Marketing and advertising are strange animals. There are lots of cliches out there and even more half truths and skewed numbers. Ever heard that ‘any press is good press’? What about ‘the customer is always right’? What about the sales reps for the yellow pages that show up every year and try to convince you that despite fewer people using the big yellow book your business needs to pay more for a bigger ad? And why not add color while you’re at it?
Personally, I like the title of Seth Godin’s book, which sums it all up with the statement that All Marketers Are Liars.
With that said, my firm owns several small businesses. Marketing and advertising is a way of life. It’s a necessary evil, no matter how guerrilla or unique I do it. I can try to disguise it as something else or make it seem really cool, but I still have to make or avoid meetings with ad reps from the phone books, newspapers, and radio stations.
Me and my boys usually listen to a local top 40 station called Mix 97.7. They play a lot of the music that me and the kids like, and it’s really funny to watch the baby dance to the Black Eyed Peas. Lately, they’ve been running a commercial on overdrive that does nothing but repeat the store’s name over and over again. It’s so annoying that we switch the station every time it comes on.
I popped onto the station’s Facebook page last night after hearing the commercial yet again and basically said, “Can you please dump the _____ ad? Every time I hear it, it makes me want to turn the station.” I’d quote exactly what I said, but the station erased the post from their feed. Real good public relations there guys.
They responded back pretty quick with…”Mix 97.7 wrote: “David, they’re a paid advertiser. Please direct any complaints to the advertiser, because as long as they pay for the airtime and aren’t being belligerent with that time (coarse or profane language or subject matter), we’re going to sell the airtime to the client. We are a business and we operate by selling the airtime to the business needing the airtime for whichever reason they need it.”
So I said back…”That’s a very corporate answer. I’ll still be turning off the station.”
So they replied, “Mix 97.7 wrote: “Buh-bye post” and promptly deleted the entire series.
The whole thing makes me want to…wait, just a minute. I’m gonna get up and turn the radio off. They played the ad again.
It makes me want to ask, how much are media companies willing to be proselytized and enslaved by the advertiser? Is this radio station seriously unable to grab deep and speak up to the advertiser if the ad isn’t a good one, turns off listeners from the other ads, or loses customers? And how far does it go? A local alt-weekly I once freelanced for once told me that I couldn’t write certain things because we couldn’t offend the advertisers. In other words, only good things to say about the businesses who send in checks. As an individual, can I send checks as well to avoid any bad press? I can see how this would be very useful for politicians.
Technically speaking, this amounts to bribery and smacks of fear, neither of which is part of a really good business model.
With such a pseudo-truthful state of affairs where the media outlets are held hostage by the advertisers, I wonder if it’s finally time for the old traditions to go away in favor of the new. Newspapers, yellow pages, and radio stations are being replaced by something else. Maybe it’s time I completely ditch Mix 97.7 in favor of Pandora, Spotify, and the innumerable other options available out there to get music in much greater variety than my local station offers and with fewer ads. I’ve been flirting with this for years anyway. Just a simple search for Internet radio stations pops up with scores of top 40 stations.
What if that wasn’t enough? What if I wanted to start a small revolution to upgrade other people’s listening habits and bring them into the 21st century? I could probably call all of the other advertisers on the station and let them know that I quit listening because of one store’s annoying ad and a poor experience with the station’s Facebook manager. Would the station then be held hostage by one advertiser or two dozen? But I forgot, they told me that they can’t do anything about the ads. Well, I guess the other advertisers could since the station is powerless. They could pull their ads and start placing on the Internet stations and outlets that only reach people in carefully chosen demographics and geographical locations, which is much more precise than the local radio station offers.
Or I can learn a lesson from this and resolve to listen to my core customers at my own businesses and not play corporate games to shift responsibility. I just don’t know. I really am tempted to stir up some trouble.