Your Imaging is a Commercial. Get Over It.

What commercial gets played on your station the most? Answer: Your imaging -- sweepers, promos, jingles, even when it is spoken by a (presumably) human voice. Oh…were you expecting another answer? Have you ever thought of imaging as a spot?

Imaging is a Commercial 400pxHere’s The Truth… When something (other than the “DJ” or “presenter”) interrupts the “show”, the audience perceives that as a commercial. Listeners sort of know the difference, but subliminally, your imaging is the most repetitive commercial on your station. The more you repeat it and the longer they listen, the deeper it gets drilled into their brains. But for the most part, they don’t care about your imaging -- which is A SPOT, a spot for YOUR STATION.

Did the above statements punch you in the gut? I hope so. You’re probably screaming one of these phrases at the screen or page you’re reading this on right now: “How DARE you compare MY imaging to a LOWLY SPOT!” “I’d NEVER put those two in the same category.” “Who wrote this?! Who does this guy think he is?’

Here’s more truth (a.k.a. gut punch #2): listeners are far more likely to easily recall a client’s spot than your imaging. You want proof? Just ask them. They’ll tell you.

During your station’s next “focus group” test, ask this question: “What commercials do you hear most often on our station?” Their answer will probably be the paid client ad they hear the most often, or the one that angers or “entertains” them. Some of them will name a spot that may not have aired in months, or possibly years -- you know, the one with the two talking squirrels, the funny jingle, or the repetitive (and effective) slogans.

They’re NOT going to say, “the commercials where the guy (or woman) between the songs says the name of the radio station.” Now ask these same people what their favorite radio station is…and you’re praying with fingers crossed that they’ll say YOUR call letters or moniker. They may not perceive imaging as a commercial, but it is.

How much time out of each hour does your station devote to programming elements other than music and promos -- IDs, sweepers, weather sounders, etc.? For argument’s sake, let’s say it’s 90 seconds per hour. 90 seconds per hour over 24 hours = 36 minutes per day. What’s the average spot rate at your station for a 30-second ad? (If you don’t know, ask your sales manager because you should know this.)

Let’s assume the average spot rate is $100. That equals $300 per 90 seconds. $300/hour x 24 hours = $7,200. PER DAY. That’s the value of the time that your station is sacrificing daily towards the bottom line just to promote itself. If you’re wondering, that’s $2.6 million per year (which could be wildly higher or lower depending on your format and market).

That’s a heck of a budget to promote your station with imaging elements. But make no mistake, your imaging IS a SPOT. And the longer your imaging elements are, the more likely it is they are a distraction. Your station probably sells 10- and 15-second spots. If your imaging elements are reaching that length, you’re probably crossing that line when it’s no longer some quick “ID” to the listener… but a “commercial”.

Talk ISN’T bad…as long as what the sweeper is saying is just a tap on the shoulder as to say…”remember, you’re listening to…”

So, should you write or produce your imaging differently because it is a commercial? Absolutely not. Just make sure the audience gets the message of your call letters/slogan clearly and concisely

Promos clearly are perceived more as commercials by the listener, because they are longer and have more information. But the same rules of being clear but brief with your message applies.

On the other hand, Beat-Mix Promos are Worthless Infomercials. Is there any listener benefit to beat-mixing the top 12 or 15 songs into a long promo? Does your station sound like that 24/7? Doubtful. Do your beat-mixes have your station’s name or slogan between every transition? Probably not. Therefore, what tactical advantage does a beat-mix promo give your station? Answer: None -- especially if you have a direct competitor in your format.

Are they entertaining? Sure. They can be. But in the long run, you’re spending WAY too much time producing something that is nothing more than a barricade to giving your audience what they want to hear: THE FULL SONG. That’s why they listen to your station in the first place. You don’t need a beat-mix promo to promote the music you play. Your station’s music sweeps ARE the music promos.

It’s also nothing more than a fart in the wind. Nobody in a month will be able to recall it. They don’t care how well you can use Pro Tools or the Time Stretch plugin on Audition under some sick beat you created in FL Studio. When asked, no one in your audience will say “I love how they beat-mix all of today’s top hits together in a promo.” Beat-mixes only take time away from what the audience wants to hear.

The bottom line: Your station sacrifices a LOT of money to promote itself. Use that time wisely. Long-form “imaging” other than promos don’t really help you. Give the audience what they want to hear. Anything else is most likely a distraction or roadblock.

Tim Burt has written, recorded, and produced more than 30,000 commercials world-wide. He is a highly sought-after international advertising coach for businesses, and a public speaker for radio and television stations sales teams. He welcomes your correspondence at For more, go to

Comments (5)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Back when I started moving from radio to TV-audio production, I got to work on a seminar for all the affiliates of one of the big networks. The message to those station GMs?
You are the most important advertiser on your air.

Jay Rose
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I’m surprised programmers don’t use a program like Nielsen’s TAPSCAN (that sales reps use for their clients) to better schedule promos. It answers the question: “How many times do I have to run this promo to reach 80% of my cume three times?” Seems like important details to me. Reach & Frequency. Smart use of those valuable promo avails.

Jerry Vigil
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Smart that every broadcaster should heed. Several years ago, Z100 tested the number of times a spot (of any variety) had to air to gain meaningful penetration. The findings, not surprisingly, said something like 45 times to reach 80% of the audience. These figures are approximate as they were hiding deep in my cortex, but it was close to that. Obviously, they can be wildly different depending on a station's levels of P1 vs. P2 and 3 listeners, PLUS the impact and brevity play into penetration a lot.

Dave Foxx
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

You have the New York Take maybe SAG AFTRA Take. Maybe Contract? Yes your Station Voice if you or not have a Contract ? to add to "Special Imaging Care" Your Imaging is PROFESSIONAL! Your VOICE knows their Bag!,How many "Commercials" can we say that about? You may do most of it in House till THE GUEST VOICE arrives- The Nephew of the owner of that Company Car Dealer...and with their 'read' that take Inflection back to Neanderthal...I guess each Station is a little different

Adam Garey
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Funny when I tried to tell my manager years ago that imaging is heard as a commercial by listeners i was just made fun of in subsequent emails. I can't do real creative unless I slap call letters on the first sentence. I will produced something and he has called me to say it sounds like a commercial and it needs to be changed. My creative stopped the day he arrived.... So my goal is to write to him and what he wants to hear on air not what my interest the listener. Yeah those old school PD's still exist.

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