(By Ronald Robinson) For what purpose, one wonders, is it to the benefit of the radio industry to take extraordinary steps to improve the effectiveness and appeal of locally produced commercials? Although so obvious as to render the question rhetorical, the correct answer is: To generate better results for the advertiser. A secondary, but noble consideration could be about making those spots more tolerable to an audience.
I do speculate that most radio practitioners have no idea how powerful their medium really is. Radio, despite its glaring lack of activity to improve, can still produce advertising results — even with the spectacularly shoddy local advertising being presented. Radio has been inhibiting itself through its not being aware of the impact on audiences of electronic media.
Meanwhile, and for the last 50 years, radio commercials have taken a basic form: Prioritizing pertinent information about the product or service, and making — sometimes direct and sometimes vague — comparisons to other, competing products in terms of price, benefits, quality, and convenience. The spots then demand the audience get down to the retailer right away — with their wallets — as if the speaker had any authority at all. This approach is standard, and is the epitome of rude and crude.
Even so, not counting the included annoyance factors, this approach is an attempt to apply logic, reason, and some — but not necessarily valid — evidence.
Q: And what, it has been often asked, is wrong with requesting (or telling) an audience to apply their intellectual capacities to indulge in rational, reasoned, or comparative thought?
A: Much of a person’s intellectual capacities are avoided or get overrun when they are accessing any electronic medium! Intellect and reason seldom get fired up.
Q: What then, subjugates or takes the place of, “reason” when an electronic medium is the source of the presented material?
A: Emotions, intuitions, previously imbedded beliefs, gut-feelings, fear, excitement, anxiety, passion, indignation, funny bone stimulation, and others. Electronic media hooks into a sumptuous buffet of basic and base, human responses. “Intellectual thought” is secondary and is bypassed — relegated to another circumstance for another time.
As has often been mentioned in this space, the key is in how humans mentally process certain types of information from different (and differing) media — the “neurology” stuff. As the broadest of generalizations, any print medium will, primarily, impact on our capacities to reason, whereas electronic media goes, primarily, to our emotional functions. Open Season On Brains Declared.
Anytime a person’s capacities for critical thinking are bypassed, some very weird phenomena get demonstrated. Given the sources of most of our information — electronic — it is no wonder that people will pay for the most expensive medicine on the planet, vote for politicians they wouldn’t otherwise let walk their dogs, send their money to known (sometimes knowing) frauds for rewards that have never been proven to be rendered, and purchase numerous goods and services that provide nothing of value at prices that cannot be justified. The list is substantial. (Coke and Pepsi are prime examples. Johnny Walker Black gets a pass.)
Indeed, when electronic media are in the mix, we can be influenced, and we can be tricked. Sometimes it takes sophisticated messaging to do it, but it is still happening all the time. Blame “neurology.” If this information encourages the generation of a little suspicion, a little aggravation, a little anxiety, and a smidge of paranoia, my efforts here are not wasted.
Anytime that radio does participate at this level can be understood as a fortunate accident by any advertisers who benefit from the commercial fluke. To be sure, radio has taken no steps to exploit this information and still represents its commercial content as, essentially, newspaper-of-the-air. Radio has been stepping off this short pier for decades and still wonders how it has been missing the boat.
Surprisingly, perhaps fortunately, there are models-of-communication available for radio that can bridge the gap between crudely applied, information-based, commercial content, and full-blown, emotion-driving “creative.” Maybe, one day, some in radio’s leadership will want to see gangplanks before they step off that pier again.
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]