:60 spots must die

For 90% of the radio commercials I hear (and I hear many) – 60 seconds is too long.

It’s clear to me that messages are being blown up (expanded with junk) to fill the standard :60 window.

Who does this benefit? No one actually – but it’s the way it’s always been done so we don’t question it.

In this Philly Inquirer story, recent research done thru a grant by the NAB suggests shorter commercials are not as effective as the classic :60.

“Intrigued by the debate, David Allan (former DJ and Station Executive and now a St. Joseph’s University Assistant Marketing Professor) got a grant from the National Association of Broadcasters to study the issue. He played for 85 St. Joe’s students four 30- and 60-second commercials from Macy’s, Home Depot, Cavit wine, and LasikPlus Vision Center, embedded in a pop music format.

He found that the shorter ads were about 75 percent as good as the long ones at promoting brands. But the short commercials were only half as good at conveying the more specific information that was the spots’ raison d’etre – like what was on sale.

As a result, Allan thinks the shorter ads should cost only half as much as the longer ones. He now wants to study whether running a short ad twice is as effective as running a long one.”

Let’s get 1 thing out on the table – radio spots is the WORST medium for delivering DETAILS like phone numbers – addresses – lists of items on sale and their price.  If that’s a radio commerical’s raison d’etre we will never survive an “infinite dial” universe.

I don’t know how this research was conducted so I can’t comment on the methods – but I have some questions:

  1. Did the participants have the opportunity to tune away from the radio when the spots came on – like in real life?  Or were they forced to sit there and listen with undivided attention?
  2. Did the participants have to hear both lengths of the commercials (:30 version and the :60 version)  If so . . . how do you remove the effect hearing the messages twice has on the outcome?
  3. If different groups were used to measure the :30s and the :60 how do you account for differences in the people – was the sample size really big enough to overcome this?
  4. Were the selected messages vetted for relevance to the audience they were performed for – or were they just random advertisers that happened to offer you BOTH :60 and :30 version of their spots?

I’m concered about this because this is EXACTLY the kind of self-delusion the radio industry DOES NOT NEED right now.

The internet is making it possible to place RELEVANT messages in front of people at the moment the message becomes most important – AND is conditioning advertisers to only PAY for the advertising when it results in a sale or predetermined ACTION?

How does a “:30 shout” vs a “:60 shout” debate put radio advertising on that level?

There are ALSO some vital presumptions – embedded premises -tacitly accepted as true in this survey.  They appear to be:

  • We will interrupt programming for commercial messages that may or may not be relevant to your life.

  • You will sit and listen to them.

  • We only care about the effectiveness of 1 length of these interruptions as compared to other lengths.

  • How well you remember things about these interruptions when we ask you about it IMMEDIATELY AFTER being exposed to it in a completely unnatural environment is the ONLY thing worth measuring.

Do we really believe the results of this survey carry over the minute the participants leave the focus group environment, hop into their car and turn on the radio and resume their normal lives?



FWIW: Jeff Small & Brett Astor of Strategic Media, Inc. take a more agreeable stance on the research.


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