(By Ronald Robinson) “Generating top-of-mind-awareness,” say the radio pundits, “is the key element in, and key benefit of, almost all radio commercials.” The premise enjoys an almost universal acceptance by radio executives and is certainly a primary selling point when being introduced to potential clients. It is legend, and it is part of the dogma of commercial radio. It is also – pure hogwash. This is nonsense being produced and distributed by radio on an industrial scale.
But, wait! There’s more! Following along quite nicely, and in lock-step, is the corollary promise that audience members will, at some point, be experiencing that mighty and marvelous phenomenon we like to label as: Recall. This old chestnut gets plopped like it was a free cherry on top of the ice cream sundae. What a bonus. What a treat. What a lie!
To be more specific, my argument runs against the pervasive claims of conscious, top-of-mind recall. That’s what happens when the heart surgeon hears a commercial on the operating room’s transistor radio and blasts out of the surgery, roaring off to the car lot to make her best deal. That’s what has to happen for everyone whose top-of-mind awareness won’t last much longer than it takes to juice up a stick of chewing gum, or until something else bangs into awareness. Something else always does. It always has, and it always will.
Granted, the top-of-mind awareness event has been known to generate a sale here and there. But, unless the advertised offer is so incredibly fantastic that an audience member’s imagination is lit up, detonated, and a buying behavior is generated, the likelihood of such an event occurring in numbers is hardly worthy of comment. An advertiser would have to drop their pants on the price and learn to tolerate the cold, unprofitable winds that ensue. Bulking up on spot buys would result in similar circumstances – right up until the “Going Out Of Business Sale” gets hung.
Radio’s apologists like to point to the example, if it really happened, of the AE who went to an advertiser and dared them to take a $100 retail item, slash the price to $10, and announce that deal on the radio. In under an hour – so the story goes – the store had sold out of the item. That’s the tale that was supposed to demonstrate “the power of radio.” Hardly. All it really demonstrates is such a deal is a top-of-mind “gimme.” Then, it’s back to the real world.
In the real world of radio, the opportunities to advertise absolutely phenomenal, cut-rate, bottom-dollar, chopped-to-the-bone, rock-bottom, never-to-be-repeated low, low prices that are not just part of the hype but are legitimate and can be proven, are rare indeed. “Extinction” is a word being bandied about in some spheres of influence.
Everybody involved in radio advertising accepts that longer-term time buys with laudable and influential creative is the gold standard for radio campaigns. Too bad it is that most stations are operating on the copper standard and will take any time-buy they can pick up and will be providing sub-standard copy.
Meanwhile, as to even a limited top-of-mind-awareness over the longer term – and by that I mean an awareness that might last beyond the next set of traffic lights – expecting a listener/consumer to remain consciously aware of what they heard on a spot is, simply, a ridiculous notion. To demonstrate that, here is an easy quiz to put to any radio listener/consumer: “What,” they are to be asked, “are the last three radio commercials you heard where you went and bought the product?”
The responses have always been horribly unsatisfying and even downright grim. Consumers can’t recall much of anything, let alone a non-motivating and vacuous radio spot. There is, however, a silver lining to these bad tidings, and it has to do with the expectations of the value of recall. This is also the “creepy influence” part advanced in the title. Although an element of the field of neuro-rocketology, what has continuously been proven is this: Recall is not required to generate a desirable behavior. Well-crafted spots aired over time will do the job quite nicely.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org