Why you see and hear the same ads over and over and over and...

It’s a weekday morning and you’re driving into Richmond on I-64 East with the radio tuned to WRVA for the traffic and weather on the fives, and then you hear it. Again. The same commercial you heard yesterday. And the day before that. And the day

New advertising research shows that Goebbels was right (at least in a technical sense).

before that. And all week long before that. And you wonder, why do they have to keep running that same !@#>?*=+$(% spot? The 2011 Edelmann Trust Barometer has an answer to that, and you’re not going to like it.

Advertising research shows that Goebbels was right (at least technically)

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propagandist, (apocryphally) said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people are bound to start believing it.” Now, today’s advertisers certainly aren’t Nazis, and they do substantiate their claims, but the Edelmann research shows that, as a matter of technique, Goebbels was right.

Of adults 25 to 64 years old, Edelmann’s findings show, only 4% are gullible enough to believe a company’s message the first time they hear it. Some 22% start believing it’s true with the second hearing. But a whopping 59% don’t start believing the message until they’ve heard it three to five times.

Let’s do the numbers

So how come I hear it much more than three to five times, you ask? That’s because a commercial has to air many times before people hear it once.

Media buyers use an index called Gross Rating Points [GRP]; 100 GRP means that on the average, everyone in the station’s audience heard the spot once – and not at the same time. Some listeners may have heard the message twice, some once, some not at all. That’s that’s the nature of averages. It’s also why radio advertisers who know what they’re doing buy at least 125-150 GRP worth of air time a week. That can mean 30 or more repetitions per station per work week. And if they’re really smart, they’ll concentrate that buying into two or three days, so the spot will run once every half-hour or hour in selected dayparts such as morning drive time.

Now, a 150-GRP schedule means that listeners are hearing it an average of one-and-a-half times. To make sure the whole audience hears it an average of three to five times, you’re looking at a 300- to 500-GRP buy. That’s a lot of repetitions.

But it gets worse.

Fading into the background

When it comes to radio, many Richmond advertisers fall prey to a false economy. To avoid the $1,000 or so it costs to have good advertising people script and produce their commercial with professional actors, they have the radio station produce it for free. And while the advertiser may want the message to stand out, the radio station people don’t want it to  disrupt the station’s seamless sound. They use the same announcers who are on air all the time to read the lines, they throw the same kind of music the station airs all the time behind it, and they mix it with the same frequency equalization that all the program content has.

Which means that, in order to get their commercial actually heard enough to start generating that belief, the advertisers have to spend much more than the $1,000 they “saved” on added air time. Some economy.

Do it right, run it less often

Radio advertising can be effective if you approach it the right way.

First, be prepared to spend enough on air time to assure at least a statistical chance that your audience will hear your message enough times to start believing it.

Second, don’t spread your buy too thin. What’s important is how many times people hear your message, not over how many weeks or months. Concentrate and front-load your schedule instead.

Third, make sure your message doesn’t get lost in the station’s seamless sound. Get an advertising professional who knows radio (and can play you the commercials to prove it) to develop a strategy and script, cast voices you don’t hear every day, and use sound effects and other production values to take full advantage of radio’s visual potential. (That’s right, visual. Sound can create great mental pictures.)

It won’t make people believe your message on the first hearing, but it’ll get you a lot closer.