by Trent Rentsch
Once again this week, I heard someone tolling the death knell for radio. It's the same noise I've been hearing, well, since I started in the business. “NOBODY listens to radio anymore!! WHY would I waste my advertising dollars on a dying medium?” Lord... if I had a nickel. I think we can all agree that, while there have been endless changes and increased pressure from other advertising mediums, radio is doing just fine... loyal following, decent revenue, good advertising value. So why do the naysayers keep insisting that radio is nearing its end? Probably for the same reason people have been insisting that print is dying since the inception of radio -- people are quick to move on to something new, and seem to have no tolerance for the old medium. Personally, I think Digital Marketeers could learn a lot from radio... and honestly, radio could still learn a few things from the days when print was King.
Imagine what it was like, traveling from town to town with your play, or band or dance company or magic show. How were you going to fill those seats? No radio or TV ads, no eblasts, no Google Ads. All you had to rely on was print. You might slip a few bucks to the local newspaper editor for a favorable advance review, but more often than not, the “paper” that got you the biggest bang for the buck were posters... the bigger, the gaudier, the better. Shows would hire teams of kids to glue them on every available wall in a new city... often starting “paper battles,” as a group from one show would start gluing their posters over those of another show.
These posters weren't hastily cut, pasted, and PhotoShopped 8 by 10s that were mass-printed at Kinkos. The process used was called lithography, a painstaking, laborious printing medium that used limestone plates to produce bright, vibrant works of art that enticed the “local yocals” to pay their dime to see a show. Companies like the Strobridge Lithographing Company were well-known for their production of circus and theatrical posters, featuring death-defying feats and dramatic scenes, guaranteed to pack the house. Each show would develop their own unique style... a female singer might have a poster adorned with roses, a circus might fill their posters with wild animals, a magician might perch a devilish imp on their shoulder, or feature a woman floating impossibly high over his head.
As time has gone by, Lithographs have become a huge collectible, not only for their artistic and nostalgic value, but also because surviving originals are rare, as they were printed on thin, cheap paper, and were normally just ripped down after a show left a town, or pasted over by the next traveling show.
As both a magic and advertising geek, it comes as no surprise that I am a fan of old magic Lithographs. While I can't afford originals, I do have several reproductions. In fact, when we moved into new offices a couple of months ago, I broke down and purchased my all-time favorite and hung it in my new studio. It advertises a British Magician named David Devant, who performed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A gifted performer, innovative inventor and shrewd businessman, Devant isn't well-remembered today, but in his time was known around the world, and invented tricks that stage magicians still perform today. While many of his contemporaries produced posters that hinted of supernatural powers and often ghoulish, thrilling effects of blood and gore, Devant took a completely different tack. In his Lithograph, he has his back to the viewer, holding a magic wand in one hand, and a top hat with a rabbit peeking out of it in his other, while the real stars of the poster are the members of the audience... young, old, women, men, children, smiling, laughing, puzzled, stunned... a different emotion on each face. Across the poster his name is tastefully inscribed in bold, green letters, and under it, in script, are the words, “All done by kindness.”
Smart man, Mr. Devant. He understood that it wasn't about his considerable skills of prestidigitation, or the gaudy props, or Devilish horrors. The magic, the real magic, was thoroughly entertaining a large group of people, young and old, with tricks that would delight, befuddle, and amaze... just as the audience in the poster. When you see the faces in that audience, you want to see what they are seeing... enjoy what they are experiencing.
I look up at the poster often during the day. It reminds me to consider my Creative as it lands on the ears of the listener. How will they perceive my words, will the message resonate, will they be compelled to action... or simply to switch to another station?
For any medium to grow and flourish, it can't be content to entertain itself; it needs to always keep its audience top of mind and speak its language. That “mind” in “theatre of the mind” is your listeners... it sometimes takes an old print ad to remind me of that.
Trent Creates words, voices, audio and music. His current professional home is Krash Creative. Give him a piece of your mind at