Thursday, July 28, 2005

We've got Kevin Trudeau on the line.*

Bob Garfield, writing for Advertising Age, recently laid out a possible doomsday scenario for the media world as advertisers increasingly awaken to the fact that traditional commercial spots are not generating enough audience to justify the cost. Advancements in technology increase the audiences ability to bypass commercial breaks. As a result, Garfield warns, advertisers will begin pulling their dollars from traditional media outlets, leaving them with a greatly diminished flow of revenue to produce the content that consumers have become accustomed to receiving for free (broadcast media) or for a relatively nominal cost (cable.)

Garfield predicts that a period of chaos will exist between the time advertisers begin to pull back on spending and until which time alternative forms of sponsorship can be fully developed and proven effective. Chief among these new forms is product placement.

Most are familiar with product placement, although they may not be fully cognizant of it, through television and movies. That generic can of beer that Archie Bunker used to stew in has been replaced by a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on Friends, a rare display of good taste on an otherwise banal TV show (sorry Michelle.) Violet Beauregarde and her mother reportedly sport identical Nike’s in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Product placement has been around for awhile and viewers can expect to see more brand names as companies pay to have the camera linger on their logos for longer and longer periods of time. This is all well and good for visual media, but how will radio be able to join in on these stealth advertising attacks?

Locally, we can hear sponsorship messages creeping into the programming. On WMAY, Culver’s on Wabash has purchased the rights to all mentions of time. Molson and Lee regular incorporate endorsements for Head West sub shop into their on-air banter. But AM Springfield on WFMB seems to be taking the biggest strides towards blurring the lines between programming and sponsorship.

Walt Skube, car salesman extraordinaire, has been a staple on Sam Madonia’s show for some time now. A personable sort, he chats a bit with Madonia, makes a quick sales pitch, and then gets back to the lot. His appearance provides only a brief interruption, but his time must be well spent. Skube regularly relates how many cars he sold the previous day, and often to whom, and the listener is left to wonder just how much in commission he pulls down each day.

Lately, it appears that other local businesses are adopting Skube’s winning formula. Madonia now takes regularly scheduled calls from a florist, a commercial real estate agent, and some fellow named Warren the Painter. Unlike Skube, they haven’t learned the effectiveness of a concise plug and a hasty adieu. The back and forth between sponsor and host seems to drag on, taking the show down with it. The whole thing is threatening to devolve into an infomercial.

And that would be a shame. I know that many find AM Springfield insular, catering to the Griffin mafia and an auxiliary of extras. Their tag line "8 loyal listeners" is both self deprecating and a testament to the insider appeal it has to those who know the secret handshake. But the show can be interesting and insightful to a broad audience, especially when the discussion involves local politics.

Madonia is at his best when he is interviewing the likes of Bernie Schoenberg, Jerry Owens, Gene Callahan, or anyone else wired-in to local or state political issues. Based on his own access to the grapevine, Madonia knows just the right questions to ask and has a genuine interest in his guests responses.

But I'm aware that thoughtful discussions won't pay the bills. Perhaps we're on the verge of an era when talk radio hosts pepper their comments with offhand references to products. Frequent callers may be asked to recite a line of promotional copy before going off with their gripe. And jingles will play consistently in the background, subliminally filling every split second of dead air with revenue generating sonance.

*A line you could expect to hear if WFMB signs into a sponsorship agreement with infamous infomercial marketer and author of Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About, Kevin Trudeau.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Until a couple of years ago, I would always catch Walt Skube's spots during my morning commute. I had never seen the guy, but through his weekly banter on the radio, I had developed a certain image in my head. So when I saw him throwing candy out of a convertible at the state fair and realized that the stocky bald man was Walt Skube, well, to say I was disappointed is putting it mildly.

Now I have to be at work at 7:30, which means Walt Skube has been replaced by Paulo the maitre'd at Capice, among others. Paulo's spot is pointless because Sam always talks over him. And when Sam does give Paulo a few seconds to describe a particular item on the menu, his only comment is 'It's out of this world. We're open Moday - Saturday from 5 to 10.'

I think these on-air calls can be effective, but not just anyone can pull them off.