Promotions With A Plot
May 13, 2014
Twice in the last month I've found myself at international radio conferences and one of the things attendees will ask me is: "To what do you attribute the staggeringly low participation rate in our on-air promotions?"
"Because they suck" is just too vague, so I try to explain the reasons I think we've over-thought and STILL dumbed-down contesting so that no one cares.
TV has "game shows," Big gaudy spectacles of noise and vibrant visuals that attract audiences of people to watch a select few who have gotten the call and some plane tickets to Los Angeles.
Radio has "contests" THAT are drab, uninteresting and immediately forgettable.
Disgree? Then try to explain why fewer than 1 in 10 listeners are compelled to pick up the phone and try to win $1,000.
I was hired in 1991 by United Broadcasting in San Francisco to try and help this floundering ship called KSOL. After a few months, sitting in the GM's office with the PD and Jerry Clifton, the consultant, on the phone, Jerry declared, "This station sucks. We need to blow it up." And seven days later, Wild was launched.
Out of the gate we did fun, brash, attention-generating, cume-building promotions but, at some point, Clifton happened to be doing a market visit during a two-week period when I'd put something that just wasn't "wild" on the air.
Jerry: "Why is this contest on the air?"
Me: "To try to get people to listen?"
Jerry: "Well, it won't because there's no reason for it to be on the air."
And he introduced me to his concept of a Promo Arch.
He said a great promotion is like a movie. There's a beginning. There's a middle. Stuff that's unexpected could happen. And then there's an end. And if you did it right, then there's a sequel.
There is no better example of that in U.S. radio right now than at 94/9 in San Diego where they did "Attack Of The iPads." That was followed by "Bride Of iPads," and right now they're doing "iPads In Space."
These things didn't just magically appear on the air. There's a story behind them, great video set-ups so that when these things launch, the audience to-a-one is on-board with what's happening.
The Fugitive(tm) is a great example of a Promo Arch in action. There's an alluded-to contest. There's a theft. There's a car chase. There's a ransom drop. There are plot twists and turns and when they ended it at KDWB/Minneapolis, the audience flooded the board with hundreds and hundreds of messages that basically stated: "That was a fucking riot. When're you going to do it again?"
When was the last time you got even ONE message like that following a "contest?"
With the Fuge, there's a premise for why everyone in town is frantically hunting down this criminal.
Morning show coaches like Randy Lane and Steve Jones teach character development. Promotions can have that. Even group contests.
Clear Channel in the Hudson Valley did the iHeart Music Festival last year with all of their imaging done by Arty Shankman, a Las Vegas ticket broker whose business was being seriously hurt by these bastards in NY who were giving away freaking tickets! "What is this? Canada?" One of the promos had Arty take a break from torturing a man who'd failed to pay for his Celine tickets with a chainsaw, to rant about the jerks in Poughkeepsie and how he had his brother Marty filing an injunction.
Character development was done by Fly in Albany where Tammy the Ticket Intern was in charge of the Summer Jam tickets and ran the prize closet. As the six weeks of giveaways unfolded, she went from a bright bubbly college student to a glue sniffing skank who'd been used by all of the jocks. There was an evolution in her persona that made the imaging a little bit more exciting than a 22-second just-hit-the-copy-points-and-close-with-a-laser promo you hear so often these days.
WOW-FM in Boise? Their summer umbrella was SPF 104.3 (Summer Prize Fun) and all of the imaging between Memorial Day and Labor Day was done by Dready D, a Jamaican pool boy the owner's daughter picked up on Spring Break and brought home. He had more Facebook friends than the air staff.
The best example of Promo Arch + Character Development was at 102 Jamz in Orlando during the 15-year run at #1. Craven Morehead was the misogynistic GM who with every large contest, seemingly had gotten himself caught in another act of fraud. The reason? The premise for the station giving away a car every hour? Because Craven had taken the million-dollar check from corporate and splurged on hookers, blow and Jai Lai. If they didn't come up with a list of winners for the bean counters, his ass was going away for awhile.
Last year, one of the stations was doing this insanely convoluted promotion and I just couldn't figure out how it worked. The PD patiently explained to me this theory of appt. time listening with music branding and overlapping quarter-hours and it just went to crickets for me.
It would be like asking a carny how to win Whack A Mole and having him pull out a powerpoint with a matrix that explained the game, its goals and its payoffs.
Look no further than Monty Hall. Monty was a carny.
If you can inject a plot, some characters, a reason, a premise and something that will play to the non-contest players, at the very least, you'll have something that's going to be unique. And this isn't 8th grade: unique is good. Unique is the Art of Promotions, which is to be memorable and to stand out.