advertising lessons from coca-cola summer

It’s summertime. I know this for two reasons: It’s hot and I’m hearing more Coke commercials on the radio.

Whenever I hear Coca-Cola jingles on the radio, my mind goes back to the mid-1990s and the “Always Coca-Cola” campaign.

Those were my radio days and I distinctly remember the Coke commercial reel at the station. I was still doing production grunt work and I had to dub the Coke commercials we needed off the 7-inch reel (which I’m sure was half track stereo tails out at 15 ips) onto a cart for use on the air.

The reel had a lot on it. There was the standard jingle, but the reel also had about 20 different tracks in :30 and :60 versions. There were different cuts for different radio station formats. It was essentially the same jingle that had been remixed as a country version, an urban one, a rock mix, etc.

I found all those customized cuts remarkable at the time because it helped us keep the format of the station on track even during stop-sets. But looking back with branding and advertising strategy in mind, there’s a good lesson there for any business. Customize your message for your audience.

In the nineties, only companies like Coca-Cola could work on that level of customization with mass media. Today with targeted keywords, landing pages, social media channels, and much more; anyone can do it. It’s lazy not to customize your marketing.

Also looking back, I wish that I had lifted one of those reels out of the station. It would have been a unique piece of Coke memorabilia. I’m sure it stayed in the production filing cabinet until I probably threw it away when we moved the studios.

(side note for the observant reader: Why is this version only :48 instead of :60? It’s for the local station to drop a :12 tag at the end.)

learning marketing from local media

So your {insert local media outlet} is offering a free seminar that will “teach you how to market your business”.

How benevolent of them to offer such a community service.

I’m amazed at how many small businesses are suckered into attending these events and don’t realize the true motivation behind the “seminar”.

If the radio station is sponsoring this knowledge fest, I’ll bet you my hat that they will try to convince people that radio is the best option. The newspaper seminar will tell you the printed word is the way to go. The TV station’s seminar will tell you why radio and newspaper are a waste of money. And now added to the mix, you have agencies that have a small social media following teaching the way to Facebook and Twitter bliss.

Think about this: Would you go to the “How to choose the best place to buy a car” seminar hosted by the local car dealership?

The truth is that every advertising medium has strengths and weaknesses. It depends on what you’re trying to communicate and who you’re trying to reach.

Just because a salesperson has the words “marketing consultant” on their business card doesn’t mean you should listen to them about your overall marketing strategy. They’re doing their job trying to capture as much of your marketing budget as they can. You should never let someone sell you advertising; you should buy it.

The only reason to ever go to the local media outlet’s seminars is that they typically offer some really good deal to the attendees. If you’re planning on buying from them anyway, it’s a good way to save some money. It’s like going on vacation and sitting through an hour of a timeshare pitch just to get free theme park tickets.

And shame on marketing speakers who lead biased events like this.

tips from a radio dinosaur

I spent 14 years of my life behind a microphone while being exposed to RF radiation.

And while it’s been a little more than 5 years since the last time I held down a regular airshift … enough time for the entire industry to change and most of my operational knowledge to become obsolete … there are radio fundamentals that never change. These core basics are centered not around the technology or current trends, but on the listener relationship.

Most of the problems with current radio talent lie in the fact that the old training grounds have been torn down by technology. My first “real” airshift when I started in radio was midnight-6am on Saturday night/Sunday morning. The drunks and people working the 3rd-shift are much more forgiving as you make mistakes and learn. It’s a great place to experiment, discover what doesn’t work, and find your voice. Today, in most markets, the overnight shift has been taken over by automation. Newbies don’t need to start in a drivetime airshift; they need a place to develop their talent.

The place to develop that talent is not through voice tracking. Knocking out a 6 hour shift in 30 minutes is a positive for the station’s bottom line once you know what you’re doing, but radio novices need to get a feel for how the flow of the station occurs in real time. There is a certain zen quality of actually having to sit and wait for 3 or 4 minutes to pass before you can fire that next event. It makes you think about what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. It lets you experience the station in the same way the listener does. And obviously actually being there in real time allows interaction with listeners though the phone (and I guess through social media now as well).

Fast tracking radio talent also allows a bypass of one of the most important events in every radio career; the ego snapback.

Every radio personality has an ego. It’s essential to the job. Great air talent has to convey a bigger-than-life feel that makes the listener think they’re listening to the most important stuff in the world. After they initially get comfortable being on the air, radio newbies start to drink their own Kool-Aid. At some point in their career, a listener, an advertiser, a boss, or something lets them know they’re not all that they think they are.

*****

All these things are contributing to the decline of good radio; both on the big picture macro level as well as minor bad habits that I’m hearing hear more and more in large, medium, and small sized markets across the country. Just a few that are standing out to me:

Me. Me. Me.— This one is becoming intolerable as a result of the lack of the aforementioned ego snapback event. Save for maybe 10 / 15 air personalities in the country; no one cares about the life happenings of any “DJ”. What you did or are going to do doesn’t interest anyone but you. Great air talent talks about the life of the listener; not themselves.

“All of you out there” — Radio works best as an intimate conversation as one person talking to one person. When you either remind the listener that they are just one of many or you place distance between you and the listener, it’s a subliminal death knell.

“Your Sunday.” “Your weekend.” “Your afternoon.” — This is a crutch. People don’t own any days or time periods.

Sloppy boardwork and/or faulty automation — Events firing over each other. Last Tuesday’s weather playing on Thursday. Dead Air. Someone has to care about how the station sounds. This person is missing at many stations.

Overuse of meaningless filler— Hey there! How ya doin? That’s right!

Leaving the listener in the dark— Two ways this happens: One is a technical issue when listeners literally can’t hear what you’re saying because you’re not approaching the mic correctly or your gain and/or compression is too light/heavy and the music is drowning you out. You’ve lost the listener. The other way are inside jokes or non-universal content. Making the listener feels like a third-wheel outsider is not a way to win.

******

Nitpicking? Maybe. But the radio industry and each person in it has to ask this question: What differentiates a terrestrial radio station from an iPod? As the Internet enters the last bastion of radio, the car; what will make a consumer choose to spend their media time with the radio station rather than something else? The answer is the personality and the local connection. That’s always been the answer.

connecting the dots

Another printed newspaper went away today and with typical media self-absorption, the paper reported their own obituary with an in-depth report complete with a full page front page farewell. This death comes on the tails of last week’s Pew Research report that apparently shows that the public is not concerned with the demise of newspapers.

First off, I think the reports of the death of newspapers are widely overstated — because they’ve been over reported by the subjects themselves.  The Narcissus Media demands that other news orgs report on other news orgs. So the Seattle and Denver news deaths were front page news from the NY Times down to the Podunk Weekly Times (circulation 51).  The editors of other papers were interested in the deaths of these papers so they thought you would be too.

Plus some of these papers (which are actually for-profit businesses!) needed to die just like some banks need to die right now. Over-consolidation and over-monopolization of newspapers have caused unrealistic expectations from shareholders of these bloated behemoths corporations. (Radio, you’re next!) The reality is that with more available media outlets some markets can no longer support more than one major daily newspaper. (but what about the San Francisco Chronicle, you cry? Prediction: If the Chronicle does go under, there will be a new nimbler newspaper pop up in its place within a month.)

Despite the naysayers — there will always be a market for news and information. Sure, now is a rough economic time for any industry that depends on ad dollars — but a sensibly run media organization that’s looking to the future will be OK in the long run. That doesn’t mean that information will always be printed on sheets of dead trees and thrown on your doorstep. That model is going / will eventually go the way of the dodo. I think the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is a good coal mine canary to see if a traditional newspaper can transition to a new distribution model.

Every pundit, guru, and almost everyone in media has put their two cents in about the journalism “crisis” and have come up with a plethora of ideas from micropayments to new distribution models to crowdsourcing. Some have merit and some are “just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic” (a favorite phrase of the pundits). From my seat in the nosebleed section, I see that newspapers (and all traditional news media) have two main problems that need to be solved before the ship sinks:

Problem 1) — a house divided against itself cannot stand
I rail and rant against organizations that have no marketing/business strategy. And while having no strategy is a bad problem, there’s something that’s even worse — and that’s having two strategies. News organizations are particularly prone to this problem because of the supposed “editorial wall” (there’s a great post here about this problem). Walk into any traditional media outlet and ask 5 people what’s the organization’s plan for dealing with the new realities of communication, and you’ll get 5 answers that will be biased by the side of the wall they’re on.
REALITY: People read the newspaper for news. Go try to sell advertising in a paper that has no news content and see how far you go.
REALITY: Reporters want a paycheck. That Mac needs electricity to run. Advertising supports the economics of journalism.
SOLUTION: Every news organization needs to kill their separate internal tribes, come up with one war strategy that everyone agrees on, and fight the white man before he takes your land.

Problem 2) — the Brand has been forgotten
There’s a disconnect in perceptions when it comes to news coverage. While the news orgs are saying “You’ll miss us when we’re gone!“, the public is saying “uhhh, no we won’t“. It doesn’t matter who is right. But guess which group’s perception matters to the bottom line and staying in business?

Brand is perception. Perception is reality. What changed the public’s perception of the news brand into something they think they can live without?

Alot of people blame the emergence of online media for journalism’s current troubles. And while it’s a major factor, online is not what is killing newspapers. Newspapers saw the Internet coming way before you had your first AOL account. The trouble was that their first line of defense didn’t work in Web 1.0. When Web2.0 rolled around, they saw they missed the opportunity so now they’re trying to out amateur the amateurs — which is killing the brand image they’ve been cultivating for 50, 75, or 100 years. It’s not hard to find ameutuer-ish crap on the Internet, but it is hard to find sources of information that you’ve trusted for years.

The news media have not done a good job selling their USP. Instead of focusing on the one thing that they could do better than anyone else (local news), they wrapped 2% of news into 98% of other stuff that could easily be replicated by competitors and sold it as such.

The sale to the news consumer is not “you can’t get this type of information anywhere else”. It devolved into “buy a subscription and get a CD and an umbrella“.  News media have forgotten what they’re really selling so the consumer has forgotten as well. The public thinks they won’t miss the newspaper because the newspaper has cultivated a brand that they are the place to get the items that the public can now get other places in better ways. But there is no better way to get local news.

Problem 2 is the bigger problem and the one that will take the longest to fix. But the fix needs to start today.

Plus there’s a third problem of trying to fit old mass media models into new media which I addressed last fall.

just use the other ad

Good points made in this Ad Report Card article from Slate about what’s killing the effectiveness of online video ads.

Just like “in the good old days” when all businesses threw up a website that was nothing more than a virtual version of a brochure, we’re seeing advertisers use old-school models of creative and scheduling to do video on the web. Instead of developing creative that’s made exclusively for the web, broadcast creative is retooled to work online. Or worse yet, web only content is developed using the ideas that work for broadcast.

As with the writer of the article, using these types of web video ads may be hurting those advertisers rather than helping them.

Even though it’s a new format, it’s the same problem that marketers have always created. People tend to believe the creative tack that works well in one medium will work in the others. Back when I was in radio, salespeople would sometimes hand me a client’s newspaper ad and tell me to produce a radio spot from it. Lots of small businesses lift the audio track off their TV spots to run as radio commercials. It doesn’t work. Each form of media (especially online) needs special consideration to play to that medium’s strengths and work on that unique audience.

muscle shoals has got the swampers

Back in my radio career, in addition to managing operations for the stations in the group, I also held down several airshifts as a “radio personality”.

DJs get sick of songs way before you do. On the CHR formatted station, I played the same 9 current pop hits every 2 hours and 15 minutes until my ears bled. And while the burnout on songs on the classic rock, oldies, etc stations wasn’t as immediate, I got tired of them over the long term.

I played the same stuff so much that years later I can still remember that Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd was on GoldDisc 536 – cut 5. Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon was toward the bottom of the rack on the left on the “digital heart of rock” collection. I don’t remember the CD, but it was cut 17.

Needless to say, you can see I have played these songs numerous times. (and listened to them in other settings even more.) But until Kid Rock came out with All Summer Long this year, I had never noticed that Werewolves and Alabama had the same chord progression and sound the same in several spots.

I deal with a lot of people daily who have been doing the same thing for years. I speak to groups who are entrenched in the way things have always been. I consult with a lot of “experts” who know everything about something because they deal with it everyday.

When I get an inquiry for either a speaking engagement or a consulting gig, one of the first questions from the meeting planner or client usually is: Do you have any experience with our industry? Often, I answer that I don’t have experience with their industry, but I do know marketing and I can bring a fresh perspective. Sometimes that excites the person and sometimes the person is scared of going forward. Some of my best feedback has been from groups that I had never heard of before I spoke to them. I brought up things that they had never thought of.

Sometimes when you deal with the same thing everyday, you don’t notice the nuances and the opportunities. Things that should stand out clearly become wallpaper that blends in. I encourage you to start at square one with your marketing, your business, or anything. See if there’s a new way you can look at it. Or better yet, ask someone who has no clue about what you do if there’s something they can notice that you’ve missed for years.

mass media will never win on the web

Or at least they won’t think they’re winning because they’re still using the same yardstick for success that they’ve used for decades.

With broadcast and print media, success is measured in numbers with lots of zeroes on the end — both in terms of audience and cash.

Meanwhile, true success on the web is measured in (sometimes small) dedicated audiences.

The long tail does not fit the mass media model — in terms of audience or revenue. And yet, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and every other form of mass media have been trying to cram their square hole mass media model into a round online hole ever since the mid-90’s.

And they’ve been sitting in sackcloth and ashes since the start — lamenting that the web is taking over and they can’t replace the shrinking offline audience with a new online audience. And they worry that the old fistful of advertising dollars won’t follow that audience.

And they’re right. That audience and those ad dollars are gone. And the faster that mass media outlets stop trying to make those old models work, the faster they will find success.

It’s not new. We’ve seen it before on a lesser scale. Some huge radio stars couldn’t translate into being big TV stars. The Andy Griffith Show was better in black and white. No one wanted to hear what silent movie actors sounded like. But there was huge success and massive revenue to be found in the new worlds of television and talkies — when people stopped trying to cram the old model into the new.

Mass media needs to stop thinking about how to make people “read newspapers online” or “watch the evening news online”. They need to take a fresh look at what they’re doing. What does an online audience look like and how do they want to consume your product online? They need to “stop broadcasting and start narrowcasting“.

sing what’s in the brackets

Shotgun Marketing Blog presents: Real Media Spending Cutbacks
[Real Media Spending Cutbacks!]

Today we salute you, Mr. Anheuser-Busch Media Buyer.
[Mr. Anheuser-Busch Media Buyer!]

Anheuser-Busch has slashed radio spending that will hurt the broadcasting industry especially large radio companies like Clear Channel.
[Let’s play Monopoly!]

The bigwigs say they’re just moving money around. Sure. Moving it out of reach from Hits 97.3FM.

Why spend money in a local market when you can buy Super Bowl spots like they’re on the Dollar Menu?
[waldrobe malfunction!]

So crack open an ice cold newspaper classified section, Mr. Anheuser-Busch Media Buyer. Because it’s either that or picking up a shovel down in the Clydesdales‘ stables.
[Mr. Anheuser-Busch Media Buyer!]

Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Missouri Leuven, Belgium.

—————
(After writing this, I have new respect for the copywriters who do the Real Men of Genius campaign. You have to get the cadence exactly right or it doesn’t work.)

tuned in minority

It has struck me in the last few days how “in-tune” an internet reader is as opposed to the masses that get fed by the 24 hour news cycle.

I started noticing the Killer Tomato scare in the mainstream media and on hastily written signs at restaurants on Sunday. However, I already knew about it from a Nashville veggie lover on the Wednesday before.

Articles of impeachment were introduced in the House against President Bush on Monday night. Have you seen it on your cable news channel or in the newspaper yet? (caveat: there’s a tad bit of hype to it)

I read about the US strike in Pakistan this morning on the web. I consumed several types of traditional media today before I heard about it on the radio coming home this afternoon.

And I notice this happens over and over. People get in a tizz over something and I’m wondering why because I read about it a few days ago. Or I have started to notice that memes on the web will get picked up by the yucksters on the cable and network news shows a few days after they’ve fizzled online.

Here’s the thing — I am in the minority. (and if you’re reading this, you probably are too). The great sages who are saying the time is NOW that EVERYONE is getting news/info off the web apparently haven’t been talking to people in the real world. Everyone is not uploading videos and commenting on blogs. There’s a time gap (and sometimes a plain lack) of knowledge as it’s disseminated on the web and then through traditionally media.

Because of this, even though it’s egalitarian, the knowledge on the web comes with a heavy bias. It’s leaning toward those tuned-in consumers who are generating the some of the content and who are in the minority. The results don’t pan out in the real world. Don’t believe me? Ask Ron Paul.

Of course, the traditional media comes with its own long standing biases and the need to perpetuate its business model. But traditional media is not dead. It’s just slow and bloated. And the masses are even slower consumers of it.

So there’s opportunity for all here. The traditional media can start working to feed the hummingbird minority consumers. And the web can start bringing more of the lumbering hippos into the fold. They’ll either meet in the middle or one will crush the other.

old media

There’s lots of buzz about today’s news of the FCC relaxing media ownership rules.

Five or ten years ago, I would have been incensed about the decision. If you look back in time, you’ll see that every time the FCC “relaxes” the rules, monopolistic control of the media takes a big leap. And I’m sure this time will be no exception.

However, with today’s news, I really could care less. And this decision only affects the top 20 markets. Small markets are ignored. Big whoop.

Five or ten years ago, traditional media were still the only real game in town. Monopolies needed to be avoided. It was a sacred privilege and responsibility to own a transmitter or a printing press. That immense power needed to be spread out.

But today, everyone is the media. One of my big money quotes in my speaking engagements is that now everyone owns a printing press through the publishing power of the web. You’re reading my latest edition right now.

I’m fascinated with how traditional media are struggling with the rapid changes that continue to pop up. They’re moving in slow motion. And they’re wasting time arguing about things that are secondary to the threat that’s facing them.

It’s almost like the horse buggy manufacturers arguing with each other while Model T’s zip by outside.

The danger is that I don’t think “new media” is ready to take over the watchdog responsibility from old media. There’s not enough experience there. There’s no accountability. And there’s a lack of legitimacy from the powers-that-be. (A blogger and a newspaper reporter ask for an exclusive interview with the mayor — who do you think gets it?)

There will be (and already is) a major backlash about this FCC decision. But it’s a waste of time. It’s not about who owns the pipes or how many pipes they own in any market. It’s not about who owns transmitters and printing presses.

Today, it’s about who owns the content that the masses want to consume. And they don’t care how it’s delivered to them.