Low-Tech Tactic In A High-Tech World


(By Bob McCurdy) We expect creativity when it comes to radio commercial content, but what about a little creativity when it comes to commercial length? Why is it that one commercial length typically airs throughout an entire campaign regardless of the campaign’s duration?

It can’t be because of “cost,” as editing a 30 or 60 into a 10 or 15 is neither difficult nor expensive. The same holds true for creating an entirely new piece of ten or fifteen-1second creative. Yet, the use of one commercial length is exactly what occurs with the majority of radio campaigns.

Is there a way for an advertiser to get more bang for their buck by doing otherwise? There likely is, for one simple reason: we process commercials differently upon subsequent exposures versus initial exposures. Reflect on how you interact with commercial messaging. Are you typically as engaged with a commercial upon subsequent exposures, as you were the initial exposure? Not unless you are Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day. It is challenging enough to get full engagement with the first exposure, much less subsequent exposures.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it is challenging to command one hundred percent of our limited cognitive bandwidth. This is why most advertising is absorbed in a lean back, passive fashion, which is OK as passive messaging registers and is effective. Second, we absorb commercial messaging the same way we process anything else we hear multiple times, we begin to thin-slice. Thin-slicing as it pertains to media describes the process of determining  continued ad engagement based only on “thin slices” (a few seconds) of commercial exposure via a three-stage process. It goes like this for radio:

– Have I heard it before?
– Is it relevant to me?
– Do I need to remain engaged?

The reality is that commercial engagement, or engagement with anything else we hear or see in life, is inversely related to the number of times we hear or see it.

So if this entire thin-slicing process takes only a few seconds, and a campaign has been airing for several weeks with a large percentage of a station’s audience already exposed, thus thin-slicing, why continue to pay for and exclusively air thirties or sixties?

This is not a budget-saving strategy but an engagement maximization strategy: keep the same budget but generate more impact per ad dollar. Thin-slicing is why much advertising beyond the first several impressions serves the primary purpose of “reminding” and not “teaching.” The first exposure or two serves the function of teaching the listener about the offer, subsequent exposures serves the purpose of reminding about the offer. Use the longer commercials to teach those who have yet to be exposed to the campaign’s messaging and the shorter commercials to remind those who have.

There are a number of reasons to consider this tactic:

— Extend the duration of the campaign, stretching a four-week 60-second campaign to five or six weeks using sixties, tens or fifteens, thus enhancing advertiser visibility.
— Provide the listener with additional reasons to believe/purchase/act.
— Protect, maintain, or build share-of-voice. Les Binet, Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB, and Peter Field studied the world’s largest database of marketing case studies and concluded that if share-of-voice exceeds share-of-market, sales tend to grow. If share-of-voice is similar to share-of- market, sales tend to be stable. If share-of-voice is smaller than share-of-market, sales tend to shrink. Interestingly just the other day the Journal of Advertising Research published an article corroborating the importance of share-of-voice: “Advertising share-of-voice and creative quality exert a more consistent impact on sales than promotions for quick service restaurant (QSR) chains.”
— Increase attention/engagement. Various length commercials can increase the number of “first,” more engaged exposures and limit thin-slicing.

The takeaway is that there could be a benefit to thinking less traditionally when it comes to commercial lengths. If the goal is to generate maximum impact, “mental availability” and visibility for advertisers, it might make sound strategic sense to consider rotating in shorter-form commercials, particularly throughout multi-week campaigns. These shorter commercials, coupled with longer units, enables an advertiser with a smaller budget to level the playing field against larger competitors more by matching wits and not necessarily budget.

Success in advertising is a game of inches. The above tactic might contribute a few.

Bob McCurdy is the Vice President of Sales for The Beasley Media Group and can be reached at [email protected]


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