(By Ronald Robinson) Although listed here at #2, the following may be the more important responsibility that has been abandoned by radio stations all over the country. Radio is famous within the advertising trade as being the medium that has been, pervasively and continuously, producing the worst examples ever of broadcast advertising.
Other than the ongoing din about the lack of “creativity,” through my entire career as a station employee, if not instigated by me, there was not one instance where the standard methods of writing and producing commercial copy were ever challenged. Commercials were always some combination of product/benefit/price — hooked into some or other absolute quantifier (best, only, greatest, most, etc.), mentioning a location and tagging with a demand to rush to the retailer immediately! “Hard sell” announcer deliveries were the default position, and we were defaulting most of the time.
I tell the story often that the spots I read last week are the same spots I was practicing in Studio B as a part-time kid at my local radio station in 1964. The only difference is in the placement of the decimal on the price point. That alone constitutes a roaring indictment of stagnation.
Since then, the electronic advertising arts have made tremendous strides — in creativity, in styles of presentation and, most significantly, in the understanding of the impact of broadcast advertising on the psyches of audiences. In spite of these advances, radio is still mired in the mud of the obsolete.
For many years, I had no particular quibbles with the state of radio advertising, other than the ubiquitous complaints of the systemic suppression of “creativity.” The emotional impact of “creativity” was, as is now, considered an unnecessary luxury that stole time from products, prices, and strongly voiced admonitions to: “Hurry in today for your best deals!”
But, by the early ‘80s, I was stricken by a body of information that would lead me to become an influential counselor and an exceptionally effective broadcast communicator. I say “stricken” because there have been times when I wondered if I hadn’t been so heavily armed as a broadcaster. I might have been better served by staying less educated and more apt to participate comfortably in the traditions of commercial radio. It’s a lamentation I have willingly tolerated.
Before continuing, I consider the following to be so important as to represent the main purpose of radio advertising — even though this element constitutes the other of the abdications that have (perhaps unknowingly) been forced on unsuspecting advertisers by radio’s ownership and management.
Clarity is required on this point: Radio has the responsibility to influence, cajole, or otherwise motivate audience members to support our advertising clients. Whether audience members need or can afford the product is of no consequence to us. Audiences, long ago, have accepted the commercials are there to do just that — influence. Caveat emptor applies.
The crimes and tragedies are in radio’s inability to do more, significant work in these areas. No. I am being too kind. Radio refuses to acquire the necessary education so it can demonstrate the efficacy of more intelligently crafted and, whenever possible, more creative approaches to the writing and production of spots.
Senior radio people are still eager to drag out Stan Freeberg’s demonstration of the often touted but rarely applied “Theatre-of-the-mind” concept — a production from the mid-‘60s, fer cryin’ out loud.
Because of a combination of minimal, contemporary information being sought out or applied, a belief that modern spots are as effective as they need to be to maintain an, at least, minimal, acceptable standard, and the awareness of the added expenses of arranging for superior spots to be produced has left us (radio) aimlessly slogging around in the backwaters of a dank and smelly, electronic advertising bog.
Indeed, radio’s abdication of its two most important responsibilities is complete, but, I fear, not finished. More talent will either be scrapped or suppressed. The writing and production of more effective and, dare I venture, interesting commercials is not on any of radio’s to-do lists. More sophisticated and linguistically influential commercials are, if not in demand, then still required if radio wants to improve. I have little confidence of that happening, as well.
(Part 3 next week)
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. Contact Ron at [email protected]