Death By Repetition


(By Bob McCurdy) Over the past 10 days, I streamed Pandora as I occasionally do around Christmas. They have a nice Classical Christmas channel, but the listening experiences this year were bizarre and rather unpleasant.

On Wednesday, December 7, I was served a total of 14 commercials. All 14 were the same Nordstrom Rack commercial. No commercials from any other advertiser were served. This past Thursday, I wanted to see if the previous week’s ad serving experience was an anomaly. It wasn’t. It was worse. I was served a total of 25 commercials. All 25 were the same Applebee’s commercial. Yesterday, I again listened and all seven commercials served were for Applebee’s, and as I write this on Saturday morning, I was served five more commercials, all for Applebee’s. Thirty-seven (37) Applebee’s commercials served to one individual over three separate listening occasions, spanning three days. In all my years in this business I’ve never uttered the words, “a frequency of 37.”

In addition to the deluge of Nordstrom Rack and Applebee’s commercials, Pandora’s “thumbs” were apparently broken. After repeatedly “thumbing down” Tchaikovsky’s “Nut Cracker Suite,” it remained in rotation. So much for the Genome project, its 450 different musical attributes and its 2,000 focus traits. Sounds impressive, didn’t work.

For both advertisers this type of commercial mugging is worse than simply wasting precious advertising dollars, as my reaction to both advertisers’ commercials evolved from initial attention, to avoidance, to annoyance, to “I can’t believe I’m actually hearing this,” to hostility. This is usually not the reaction any advertiser would want to elicit.

There are a couple of key takeaways from this:

The Genome project, for all its supposed sophistication, is not without its flaws. With each subsequent serving of the “Nutcracker,” a different finger, not thumbing, was used to greet its arrival.

This could never have occurred on an AM/FM radio station.

If any of our advertisers decide to use Pandora they had better insist upon a “frequency cap” and let the buyer beware. The advertiser might get “metrics” but how they were generated and what they represent should be open to debate.

In advertising, there’s something called “ad latency,” which is the amount of time that an advertisement positively impacts key brand metrics such as “awareness,” “consideration,” and “intent.” This period of time, based upon the offer, creative, etc. can last several days or up to as long as several weeks.

An effective advertising schedule ideally delivers a “refreshing” message to a campaign’s target, as the impact from the previous commercial exposure begins to ebb. This helps ensure that an advertiser’s offering stays top of mind. One thing we can be absolutely certain about is that the “latency period” for both Nordstrom’s and Applebee’s messaging was a heckuva lot longer than what was described above, unless of course our ability to “retain” now approximates that of a goldfish.

It is better to “reach many,” rather than “preach repeatedly to a few”– a key benefit of AM/FM and its scheduling. Unquestionably, Applebee’s and Nordstrom’s would have sold more product by reaching 37 and 14 different consumers once rather than reaching me 37 times and 14 times respectively.

We can draw a couple of things from this, neither overly positive:

Pandora meets their advertiser impression commitments without any regard for how they are generated. My listening experience supports the findings from the recent Cumulus/Westwood One Edison Q3 2016 Share of Ear study which showed that only 5% of Americans represent 75% of Pandora’s time spent listening, which means to achieve impression goals, a small number of listeners must be relentlessly and excessively served the same ad.

Such mind-numbing, abusive frequency is required to generate results on this streaming service.

Wonder if Nordstrom’s and Applebee’s would think this is a wise use of their audio budget.

P.S. It is now Saturday evening and I’ve been listening sporadically throughout the day — 50 straight Applebee’s commercials without being served an ad from another advertiser.

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


  1. You’ve pointed out a problem that has existed since the outset of the “spot cluster” on radio. It’s not unusual to hear a spot running not only one in each stopset, but for multiple hours during the day. Gone are the days of someone monitoring the placement of these spots. The job of “creative director” has turned into one of cranking out the commercials. Music scheduling software has existed since the early 1980s yet commercial scheduling software has never addressed the “quality” of the spots or the separation of said spots. It’s always been an issue for radio which has crept into TV. Subaru spot followed by Chevrolet? Apparently no one cares anymore. Just bring in the bacon today.

  2. I’ve found similar issues with Pandora’s usability and completely abandoned it for the human-curated and more functional interface of Slacker Radio. I found that thumbing-down a song or artist had no effect on whether a song remained in rotation, and I also remember a friend putting on her Michael Jackson Pandora station — in the course of an hour, we heard 3 Prince songs and 3 P.M. Dawn songs, but no Michael Jackson… does not compute in my mind.

    Overall, though, I could easily argue that radio in general has a digital ad problem. How many terrestrial stations make an effort to ensure that their streaming experience — especially during stopsets — is as good as their broadcast experience? Listening to the stream of a top-10 billing FM station from a top-10 market can be excruciating when I hear the same 2-3 spots repeatedly (especially when the spots seem like bargain-basement buys for fly-by-night companies like “Cash Call Mortgage”), or even the same corporate filler over and over. There are other stations that just run the same music bed for minutes at a time during stopsets or — even worse — just dead air in the stream.

  3. Are any outlets still producing a flight of, say, 3 ads and placing them in rotation – in order to alleviate the experience Bob reports?
    Not having heard them, I also wonder what Bob’s opinion is on the quality of the ads themselves. My intuition suggests they would be quite satisfactory, agency-produced product. Maybe not.
    After having been “mugged” so often, even great spots get tiresome to many listeners.
    (Although Apple’s “Frankenstein” TV offerings still tugs at me quite effectively. Of course, these represent the best o’ the best.)


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