That's where an old radio friend is running the sales department at a radio station in Columbus.
He sent me a video and asked for my opinion.
The video is of a successful radio guru on a stage, presenting the results from a survey he conducted.
His thesis is that it's time for radio to make commercials shorter.
And his proof is in the form of the answers from a survey he conducted: radio listeners think radio commercials are too long.
IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO DENY THE EVIDENCE
He's an accomplished and authoritative guy with a successful practice.
And right there in his survey, the paid respondents are asked: when does an advertising message turn them off?
The number-one response was when it was too long.
Seeming to go hand-in hand with this is the proof from the behemoth of all things online, Google.
YouTube is now refusing to sell 30-second spots that are not skipable
That's right. If you want to buy a 30-second spot on YouTube, the viewer has to be able to skip through it, or it just isn't gonna fly.
SO, SINCE YOUTUBE IS DOING IT, SHORTER MUST BE OBVIOUSLY BE BETTER
They are, after all, part of Google's empire, which is set on world domination through digits.
Moreover, since radio listeners were paid money for their opinion in this survey and asked specifically what turns them off, it must all be correct.
Here's where I invite you to call me crazy.
In doing so, you won't be the first.
But isn't asking radio listeners what's wrong with radio commercials like asking a 6-year-old what's wrong with his mother's parenting skills?
Or asking the child's opinion on broccoli?
WHY NOT POLL THE LUNATICS REGARDING WHAT THEY DON'T LIKE ABOUT THE ASYLUM'S MANAGEMENT?
I'm not saying that the respondents in this survey are children, lunatics or even garden-variety 21st-century nitwits.
They are quite possibly average, highly sophisticated, digital-age information consumers.
The problem is, despite being consumers, they aren't sophisticated, digital-age information producers.
Your average consumer of media has no damn idea how to craft a smart story.
And THAT is the core problem: story.
AT ITS CORE, MEDIA IS ABOUT DELIVERING STORIES
Whether it's YouTube, Facebook, NPR, The Morning Zoo--it all boils down to story.
And when it comes to delivering a decent story, the vast majority of radio commercials are total crap.
There, I said it.
Sorry to have to drop that éclair into the punchbowl.
But it's just a fact of life.
Most radio commercials suck and almost nobody in charge cares enough to do anything about it.
RADIO COMMERCIALS DON'T NEED TO BE SHORTER
They need to be better.
And all you have to do is look at the results of the survey in question.
The very smart fellow who conducted the survey took the answers from the "What turns you off" question and created a word cloud. The most frequently repeated words show up as the biggest.
You can see the evidence right there: the biggest word is "Long."
But the other big words are "Loud," "Annoying," and "Boring."
So, couldn't that mean the messages are too long because they are "Loud," "Annoying," and "Boring"?
One of my favorite words in the cloud is somewhat smaller, but it says so much.
THAT WORD IS, "NOTHING"
There's a Seinfeld moment for you.
The long-ago NBC sitcom once went down a long and winding, self-referential, shaggy-dog road where Jerry and George tried pitching a sitcom to NBC.
Their big hook was that it would be a show about nothing.
Judging from the word cloud of the survey here, radio listeners don't care for commercials that are about nothing.
But that aside, here's my personal challenge in the guru's evaluation of the survey.
IT SAYS THE SYMPTOM IS THE PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED
And that doesn't work.
It's first necessary to understand WHY listeners are saying commercials are too long.
And it's probably because those commercials are loud, annoying and boring.
And is the real answer that we have to make those loud, annoying, boring commercials shorter?
Or is the real answer that we need to better the craft?
"OH, NO, WE CAN'T POSSIBLY MAKE THE CRAFT BETTER!"
I guarantee you, there are radio bean counters all over the nation who would blanch at this prospect.
Because it costs money, and they don't get it.
Radio at large is a chintzy, tightfisted and parsimonious little medium with an ignorance problem.
Not always, but often, radio decision makers do not understand the craft of their medium.
They will not hire the people with the talent required to make their commercials listenable.
So you end up with loud, annoying and/or boring messages about nothing anyone wants to hear.
WORST-CASE OUTCOME: THE LISTENER LEAVES
Let's go back to the YouTube model: not selling any 30-second advertisements that aren't skipable.
That's actually a brave step, and should scare the creator of mediocre advertising.
One of the things I find so satisfying about YouTube is the handful of advertisers who have figured out how to make me pay attention.
There's an expression in Hollywood screenwriting: enter in the middle of the scene.
And the best YouTube advertisements are doing that.
THEY COME FLYING AT ME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SCENE
They present a sudden and surprising dramatic moment that makes me think, "Whoa! What the--"
And I watch.
Yes, if it's really long and I feel like I've gotten the meat and don't need what they're selling, I may skip out.
But any advertiser who surprises me and makes me want to know more gets my undivided attention for the full spot, and I am glad to give it.
It's like getting a little gift from someone who respects their craft.
YES, YOU COULD MAKE COMMERCIALS SHORTER
But what good does that really do?
In the end, it's a crass, cynical and cheesy response to a real and disappointing problem.
"We can't afford to hire the talent to make these better, so let's just make them shorter."
It's the kind of moronic response delivered by an overeducated nitwit who thinks his goal as a broadcaster is to "increase shareholder value."
That is the single worst three-word phrase ever uttered in the history of radio. "Increase shareholder value."
The goal should be to deliver a high-quality product that people want to listen to.
THAT'S where shareholder value comes from: delivering a good product.
AND AS IT HAPPENS, THIS ALL DOVETAILS NICELY WITH ANOTHER SCREED NOT MY OWN
Just as your relentless scribe here was struggling with whether to screed or not to screed about this, an old friend reared his sensible head.
Broadcaster and broadcasting professor, Dick Taylor, posted his own screed about "Relevancy."
His premise is that, "A radio listener is always hearing, but listens only when something is relevant."
He proposes that radio programming departments should be allowed to approve any advertising that goes on their air.
He tells a story about a gig he once had at a beautiful music station.
The company had "strict guidelines about what content could be added to their music presentation and that included commercials."
THAT'S WHY THE LOCAL, LOUD, SCREAMING CAR DEALER WASN'T ON THEIR AIR
He was the city's biggest car dealer, but they didn't want his commercials as they aired elsewhere.
Dick says they "Finally convinced the owner not to 'wear a t-shirt to our black tie' radio station's over-the-air presentation.
They were able to create messages that fit in with the station's format . They avoided being loud and annoying to the listener who was there for something very different.
At best, they turned the advertiser into a friend who supported the listener's music habit.
That's called affinity. It's a powerful thing to give a listener.
DICK ALSO MENTIONS A STATION IN FLORIDA THAT IS UNLIKE ANY OTHER ANYWHERE
The reason is because the station is owned by a guy who insists on programming what he likes.
So the music mix is unique. Nobody else has it.
I went to their website. You can hear The Eagles, Ramsey Lewis, The BBC Symphony Orchestra, Rod Stewart, Pete Fountain, Chet Atkins--the playlist is the picture of eclectic.
Dick says, "The commercial breaks are just as carefully watched over as the music. The ads are about things that listeners attracted by the music will also enjoy. Be it theater, dining, travel, clothing etc.; it's all relevant."
RELEVANT. IMAGINE THAT.
To revisit a phrase oft repeated by he of Chickenman fame, the great Dick Orkin, "People do not pay attention to advertisements. They pay attention to what interests them. And sometimes, it's an advertisement."
To that end, this Florida radio station has another hook attached to interest and relevance.
Every weekday, they announce a winner of their "Business of the Day" and "Listener of the Day" contests.
Yes, they make their station interesting by making it about the people listening to it.
The station remains surprising.
And they try to not suck.
INSTEAD OF MAKING THINGS SHORTER, HOW ABOUT JUST NOT SUCKING?
It's not a lofty goal.
It's not even that hard to attain.
It doesn't take a whole lot of training.
How effective is it going to be, trying to get ahead by truncating the suckage?
How about making the stories better?
"BUT THEY'RE NOT STORIES, THEY'RE ADVERTISING!"
Yes, and advertising is, at its core, telling a story about solving a problem.
And advertising at its best appeals to a simple human emotion, and makes a listener want to know more.
Is it that hard or that expensive?
It's much harder and much more expensive to be ignorant.
And sadly that's where so much advertising continues to live.
Even if we must make it all shorter, let's also make it better.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.