion were:

“My auto dealers honestly don’t believe their customers listen to the AM/FM any longer.” We responded by highlighting that the average age of all registered vehicles on the road today is 11.5 years which means there’s a good chance many of these drivers a) will be in the market for a car sometime soon, b) are not listening to Sirius or plugging in their smart phones, c) are likely not driving around in silence, d) are not commuting in current-model tricked-out cars equipped with the latest technology that the dealerships GMs are.

The second projection comment came from a real estate client who was adamant that, “Affluent drivers only listen to satellite radio in their cars.” We stressed that a) even affluent drivers prefer to avoid traffic jams, don’t like getting rained on, and like to stay abreast of local happenings, all of which they won’t get on Sirius, b) while she personally might be a wildly enthusiastic Sirius fan, most of the country isn’t, as Sirius only has 30 million subscribers nationwide versus 260 million registered cars on the U.S. roads, leaving 230 million vehicles Sirius-less, c) Nielsen’s Scarborough confirms that 91% of all individuals who live in HH with an income of $100K+ in her market tune to AM/FM radio each week and listen close to two hours daily, d) studies have shown that even those with Sirius in their cars spend a good deal of their audio time with AM/FM programming.

The final example we encountered came from a Gen X, forty-something retail business owner who proclaimed, “Nobody listens to radio commercials” and went on to earnestly chronicle his personal in-car button-pushing behavior. We pointed out that a) while many people listen in the car, many also listen in-home and at work where button pushing is much less pervasive, b) an Arbitron study analyzed 18 million commercial pods, minute-by-minute, in 48 markets and found that the audience throughout the average radio commercial break was 93% as large as the audience immediately preceding it. We then acknowledged that indeed, some listeners do switch stations during a commercial break to a station playing music, some tune to another station that’s also in a commercial break, some actually turn off the radio, some actually stay put, and some keep pushing buttons. But even with all this going on, the audience of radio commercial breaks is 93% as large as it was immediately preceding that break. Watermarking doesn’t lie.

For sure there’s work yet to be done with each of these clients. Subjective biases are usually not easily washed away in one conversation. But the “washing” and education process has begun, and that’s a good thing.

With Q4 right around the corner and 2017 ad budgets being finalized in the coming months, it’s incumbent upon us to uncover and address any such biases that might have developed, or are in the process of being developed, and tactfully address them with facts and transparency with the knowledge that ad campaigns fail not because common sense is ignored, but rather because we rely on our own common sense to reason about the behavior of others who are different from us.

So let’s continue to be visible and educate, educate, educate.

Bob McCurdy is Corporate Vice President of Sales for The Beasley Media Group and can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Consistent with his article, I think Bob might agree that Cumulus (and others) are poster-people for demonstrating “Projection Bias”. They project their own deeply-held positions on the rest of the industry, advertisers and audiences and, as a result, arrive at “Premature Closure”. That is, they already know everything there is to be known.
    No, they won’t be hiring me – or anybody else who clashes with their dogma and positions. In other words: They are pooched.

  2. Shelly may yet to have clued in on this. I will refresh.
    “Sales” doesn’t happen in a vacuum bubble located off-sight. It’s a part of the whole radio dynamic.
    True, though, that same salespeople operate in vacuums and are, indeed, vacuous.
    Bob’s article is loaded – and represents one hell of a learning opportunity.

  3. Ever see a guy like Robinson who has an opinion on matters on which he has no hands-on experience? He has no idea what goes on at a sales call. All he’s done is cut spots and go to college where he fits right in with all the other arrogant theorists. Go sell radio for a year, Ronnie, come back and we’ll listen to you.

  4. Well, now. Anonymous, slanderous shelly still seems to be having difficulty in addressing content, I see.
    Meanwhile, I can speak with alacrity, knowledge and experience on these matters as they have everything to do with psychology, specifically, and radio sales, only generally.
    By the way, I “failed” at radio sales in 1968. I might have been 19 at the time and all the on-air guys were compelled to make those calls. If I recall, my presentation consisted of, “Hi. Wanna buy some spots? No? Okay.” Not too promising.
    Bob, however, being an actual grownup, is not obliged to respond to anybody. I do this as sport.

  5. Always good to get Ronnie’s considered opinion on a subject-sales-which he, admittedly doesn’t do for a living and never has, successfully. He says he tried it for a brief period years ago and failed. Yet he loves to weigh in every sales column that Bob writes. Ever notice that Bob doesn’t answer Ronnie?

  6. Those AE’s, like “salesguy”, who are enjoying satisfactory – even excellent – results in their markets are to be applauded for their efforts, which likely includes the quality of relationships they have developed over the years.
    Others, however, are running into dealers principal and GSM’s who have already closed the books on using radio. Their justifications, while having become cliches, are also inaccurate, and include the phenomenon to which Bob refers. “Projection Bias” is a presented behavior. “Premature Closure” is the resulting position.
    (That most dealers are offered shoddy schedules and worse copy doesn’t help either. But this would be a separate matter.)
    A form of re-education is, of course, required. AE’s will be challenged to be extremely compelling in their presentations – to those dealers who will let them back in.

  7. The car dealers that I sell and have sold for years would never make such outrageous remarks.
    They like and use local radio all the time. What’s the problem with Bob’s accounts?
    I’d say that my car dealers have had good service for years and his haven’t.
    If his dealers had been involved with their radio advertising and not just shown ratings, numbers, rating points and all the other blur garbage that all looks the same and has no “feeling”, Bob would not be in a panic. The revenues from my dealers is up. Looks like Bob has problems that I don’t.

  8. Indeed, Bob.
    Given the combined impact of the psych-phenomena of Projection Bias, Mind-Reading and Premature Closure, it is incumbent on radio folks to keep on educating.
    You likely appreciate how these factors are in play internally – within radio, as well.


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