The Big 5 for Radio Success: Part 4

(Truth: Or Everyone Has a BS Radar)

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Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
I have a degree in International Studies from the University of Denver. (Notable attendees include Condeleeza Rice, Sinbad, a bunch of hockey players and Ted Shackelford, who played Gary Ewing in "Dallas" and "Knots Landing.") I am that guy you want on your Trivial Pursuit team when a geography question is asked. I am also intrigued by global affairs and how others perceive us around the world, which would explain my membership in the World Affairs Council of Oregon. While at Entercom, I was the designated media/advertising representative when delegations came to visit. The three groups that the council sent my way during my tenure were from Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and China.

In each circumstance, after the perfunctory pleasantries, we got down to the meat of radio advertising and media here in the United States. I would walk them through the process, show them copy and play them some samples. After everyone was warmed up with pastry and Tazo Tea, détente flew out the door and they would bluntly ask me why there are so many lies in advertising and media here in the United States. This was probably the only time in my career when I was literally speechless. I managed to muster a justifiably meek response: "That's a good question." Then I gave a mildly believable soliloquy that the translators passed on. By their reaction, I either doled out some sage wisdom or I was being completely assailed by the translator for the amusement of the audience. My French minor couldn't bail me out of this one.

After each meeting, I became a little paranoid and went back to just about every spot I had written and produced during the year to see if I was really telling the truth. It actually turned out to be a valuable exercise because I noticed that when I took creative liberties, the spots or campaigns didn't do as well as those with clear, transparent truth. My bulls**t radar became more keen moving forward.

Specifically, the pattern yielded some interesting observations:
  • The most valuable "truths" came from the front-line employees. They were able to articulate what the consumer was feeling and what resonated with them.
  • Marketing directors were able to give outstanding qualitative and quantitative information, but the ability to translate that into a true, emotional direction was inconsistent.
  • The history of the advertiser I was working with was a powerful truth and invaluable tool to craft the message.
  • Simplicity in message, based on the truth, worked best.
  • The truth, wrapped in a compelling package, is a good thing. Quality and impact of sound design appeared to be slightly ahead of well-written and entertaining. (Never underestimate the power of exceptional design -- even if your palette is sound) Yelling and demanding the consumer's attention was the biggest turn off. (In the words of Goodby Silverstein and Hyundai, "duh.")
  • If it just sounded like bulls**t, it probably was.
I suppose the lesson I learned is that the truth is not just divine, it's more powerful than we even realize. Now I just need to learn some Russian and Mandarin to make sure the next translator isn't making fun of me.
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