Yesterday I shared a cab with a young couple who was heading to Crown Heights, just a few blocks from where I was going.
I hopped shotgun. They took the backseat.
We made some small talk, but mostly they spoke amongst themselves. Our cabbie had the radio on. When the songs ended this commercial began.
Everyone in the car laughed, and as the commercial played on, the dude in the backseat said, “Radio commercials are hilarious. Like anyone actually listens to this stuff!”
My first thought was hell yeah. Because as an advertising professional, it’s so rare I get to witness someone’s reaction to an ad, super raw - right in the moment. Furthermore, regular people don’t often speak up and express their opinion about how effective a particular media platform is. Or isn’t.
I decided to throw some fuel in the fire and said, “Yeah, you’re speaking to an audience that isn’t listening,” which I basically pulled straight out of my favorite book on advertising, Hey Whipple Squeeze This, where Luke Sullivan says:
If you have a child age five or younger, you already understand the basic problem facing the radio writer.
“Put that down. No, do NOT draw on the dog. Do NOT draw on the dog! Didn’t you hear me? I said do not stick that crayon in the dog’s … NO! Put that down!”
Both the parent and the radio writer are talking to someone who is not listening.
In the end, parents have a slight edge. They can send their children to their room, but the poor radio writer is left to figure out a way to get customers to listen.
If you think about it, the whole radio medium is used very differently than is print, online, or TV. In print, you have readers actively holding the magazine or newspaper up to their faces; they’re engaged, as is the TV watcher or the Web surfer. But radio is typically just sort of on in the background while people stay busy doing other things. It’s just sorta there. People tune into and out of it depending on how interesting the material being broadcast is.
And so we’re back to our old problem. We must be interesting.
So back to my story. I say to the guy, “You’re speaking to an audience that isn’t listening” and he immediately responds “Totally true.”
I couldn’t contain myself, so I continue, “It’s funny, I actually work in advertising as a writer and radio’s my favorite medium.” Everyone chuckles.
“Me too,” the girl says. “I work for a media company. We do a ton of radio. Geico’s one of our biggest accounts.” I take a moment to let the scene sink in. Here, in the backseat of this cab, sits a couple comprised of a girl who makes her living because brands run radio ads, and her boyfriend who thinks people don’t listen to “This Stuff.”
Admittedly, it got me thinking. Does radio advertising actually work? If it doesn’t, why would major brand names pay big bucks to develop and run the commercials?
The girl pipes up again. “It’s funny… I bought a Roku this past year and I absolutely love it. It was 80 bucks and it brings all my shit together – Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO GO – you name it! It even syncs up with other apps like Pandora and Spotify so you can use your TV to stream music.”
I say, “Really? Wow. I hadn’t even heard about Roku until very recently when all those funny ads popped up in the subways and around town. There’s that one about watching so much Glee, you’d question your sexuality, or watching enough Modern Family to make your family seem normal. They’re funny.”
“Oh yesh, dey are very funny!” says our driver in a thick, Russian accent.
I was still curious about the service, so I ask the girl, “Wait, so it’s kind of like a “black box,” but it’s legal?” “No, it’s a ‘streaming box’ for anything and everything streamable – pulls it all together on your TV.”
Now I was interested. A flat fee of 80 greenbacks and everything I watch on my laptop will now be searchable and playable on my TV screen, all under one roof and easy-to-use? “Done. I’m totally getting one,” I say. “Trust me, you’ll love it,” the girl responds.
I couldn’t help but think about the clear irony we were all experiencing. What started as a conversation about how no one listens to radio ads, turned into a full-blown word-of-mouth sale. I had made up my mind. It was just a matter of time before I’d be the proud owner of a Roku.
And all because a well-written, entertaining, interesting ad came on the radio.