Thursday, December 29, 2005

“The magic is in the product…No matter how skillful you are, you can’t invent a product advantage that doesn’t exist. And if you do, and it’s just a gimmick, it’s going to fall apart anyway…Getting a product known isn’t the answer. Getting it wanted is the answer.” Bill Bernbach

Phil Boyce is a smart guy. The ABC AM group is blessed with some of the best and brightest programming minds on the planet including Phil. Those facts make a recent WABC decision difficult to understand. The decision - run some hours of WABC's morning drive show commercial free (the stated purpose being to impress and attract former Howard listeners) is not, in my opinion, a good business move. There is nothing wrong with commercials and listeners expect them. The Howard fans, above all other morning listeners in the city, have demonstrated a significant tolerance for commercials. The real issue here would seem to be...will Curtis and Kuby appeal to Howard's listeners and in what numbers? The number of commercials played by Curtis and Kuby will not change their act nor is it likely to make them any more appealing to a Howard fan. So why do it? Why introduce a strategy that can not be sustained, an approach that costs the station money? What does it say to your audience when you present this as a novel benefit only to later take it away? What does this say to your advertisers? Is there not a way for them to participate in this very cool promotion?

The bigger question may well be - will Howard fans listen to AM radio? Perhaps recent history can offer some insight. What audience was shared by the two shows and the two stations over the past year? What is the twenty-four month history of AM usage (cume, occasions, TSL) by Howard listeners? Finally, it seems fair to ask...what is the objective? How many former Howard listeners need to sample and convert to Curtis and Kuby partisans for the exercise to be considered a success? How do we measure success?

My thought is any promotion worth doing always involves one or more clients. Stations should always make money with their promotions without exception. I'm reminded of the great retailer and legendary genius Sol Polk. One day in the last century I went on a sales call in Chicago with Kevin Sweeney. The legend Sol had wanted to meet the legend Kevin, we were in. Before we could pitch Mr Polk our "exciting promotion" he explained what he expected whenever he invested in "a promotion." He told us a story. In a purchase of Westinghouse white goods he arranged for the seller to include free copies of a new cookbook written by Betty Furness then a popular actress and Westinghouse spokesperson. He had done his homework with the help of a young seller on his floor and discovered the 1926 D quarter was worth three times its face value to collectors. He used his newpaper advertising - paid for 200% by his vendors - to run an ad saying "Available now only at Polk Brothers the new Betty Furness cookbook. This book is not available in any Chicagoland stores but it is available for a limited time at Polk Brothers for the amazing price of one coin - one 1926 D quarter." Polk had obtained the cookbooks at no charge, made money running the advertising, mobilized Chicagoans to find the rare coins and bring them into his store. He created goodwill with his customers (the books flew out of the store), created traffic and had a good sale of white goods. After telling us the story he motioned to an assistant who opened a rather large old fashioned floor safe. His assistant revealed a bankers bag filled with the coins collected in the promotion some 20 years earlier. His assistant then provided the going rate for the rare coins something like $5.50 each as I recall. Sol leaned back in his chair, directed his attention to us and said "now gentleman...please tell does your promotion work?" By the way today one of those coins is worth hundreds of dollars. Going forward...if a promotion is worth doing...let's agree to find a way to emulate Mr Polk, let's make some money in the process.

Kevin Sweeney was a great mentor to me, he once counseled "why would you waste your time doing anything that does not make you money, breaking even on a promotion suggests to me that the promotion expense was too great or you didn't sell smart or, in the most likely case, both." Before his Curtis and Kuby promotion is staged my bet is Phil Boyce will come up with a much cooler idea. Stay tuned.