Radio Reads Minds. Really?


(By Ron Robinson) While I was studying to certify as a personal counselor, I was being introduced to many concepts about human behaviors that, at the time, were revelations. One of those was the reality that nobody can read minds! Of course, people do respond to body language, voice tonality, and other sensory cues that do generate intuitions about meaning, but in doing so, any assumptions about accuracy are poorly founded. Besides, all the best mind-readers are already making very nice livings – in Las Vegas!

Learned and esteemed consultants have been, and continue to tout, the idea that consumers’/listeners’ psyches can be probed — to the degree where wants and needs can be determined and, as a result, precise targeting and messaging can then proceed. These become the assumptions that drive the invasive targeting of audience members — often as single individuals. This activity also helps account for radio’s #5 position as a desirable advertising medium. At #6 — laundromat bulletin boards.

Advertisers and radio AEs have been running on just such assumptions about the makeup of “target audiences.” Those who figure they have that part figured also assume that messaging can then be produced that is right down Goldilocks Lane. This hardly matters anyway. Most commercials, especially locally produced spots, are targeted directly to an unknown, purely fantasized member of the audience about which they have no personal information, and include demands for behaviors. A technical term for this strategy is “kinda weird.” (I looked it up.)

Because commercials are targeted so directly, there must be another assumption that the message will also have a bleed-over effect. Good for radio it is that such is occasionally the case. But the writers and buyers of these commercials do themselves a radical disservice by participating in the practice.

Meanwhile, when researchers, writers, or AEs and their clients engage in invasive mind reading, they ignore the responsibility to produce commercials that are tolerable, maintain some level of listener interest, are emotionally strong, and…more effective.

There is no pressing need for a station to attempt identifying the psychographics of listeners. The choice of format is the element that quickly establishes some of the useful psychographics. Not most. Some. Beyond that, other frenzied stabs at establishing what is going on in the minds of the listeners result in tumbling down the rabbit hole. Huge generalizations, for now, can suffice.

I am reminded of a scrambled driver careening down the highway in a busted-up beater. Tires are balding, tie rods are shuddering, and the brakes are metal-to-metal screeching. But the operator, being brain dead, bulletproof, and having assumed an ability to read minds, believes all the other motorists will be alert enough to get out of the way. Presumably, that is no attitude for any local radio station to be adopting.

I am thoroughly unconvinced that most radio operators will be accepting that their responsibilities include making every effort to influence and motivate listeners. This would be about attracting and holding listeners, and providing more efficient commercial messaging for the advertisers. Commercials that supply a laundry list of products and services along with orders to “Hurry down and take advantage today!” will hardly accomplish that trick. Not if any improvements in radio’s status are to be expected.

Meanwhile, and by a very circuitous route, we are lead back to “branding.” Branding, by definition, is understood to be a process by which consumers’ minds are influenced (some would say “manipulated”) to develop a satisfactory/positive feeling, opinion, or belief about a product, service, or advertiser.

In other words, producers of advertising are not compelled to know the minds of consumers. They are required to massage, cajole, trick, or otherwise manipulate the minds of consumers. If all of this seems a tad Orwellian, Big Brother, 1984-ish, well, there it is.

Radio owners could consider and adopt the premise. Operators unwilling to address this matter may be in the wrong business. Consumers are there — more or less — to be tricked! Now may be a tremendously advantageous time to begin learning how, specifically, to do just that. The default position is: Stay at #5.

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. Email him at [email protected]


  1. Fascinating.
    Since I am dealing with a couple of anonymous trolls here, I will respond with an fairly old adage: It take a dummy with no evidence to double down.
    Perhaps I ask too much by requesting a reasoned, cogent response to the content I am providing. I am prepared for the discourse – and my bones are hard.
    But, I also appreciate how hurling slanderous comments is so much easier… and so prevalent in the culture.

  2. My belated thanks to Will B Right for demonstrating the very concept I was addressing in the article.
    He asserts he knows what I am thinking.
    And he is utterly mistaken – again.
    If someone wishes to know what I am thinking about radio or anything else, they could always ask.
    Any other speculations are a form of projection – Mind Reading.

  3. Without access to more sophisticated forms of generating influence on the radio, I am inclined to agree with Mike’s application of the KISS method.
    If Mike’s copy answers the question and, from time to time, also generates a satisfactory emotional response, the approach would be better than the standard-issue flotsam.
    Functional, to be sure, but still not desirable – still not where we need to go.

    • Mr. Robinson would rather an ad be pleasing to his ears than effective for the advertiser who pays for it.

  4. I’ve written about this before but I think it is worth repeating: The Radio ads that get the best response for my Clients are the ones that answer the question: “What is in it for me, the listener, to do business with you, the advertiser?” My Clients (those that allow me to do my thing, so to speak) are the ones who get the best response to this type of ad. Give the listener a good , sensible reason to take advantage of the offer and they do so! No shouting, cajoling, or end product of male cow required. Also, no mind reading!

  5. Either this person is fairly new to all this, or she hasn’t been paying attention.
    I’m guessing the latter.
    (I do, from time to time, get some exemplary, but still cookie-cutter trolls.)


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