IT has been my duty and privilege from time to time to discuss the development of radio as a vehicle of advertising. When several hundred national advertisers are spending upwards of $40,000,000 broadcasting programs over the national networks, it is no longer necessary to devote time to debating the value of this established medium for mass salesmanship.
The cumulative records of successful use of the air as a supplement to the printed page are now so extended that every one in the advertising business, including the honest doubters of several years ago, recognizes radio as a full-fledged advertising medium.
There were a good many honest doubters in the beginning. It was nine years ago that advertising agencies received a mimeographed sheet from 195 Broadway, stating that time on Station WEAF could be purchased, under certain restrictions, at the rate of $100 for a ten-minute talk.
All of us recall the hue and cry that followed this announcement. . . . Many advertising agency executives felt that radio should be used o for the broadcasting offs and entertainment. There were others who believed that broadcasting could be used for advertising to a limited extent, but not to its full efficiency unless broad-casting stations sold advertisers the use of radio with the same freedom offered by the printed page.
Every progressive development in advertising has met with opposition. Change always frightens some people. And if the change is very radical, they think there ought to be a law against it. The reactionaries are advocating legislation to keep radio from being commercialized, that is, commercialized beyond their particular standards of commercialization.
Some years ago Herbert Spencer pretty conclusively proved that you could not change human nature or stop human evolution by legislation. Freedom of the press was won in England generation ago, but ere Isn’t a year that goes by that an attempt is not made in this country to legislate against this freedom. Freedom of speech extends to radio just as it does printingpress Un-American censorship of radio, un-American restrictions as to its use, are just as much opposed to American principles of freedom as censorship of the press.
The American public operates its own censorship. Every day it censors the output of the printing press, and every day it censors the output of the broadcasting stations. Its censorship of radio is very direct. The fifteen million owners of radio sets decide by a snap of the switch whether or not they want to listen to radio at all. By turning the dial they pick out the programs they want to hear and silence those that do not interest them.
This is the kind of censorship that brings into the head offices of the National Broadcasting Company twenty thousand letters a day from listeners all over the country. The letters, post cards, telephone calls, and telegrams received in the course of a year by national advertising on the air run into the millions. This nation-wide audience response is so sensitive that no intelligent advertiser can long misuse this wonderful medium for mass communication.
But we have with us a good many standpatters, or advertising reactionaries, who are still thinking in terms of 1923. They first told us that advertising could not be done over the air. The American Telephone people might be very expert engineersbut they didn’t know what the American public wanted standpatters retreated from that trench.
They made their next stand when some national advertisers boldly advanced from the mildly “sponsored” program to the use of sales “spots” placed between entertainment features, like advertising pages between the editorial features of a magazine. The standpatters vigorously asserted that this would ruin radio. It didn’t.
Now they are retreating from this trench and making a final stand to regulate the amount and character of copy an advertiser may use on the air. Some of them advocate tuning out the advertiser whose announcements are too long or too commercial. But the listener is not the only one who can tune out. The advertiser can also tune out and spend his money in other media if they make radio unprofitable for him. The whole future of broadcasting in this country, just as much as the future of newspaper and magazine publishing, depends upon its profitable use as an advertising medium.
One often hears complaints about the amount of advertising in the papers, but usually the publications that carry the most advertising attract the most readers. Circulation attracts advertising, but the reverse is just as true. Advertising attracts circulation.
Those who are still living in the past, pleading for uncommercialized radio, would resent any effort of news-paper or magazine publishers to relegate advertising to the editorial backyard, or lay down rules as to advertising format. Let us suppose, for example, that Mr. Curtis of Philadelphia should say that hereafter his Saturday Evening Post would be made up solely of articles, stories and pictures of noncommercial character, and that the only way a manufacturer could get his name on a page would be as the “sponsor” of one of these editorial features, with a brief reference to the manufacturer’s products.
Would any advertiser pay Mr. Curtis $8,000 a page for the privilege of having his name mentioned at the beginning and end of a short story? But this is the way some people would have the advertiser spend $10,000 to $15,000 for an hour on the air. And some advertisers, in the early days of broadcasting, did delude themselves with the idea that the mere mention of their names as sponsors of fine musical programs was advertising. Well, it may have been advertising, but wasn’t worth what they paid for it, and that they soon discovered.
Many publishers of magazines and newspapers now recognize radio as a profitable advertising medium for the sale of their own products. The Literary Digest, Collier’s, Time, Adventure, the McFadden, Street and Smith, Conde Nast, Butterick, Hearst, and other publications have taken to the air. Thirty broadcasting stations, including some of the big network stations, are owned by newspapers, and forty-three other stations are operated by, or affiliated with, newspapers.. Those newspaper-owned stations are spread through twenty-five states from Maine to California
The success of some of these publishers’ radio programs is known to everybody in the advertising business. Two of the great weeklies are using radio as a major advertising medium to build circulation and develop greater advertising acceptance. It was reported that one of the magazines in six months on the increased its circulation from 190,000 to 690,000. The advance in program technic gives publishers fiction a unique opportunity for nation-wide sampling.
Some of our friends in the publishing world seem to be unduly disturbed by the growth of radio advertising, and its possible effect on the future of printed advertising. I think their fears are not founded on a logical analysis of the situation. There is a very definite limit to the amount of time that can be profitably bought by advertisers. There are only twenty-four hours in the dayand a radio set can get only one program at a time.
While the volume of radio advertising is now large enough to be impressive, there are a number of daily newspapers whose annual advertising revenues are in excess of the receipts of the broadcasting chains. One of the national magazines last year carried- nearly twice as much advertising in its fifty-two issues as the two great chains did in 365 days. I have heard no complaint from any newspaper publisher because Mr. Curtis sold nearly $50,000,000 worth of space last year in one of his publications. The radio industry itself has grown to be one of the largest buyers of newspaper space and it is going to be a very much larger buyer in the future.
In discussing this subject of radio advertising at a meeting of the Association four years ago I said: “To what extent time on the air can be given over success-fully to talks about products or services of national advertisers, and to what extent radio advertising can be made to resemble printed advertising, are problems that can only be solved by trial and experience.
“We are going much further now than was though possible several years agoor a year ago, for t at matterand in my opinion we have only begun to learn the possibilities of the use of the air. We started out with the assumption that many of the things that could be done on the printed page could not possibly be done on the air. Now we are beginning to believe that nearly everything printed advertising will eventually be duplicated with radio.”
At that time I cited the Lucky Strike program as the answer to the problem confronting a of us trying to make broadcasting profitablethat is, the problem of how to make broadcasting an integral part of a newspaper and magazine campaign. It was in that year that we took Lucky Strike printed advertising and put it on the air virtually unchanged. That was considered quite a bold experiment. But what was experimental in radio broadcasting in 1928 has become a standard of practice If you will compare the radio copy used by leading advertisers with their printed copy, you will find the character of the printed copy now largely determines the character of the radio copy. Advertisers who for years have successfully used daily long copy naturally use long copy on the air, and products which have been advertised for years with “name” publicity, with little or no copy, use the same formula on the air. In other words, veteran advertisers who cannot waste their money in costly experiments, now regard broadcasting just as another medium in which the spoken word-takes the place of printed word. It is oral salesmanship instead of salesmanship in print.
Some manufacturers went on the air in the earlier years of broadcasting with the idea that, if they gave the public a first-class musical program without any direct advertising, listeners would express their gratitude by buying the manufacturers’ products. I think they have all been disillusioned. If you give the public something for nothing, the public is glad to get it Some small portion of the public may say “thank you” and your generosity may create a certain amount of goodwill and public acceptance that slowly and indirectly becomes translated into sales, but this is a very expensive way to sell goods.
It is a significant fact that nearly all of the programs that rank high in public estimation, as shown by many local and national surveys, are programs sponsored by national advertisers, although 70 per cent of the time used by such popular stations as WEAF, WABC and WJZ in New York is devoted to noncommercial programs.
The reason for this is plain. There is no great competition between sustaining programs for public approval. There is no incentive to pay high prices to attract the very popular artists to appear in these sustaining programs. The natural and businesslike course for the broadcasting stations to follow in filling out their time between sponsored programs is to get the best possible features at the lowest possible cost. Advertisers, on the other hand, are bidding for the best talent. They are bidding for men who have the genius to build programs of great national appeal. Expenditures for talent are now running upward of $15,000,000 a year. Probably 90 per cent of this is spent for advertiser’s programs.
We have made a study of the advertising content of the program continuities of 109 advertisers on the National and Columbia chains. The ten most popular programs have an average advertising content of 8 per cent. Three of the first-rank programs run about I r per cent. Only one runs less than 6 per cent.
The most popular fifteen-minute sketchand the one that has probably been the most productive in salesuses an average of 11 per cent of advertising divided between the beginning and end of the program. In the full hour programs, the one that undoubtedly has achieved the greatest results for the advertiser uses an average of 11% per cent of straight product advertising. But in the 109 programs, advertising content varies all the way from 1 per cent to 100 per cent.
I do not believe we can set up any arbitrary rule as to the amount of advertising that can successfully and profitably be put into a radio program. While an advertising content of 10 per cent has been found to be markedly successful in programs that have high public acceptance, there are other successful programs with a considerably higher advertising content, and there are some programs that are virtually 100 per cent advertisingand big sales builders.
Listener acceptance does not depend upon the length of the advertising content of programs, but upon the skill with which the entire program is staged from the opening to the closing announcements. Comparison of length of advertising copy with nation-wide tests of program popularity conclusively proves that popularity of programs has no relation to the length of copy.
I have great confidence in the air as a full-fledged, dependable advertising medium, and I have a similar confidence in the advertising education of the public. All in all, I think there is very little need for wet-nursing solicitude. I think we will probably hear the controversy about long and short copy for many years to come, but I don’t think either side is going to have very much influence on the so-called American system of broad-casting which provides a rich variety of entertainment at the expense of the advertiser, instead of an anaemic flow of entertainment as in England at the expense of the set owner.
Some critics, who do not like the way things are now being managed on the air, suggest other means of paying the expenses of broadcastingtax the radio sets, as in Europe, some say. While the American people are pretty easy-going a do stand for a lot of things, I don’t think they would stand a tax on radio sets. If we had such a tax and raised the 75 to 100 millions of dollars annually needed to maintain broadcasting stations and provide the programs, who would decide how the money should be spentsome bureau in Washington headed by a master showman appointed by the President? I hate to imagine what kind of entertainment would be provided night after night on the radio stations of this country if the talent were engaged and the programs arranged by a Radio Pro-gram Commission in Washington.
Had it not been that some courageous and venture-some manufacturers tried out radio broadcasting in the early days as a means of advertising, the present development of broadcasting as a means of entertainment and instruction would have been impossible. The publisher of a newspaper or magazine can get a certain amount of revenue from the sale of his printed matter. Magazines and newspapers could conceivably be kept alive solely from the revenue from subscriptions. But a chain of broadcasting stations puts its entertainment on the air free. Anybody with a receiving set can pick it up and listen to the whole show free of charge.
So the broadcasting stations were compelled to find revenues to keep them going. Fortunately for them, and for the millions of people who now enjoy radio programs, it was found that time on the air could be profitably used by national advertisers. It was this discovery that has given to millions of people the opportunity of hearing the country’s greatest artists and entertainers.
Mr. Curtis is able to sell thirty-five cents’ worth of Saturday Evening Post every week for five cents and make a handsome profit because advertisers pay the difference. We are able to put a $15,000 concert program on the airand charge no admission to the millions who hear itbecause the advertiser pays the bill and gets his money’s worth. He gets his money’s worth if he can use, say, 10 per cent of this very costly broadcasting time to tell the audience something of real interest about his merchandise.
If he doesn’t know how to make the use of this time acceptable to his audience and profitable to himself, and can’t find any one to show him how to do it, then he is simply wasting his advertising money. I believe there is no other form of advertising in which money can be so easily wasted as in radio advertising when it is handled with the wrong technic.
Radio advertising is no plaything. A $20,000 all-star program on a coast-to-coast network may get fine press notices and win the sympathetic applause of those self-appointed advertising critics who are working for high cultural standardsbut it’s a dead loss to the advertiser if it’s all showmanship and no salesmanship.
I believe in radio as an established advertising medium. I have seen the results obtained from it by our own clients. When I see a million people responding to a sales message on one of our programsand spending nearly a million dollars for the privilege of sampling a new product announced in a radio programI know that radio has taken rank with the printed page as a real power in advertising.