I want to apologize for the title of this blog. My digital person, Isabel, read some piece about how people with degrees in Economics are the new Money Demo, so she gave me a list of key words to work into our content. Like “gold standard”, “market fluctuation” and “adaptive expectations”.
I was going to call this “Only Radio…” as in “Only Radio…could take something as simplistic, yet, amazing, as Facebook and fuck it up. Honestly any 12 year-old should probably be running our social media because they understand that posting a photo of a Golden Retriever licking his genitals will get 8000% more reach than “What do you think of Austin Mahone’s new belt?”
One of the Townsquare clusters in Montana that I worked with posted a classified ad from the local paper of some woman shaming her son by selling his pickup truck because he’d been an idiot. The hits, views and reach were MORE than all of my top 10 market stations combined.
So, only Radio could take something as compelling as giving away cash and fuck it up as witnessed by the ridiculously low numbers of people who will participate in our promotions.
If I took an ad in the Forest Lake Times and announced that on Saturday at 1:08 (who talks that way?) I’d be in the parking lot at Home Depot and would be giving away $1000 to someone, it would be Woodstock. There’d be cops, crowds, riots, and bears in the bushes as C.W. McCall would say.
Yet, we do The Incredible Free Money Song Of The Day and maybe 7% of people will play it. If Taco Bell had a menu item that only 7% of customers would buy, they’d yank it. And we’re not even asking people to pay money? Call and win $1000.
Why? Because we’ve done what Radio does best: we’ve dumbed down and chlorinated that experience to sounding as exciting as getting a boil lanced.
I checked a major market last year where the iHeart, CBS and Cumulus stations were all doing “The $1000 Free Money Text”. I’m not kidding.
First, remember, the only reason to do contests? To make promos. That’s all. To make the listening experience fun and compelling and maybe, if we make it sound exciting enough, maybe more people will want to play.
“But Paige, in a PPM World™…” Oh yeah. The stopwatch people.
I imagine these people in the studio with Spielberg going “Too many dinosaurs!!!! Just show one and then get to the scene of the kid getting stomped.”
PPM is like reading tea leaves. The Selector geeks will point out really tight and boring stations that do well. Cool. I’ll point out an equal number of fun and creative stations that are kicking ass in PPM.
90.3 in Calgary? Launched soft, was tight, clinical and 18 months into it no one knew they existed. Then they brought in Paul Kaye and in eight months he did nine of the noisiest, stupidest, craziest most fun promotions in Canadian Radio and guess what? They pulled the highest numbers in the history of the dial position. To which I say, “Gee, ya think?”
I lobbed one of the promotions they did, 30 listeners in pink body suits for 30 days to win $5000 and a meet and greet with Pink, past a US station. One of their consultants said “It’s a little too ‘Springerish’.” Yes. Because Jerry Springer was a total failure.
Dare to have fun with the imaging. Hot in Ottawa did the $10,000 Cash Hit and for a station that is already #1 in pretty much every demo, they somehow were able to add to all of those numbers. They were REALLY #1. The contest was pretty simple and to the point: when Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake” played, caller 89 won $10,000. But they had actual fun with the imaging which I shared with a US station and got “I could have cut that down to 23 seconds!!!!” as a reply.
I wanted to point out that Hot’s going to have to start waiting for listeners to have kids because they’ve scraped the potential listening audience dry, while, this guy’s station is being beaten by a really bad radio station. But man are they tight.
Promos are the same as spots on TV in many ways, and there are lessons to be learned. Like, characters. Great TV campaigns have characters. Flo. The Geiko gecko. The Corona dude.
Great TV campaigns have the balls to be silly. The Bud “Real Men Of Genius”? Can you imagine running that by a Radio Guy in 2017? “I don’t get it. He’s singing poorly. No one wants to hear bad singing!”
I work with a station that was #1 for over two decades and they had a revolving cast of people who would be in their imaging. When you heard “The Berglund family”, you knew it was going to be special. When you heard the misogynistic GM, you knew it was going to be great. The characters enhanced the stationality and gave a premise to the promotion. We’re not doing the $1000-an-hour group contest because we’re trying to force listenership, we’re doing it because the bastard GM is giving away the airstaff’s Christmas bonuses because they pissed him off.
They did fantastic promotions that were way better than they would have been with just lame imaging.
And then….they brought in a new PD who felt that “creativity gets in the way of the message”. 20 years at #1 and they were 10th 12+ within two years, for a large part because they stopped delivering what the audience had come to expect when they tuned in: fun.
Arguably the biggest contest in US Radio was The Last Contest. It was the sexiest most descriptive presentation of prizes ever. The appt. times weren’t for playing the contest, they were for the unveiling of a new prize pack that the winner could choose from. “$10,000”? Nah. They did “Prize Pack #217: win thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.”
When they finally DID play cue, they shut down phone service to something like 40% of San Diego.
Contests suck. Games are fun. Games have a TBD outcome which is why any kind of “Beat The…” methodology kills. It plays to the 93% of people who are sitting in traffic and are sucked in by an event that’s unfolding on the radio. They play along. And if the person gets zonked? Well, that’s life. It’s a game. People win and people lose.
The Art of Promotions is to simply stand out. So with everyone doing promotions that sound the same, doing The Free Money Dog? That stands out. (Done by KTFM during their 20 year run as #1 in San Antonio.} The Incredible Free Money Song Of The Day rarely is Incredible. If you USE “incredible”, you’d better deliver or use it as a parody of other contests.
“Wango Tango”? One of the best concert names ever. In 2017 I could see this being shot down as “I don’t want to dilute the message. It needs to state what it is. I don’ get it.”
We’re in an industry of Mensa candidates.
So when the Budget God looks down from on high and bequeaths you with a lump sum of money or a trip or a car, ask yourself:
That’s the ultimate litmus test. If you think you can do something that people will be able to recall in 30 days, holy crap. Run, don’t walk, to the studio and get it on the air.