by Dave Foxx
After I finished last month’s column, I went back and re-read it and had a thought: What if I were to point out all the mistakes I’ve seen programming/promotions/production people have made? My second thought came immediately after: Nah… that would take an entire book. Besides, I might hurt somebody’s feelings. My third thought came a bit later: So what? This isn’t something where everybody gets a participation trophy. This is business, and there are winners and losers. My fourth thought was: Stop listing your thoughts Dave, just list the top 10 mistakes and explain why they're so awful. So, here we are.
Clearly, I am depending on the Dave Foxx 6.5 memory system for these, meaning I may have forgotten some of the more egregious mistakes. Consequently, my list is going to be the Top 10 Most Common Mistakes I see people make over and over again, spread over 2 columns. This will not be all encompassing, in fact there’s a good chance that I will rewrite various parts of this column 3 or 4 times as I remember something worse. Also, these mistakes generally count for imaging and commercial work and aren’t in any particular order. Here are the first 5:
10. Let’s repeat the phone number 12 to 15 times so the audience will remember it, or at least have time to write it down.
Really? What do your listeners do, drive around with a pen and paper, waiting for you to give the phone number? Of course not! 94% of the time (A REAL statistic that’s been proven time and again), they are barely aware of what is on the radio. They are doing homework, watching submarine races, driving their car trying to avoid an accident, having a small party or any one of a thousand other things. Honest to Pete, they aren’t thinking about whatever it is you’re saying. Don’t be broken-hearted, it’s just the way it is so deal with it.
That would seem to make the concept of radio advertising pretty pointless, except for one thing: Emotions. In a 30-second span you should be able to grab the listener’s attention, for just a moment, as he slips off her bra strap in the dark on lover’s lane. If you can do that, you can give him something that’s easy to remember like, “The Nissan Sentra is a sexy car” or, “Z100 is the best for hit music.” That’s all you really get. Ever. The other 26-seconds is a build-up to that very moment. Try to give them more than that and you will lose every time. I mean, what would be more interesting to you, the local bake shop’s phone number seven times or that little patch of bare skin on her shoulder?
Repeating a phone number more than once is just like saying, “Change the station. Change the station now. Change the station RIGHT NOW so you can get back to the soundtrack of your love affair.” Phone numbers in commercials are almost always a waste of time, unless your number is 1-800-Win A Million Bucks. Numbers are not emotional. Numbers are, by definition, intellectual. Repeating the number is irritating beyond belief. If you want the primary image of your radio station or client to be “irritating,” then repeating the phone number is right up your alley. If your client’s name is 1-800-Flowers, you get a pass, otherwise cut the phone numbers OUT. (If you must, teach the client why phone numbers are bad. Really bad.)
9. Screaming at the top of your lungs will get the listener’s attention, so you should yell all the way through the commercial.
A lot of programmers and clients think that shouting the message will give the commercial or promo a sense of “urgency.” (Think car dealers.) They’re wrong. It’s obnoxious and rude. If you want urgency, pick up the pace and sound a bit breathless. Try to imagine that you really have to visit the restroom while you’re reading. That sounds urgent. Yelling sounds stupid. Honest. Your audience wants to be romanced a bit. They have to be enticed to action. I like to think of the work we do as the Art of Gentle Persuasion.
8. I have a joke that makes me laugh every time I hear it. We need to incorporate that into this promo/commercial.
Humor can be deadly to our endeavors. If it’s off color (even a little), if it’s a pun, if it’s a really wry sort of joke, a large portion of the audience will either not get it or think it’s in terribly bad taste. And how many times will this “joke” play on your station? 50? A couple hundred? Really bad idea. Humor can also be the key to opening Broca’s area of the brain, which is the key point at which the real message needs to be delivered. It needs to be gentle, will usually be self-deprecating (making fun of yourself) and will seldom get a big belly laugh, but it will make you smile. That’s Broca’s area responding, telling your brain that something is humorous and leaving the door open to a simple, clear message.
The upshot of this is pick your humor very carefully. Test it on a few people, preferably in your target demo. If they groan, axe it. If they make an awful face, it’s gone. BUT, if they smile, you’ve got a winner.
7. It’s extremely important or legally required that the audience understands how this contest works, so we have to tell them when to call or text, at what number, with what information and we have to give all relevant disclaimers.
To start, if you have to legally give a disclaimer, you are giving the audience WAY too much information.
When car dealers do a price/item commercial, advertising a particular vehicle they have in stock, they are required by regulation to give that ridiculous, unintelligible, sped up disclaimer that discloses the MSRP, tags and taxes fees, leasing company name, ad nauseum, that goes on for 10 or 15 seconds. Seriously? I know it’s required, but who the heck really listens to that? I’ll tell you: NOBODY. The solution is to never do a price/item commercial. Do a spot that excites the buyers out there. You want to talk about that “top down, wind blowing in your hair, sexy” part of owning a Jim Bob Boy car. Long experience has taught me that a price/item commercial (of any kind) will attract a very limited number of people, but getting sexy will drive traffic right up to their door for a much longer time.
Promos work exactly the same way. Cut out all that verbal vomit about how and when and what number. It’s just so much noise to a little more than 95% of your audience that AGAIN, invites them to tune out. That’s another actual number that is born out in every bit of research I’ve seen. Less than 5% of your audience will EVER pick up a phone or text, tweet or Facebook to win any prize, regardless of its size. Think instead about making the contest a part of the larger image you want your audience to connect to your station. The contest will only be a bonus to the rest of your fantastic image, never the central theme of the station. Contests generally work better when they are something beyond “call in and win.” They need to involve the entire audience, even the ones who won’t call. Trivia is an excellent example. (Think Jeopardy on TV.) Even someone who would never dream about playing a contest, can play along in their car. Other great ideas include Hi-Lo contests, Guess What’s In The Box contests or Concentration type games. The audience can play along and get involved without ever actually trying to win.
Oh, and one last bit of research: the bigger the prize, the less likely people will participate. When you give away a million dollars, everybody will assume that they’ll be competing with millions of other people, so they drop out before it starts. T-shirts, Gift Cards, concert tickets, amusement park passes and free MP3 downloads will always get a much better, steadier response. Meeting an artist backstage or other experiential prize gets some extra points, but only to fans of that artist. Not everybody LOVES Demi Lovato or Luke Bryan.
The legal requirements go away when you don’t give the contest structure. Point them to your website and you can pop the disclaimers there. The only folks who check will be people who want to win that prize and need to know what the disclaimer says. The only time a disclaimer is absolutely required on the air is when there’s a fee or cost, like “standard text and data rates apply”, and that’s only required when you tell them to text, not during the promo.
6. Let’s use Eye Of The Tiger for the bed on this spot for the gym because it’s the Rocky workout theme.
I know, I know… there’s been a LOT of ink used explaining why this is blatantly illegal and could get your station sued by the publisher, but I still hear it… a lot.
Some of you might remember a singer from 20 years or so ago named Neneh Cherry. She is the sister of Eagle-Eye Cherry from the family of one-hit-wonders. When her song Buffalo Stance was carrying her through her 15 minutes of fame, she came to Z100 to promote a show she was doing at a local club. We were running a promo using her music to promote a ticket giveaway, which she heard on her way into the station. When she arrived, she wanted to know if we had licensed her song for that promo. After we picked our jaws up from the floor, we called legal to find out what to do. They gave the correct response that technically, she was within her rights. So we pulled the promo and cancelled the promotion. Who needs that kind of aggravation? We never saw her again, so I don’t feel bad. Truth be told, that is the ONLY time I have witnessed that sort of cheekiness, and we still use artists music to promote ticket giveaways, but technically….
There are the first 5. If you have some ideas about what to include in the next 5, please drop me a quick note at
For my sound this month, I am posting work by someone else. It’s such a clever idea that would be easy to do on your station (unless you’re in Denver.) I am all about clever ideas, so this is perfect.
First an explanation: Have you noticed how your Sales Team is trying to sell sponsorships to everything on the air? News, Traffic, Weather and special features like the Top 5 at 5 or The All Request Lunch hour are all getting sponsors these days. Roger King and the crew at 1067KBPI/Denver have responded with a series of “the next 3 seconds of BPI…” sponsorships that I find hilarious. I hope you do too. My cut this month is a sampling of short sweepers (one file) that I love.