Ads With Faux DJs Work So Well, CBS Copies

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The unusual radio spots NBC used to promote its fall shows did exactly what the NBC Agency hoped they would do: build buzz. In fact, they were so buzzworthy, that one of NBC’s chief competitors, CBS, has recently begun running eerily similar spots.
The radio DJ ad technique has been used by NBC for 'E-Ring' and by CBS for 'CSI: Miami.'
Listen to one of the radio ads

Faux DJs
Both networks’ spots feature people who sound like radio personalities chatting casually about a TV show, making it seem as though the radio listeners are privy to an on- or off-air conversation. NBC has used the spots to promote “E-Ring,” “My Name is Earl” and “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.”

During the first week of November sweeps, CBS used the tactic to promote a storyline that jumped from “CSI: Miami” to “CSI: NY.”

Vince Manze, president and creative director of The NBC Agency, calls the CBS move “the sincerest form of imitation.”

“It was almost like, let’s do this but we can’t give up the straight sell completely,” he said of the CBS spot. “We immersed ourselves, we cut up ourselves ... although [CBS’s ratings] are doing really well, so far be it from me to say what they’re doing is wrong.”

Coming to terms
The spots make it clear that NBC came to terms with its fourth-place situation sometime over the summer and began to admit its ratings shortfalls, talking about them -- even poking fun at them -- publicly.

So goes an interchange in a radio spot for “My Name is Earl”:
“So what’s it on?” asked one DJ.
“It’s on NBC,” said the other.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. And it’s funny?” said the first.
“Yeah, I know, what are the odds?” the other replied.

“This is an overall philosophy to do things a little differently,” said Mr. Manze, whose background is in standup comedy. “We spent the last six months of last year yelling ‘please watch us’ -- it’s something you tend to do when your ratings are falling. Then we said, ‘We are where we are and shouting isn’t going to get us back.’”

When promos don't work
NBC’s low ratings meant its promotions on its own network were seen by far fewer people. As a result, the network spent more on off-network media this year -- particularly in radio and outdoor. (Last year NBC spent about $13 million in national spot radio and $5.6 million on national network.) The latest radio creative has run in a mix of network and spot buys, and Mr. Manze said in all of his 15 years at NBC Agency, no one has ever commented on a radio campaign like they have this year.

The CBS spot promoting a “CSI” storyline that involved both “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: New York” was done as more of a straight sell, with the faux DJs rattling off the network’s entire Monday night lineup as well. CBS did not return a call for comment on its spots.

Many in the radio business lament that the medium is often the forgotten stepchild when it comes to creative. So how did it fare for NBC and CBS?

“Earl” is NBC’s bonafide hit; “E-Ring” was ordered for the full season; and the network recently confirmed “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” would end after its December finale. Meanwhile, CBS’s “CSI: NY,” which aired the conclusion of the crossover storyline from “CSI: Miami,” scored its highest rating in more than a year.

Shouting quietly
“People don’t always produce radio thinking about the fact you have no visuals and should approach it in a different way,” Mr. Manze said. “We enjoyed the fact that we were shouting by being quiet.”

“Many years ago TV used radio as a tune-in medium,” said Mary Bennett, exec VP-national marketing for the Radio Advertising Bureau. “But we’ve begun to see a lot more creative ways TV has used radio.”

She points to campaigns Fox and ABC ran last year to promote “24” and “Lost,” respectively. Fox ran radio ads featuring a real-time countdown to the premiere of “24,” and ABC created spots that mimicked distress signals.

“And it’s not just the creative, but very creative planning in how they use radio that’s also notable,” Ms. Bennett said. Media, which includes TV, is often one of radio’s top five revenue categories; during sweeps months, TV often outspends every other category.

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