Your Best Radio Ad is Not About You

It was one of my great marketing failures—involving a radio commercial, moose, and several old Wurlitzer electric organs. I know. What could go wrong?

The year was 1993. I was a young radio sales lad, working for WLKZ “Oldies 105”, a small station in New Hampshire’s beautiful Lakes Region. My client was a weird little business in rural Ossipee, called the Moose Run Trading Post. Located on Route 16 near, um, nothing in particular, Moose Run was part convenience store, part ammo and bait store, part cheap clothing retailer, part tacky souvenir store. They also sold random, often-strange merchandise that would come and go each week.

The day came that the store purchased a discount lot of 12 somewhat-tired Wurlitzer electric organs. You know, the ones with a double-decker keyboard that your grandmother might have in the corner of her living room. The price tag on these musical sports cars? Around $500 each. With this hot new inventory on hand, Moose Run decided to try out radio advertising by promoting a Used Wurlitzer Organ Sales Event, Two Days Only!

I was young. I was foolish. I enjoyed commissions. I said, “Let’s do this.” They agreed to run 15 sixty-second commercials for one week to promote the Weekend Organ Sale (for no extra charge, I also crossed my fingers).

Shockingly, they did not sell one single organ that weekend. They then cancelled the rest of their ads that had been scheduled, saying, “obviously, radio doesn’t work.”

Except it does. Procter and Gamble, McDonalds, The Home Depot, and Staples, for example, spend billions on the medium each year. Successful local businesses right here in Portland and the surrounding communities are on the air month in, month out.

So why did I suffer such defeat at the Battle of Moose Run?

The primary flaw in the campaign was this: we (the client and I) forgot that effective advertising is about the consumer, not about the retailer. We didn’t ask the right questions: Who and where is the customer? What is that customer’s immediate or long-range need? How often is the customer in the market for the product? How can the business conveniently and uniquely fulfill that need?

The truth is, radio DID work– it played audio which was transmitted to thousands of cars, businesses, and homes in the Lakes Region, where it was heard by thousands of people. The problem was that the message those listeners heard never addressed any of their particular needs. Nobody who heard the commercials wanted or needed an organ that week, so they ignored the information.

We as marketers are often frantic to plug as much data as we can into 60 seconds, thinking that the customer wants to hear all about us. Not so– they want to hear about how we’re going to solve a particular problem in their life. How are they going to get out of their current rustbucket of a car when they still owe payments on it? What are they going to do about dinner tonight? Where will they get their dry cleaning done?

Here are five critical questions for anyone selling or marketing anything:

• Who is your customer?
• What do they need?
• What’s the buying cycle? (short cycle, short campaign; longer cycle, more time needed)
• How will you fill the need you’ve determined?
• Where can they find you?

If you can answer all five of these questions with reasonable accuracy (especially “what do they need”), your advertising is going to succeed.

If you can’t, then you’re on your way to selling organs in Ossipee.

And let me tell you… they’re not buying.