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Better Commercials

May 20, 2021

The most negative feedback a radio station, or any advertising-supported platform, receives is about commercials. Consumers generally hate them. Yet, these same consumers will actually quote famous, effective campaigns:

“Where’s The Beef?”

“Real Men of Genius”


So, is the issue the actual presence of commercials or their quality?

Kantar recently released their 2021 Creative Effectiveness Awards. Among the criteria used in rating ads were: they are “distinctive” and they “trigger an emotional connection in the audience.”

As a recovering Program Director, I remember that some of my biggest battles were over the quality of the commercials we aired. For the most part, radio is beholden to what comes out of local and national agencies. Most of the selections were, frankly, regrettable.

The cliché screaming car ads, the incessant repetition of phone numbers, and the lame reads from business owners. Yes, these pay the bills, but do they also repel the audience? More importantly, do they work?

Actually, the answer is often yes. Frequently it’s not due to the creativity or the messaging but because of radio’s awesome reach and frequency. I give you exhibit A: Kars 4 Kids (it is ear worming its way through your brain right now).

The Kantor piece is focused on television and is somewhat self-serving. Their big push is for pre-testing ads. They even link to their automated market research platforms. This is great if the advertiser has a seven- or eight-figure marketing budget. Our local clients do not live in that rarefied air.

Is there a solution to this? Heavy spot loads are a fact of radio life. Two eight-minute stop sets is the norm for most stations. While many have called for lower loads and higher rates, the reality is – it’s not going to happen.

However, we can do better.

First, make creativity and connection a priority in locally produced ads. Larger station Program Directors demand this in their imaging and produced promos. They would not allow a lame morning show or major station promo on their air. Their imaging is crisp, (hopefully) connective, and always true to the brand. Why can’t the same standards be applied to local commercials?

Look, I’m not a Pollyanna. I realize some of this is beyond local control. National ads are what they are – we have to live with that. Some local agencies are stuck in their own silos and would never listen to outside feedback. However, we can start the process by raising the bar for those commercials we do control. We are in the entertainment business, after all.

Second, why can’t we pre-test commercials? Most stations have active listener databases. Many also have active listener advisory panels. These P1 listeners are frequently asked about songs and on-air bits. Why not use these resources to improve the quality of commercials?

Sure, they say they hate commercials. They also laugh out loud at the Progressive Insurance “Dr. Rick” ads. They are engaged by the Nike “What will they say about you?” campaign. Wouldn’t you like to know what the audience thinks of the local car dealer who runs 30 spots a week on your station?

This may be happening at some levels, but we can do better. Most of the spots I hear on the radio are at a minimum forgettable and at most annoying.

Everything that comes out of the speakers affects listening. Isn’t it time we try to turn radio’s biggest negative into something better?

Thoughts? Share in the comment box below.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant