Engaging Radio’s Other Brain


(By Ronald Robinson) I was disappointed to hear that, after a presentation to a very senior, corporate radio sales executive of a series of 13×30-second spots for auto dealerships, that the commercials caused widespread confusion and some panic. The executive gathered some associates and colleagues together to review the pieces, and they decided that several had to go.

While this executive, who retains his extreme credibility with me, confirmed the potential of the spots to be extremely influential – especially over time – he could not ignore the reactions of his colleagues or, as importantly, the projected and likely accurate responses from dealers who would be exposed to a demonstration of the commercials.

There are no questions in my mind as to the sincerity of those radio people who were presented the spots – even as they qualified for the “out-of-the-box” and “bleeding edge” variety. But, even as the responses are to be expected – with only occasional exceptions: All that sincerity and a buck, ninety-five will get a cup of coffee, and it will also kill the project.

Allow me to present a brief and basic neurological description of the process:

There are, essentially, four groups of people who are going through the daily processes of developing, marketing, and responding to radio commercials, and there are some very serious and dynamic neurological distinctions.

–  Writers and producers of radio commercial content.

While many are talented and skilled to the limits of their education and intuitions, most have no appreciation of the distinctions that will follow, shortly.

–  Marketers of the time-buys and the station-produced creative.

There are no denials that the ubiquitous “path of least resistance” remains the standard M.O. of reps who are hitting the streets every day. They are saddled with having to demonstrate the efficacy of radio – as a powerful and pervasively accessed medium. They are then required to demonstrate the efficacies of their own outfits. Plus, if and when it ever happens, they are responsible for representing the actual commercial content that is being produced back at the studios.

–  Potential advertisers that are being presented with radio’s services and products.

Unless the expected and generally accepted forms of “direct-response ads” are agreed on as “the way to go” by the advertiser, a nightmare scenario develops. Advertisers may claim they want some ads that are “out of the box,” but there are no assurances that such ads are, a.) being expertly crafted at the station, or, b.) that an advertiser would recognize any presented productions as being useful or influential to an audience! Because advertisers have been buying for so long, they presume they are also “experts.” Fact: There are very few “experts” at any level of this strange process of influencing audiences through an electronic medium.

–  Those being exposed to these productions – The Audiences.

Audiences have no skin in the game of designing and producing the advertising materials to which they are being exposed. Nor, for the most part, do they have a pre-determined expectation of what they are hearing or a pre-determined interest in the content.

Now, some very basic neurology:

Everybody working in radio, almost exclusively, consider these materials through what is accepted as a thinking process called a “dominant hemisphere” process. A dominant hemisphere process is about engaging the more critical thinking capacities of our neurology – of itself, not a bad thing. Problems arise because the determinations made from such processing misses the most important parts and potentials of a broadcast ad.

Audiences engage in no such mental exercises. Audiences are processing radio’s materials through their “sub-dominant” hemispheres. This is not a choice. Rather, it is a consequence of being exposed to electronic, broadcast outputs. The sub-dominant hemisphere processes and responds at visceral and emotional levels. Essentially, cognitive processing is severely suppressed, and momentarily set aside.

Here is a real-life example, and this has been my experience for decades:

When regular people, who have no attachment to, or interest in, a broadcasting medium are informally exposed to “out-of-the-box” radio materials, they are far more likely to enjoy the weirdness to which they are listening (sub-dominant hemisphere processing). When those same people are presented the same material in a formal research environment, they switch, and start thinking cognitively and critically. This is one of the ways toxic research is developed.

When radio people and advertisers are presented with the same material, they go full-blown, dominant hemisphere, cognitive and critical. And that is how most of our advertising products get to be just so much useless trash – “newspaper-of-the-air” – with an annoying voice to provide another reason for jerking around the audience.

Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian radio since the ’60s as a performer, writer and coach, and has trained and certified as a personal counselor. E-mail him at [email protected]


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