Are radio commercials spam?

A little preface here: Most of the food I ever put in my mouth was paid for –directly or indirectly– by radio commercials. My father was a radio guy and for many years I wrote and produced radio “spots.” Lots and lots of them. Some were good, some were just the right length, if you know what I mean.

Spam150So when Seth Godin –one of the keynote speakers at the recent Country Radio Seminar in Nashville– refers to radio commercials as “spam,” it’s a problem for me. I’m a regular reader of Mr. Godin’s blog and have purchased and read a number of his books. I think he understands marketing in the 21st century as well as anyone.

So what’s spam and what’s not?

When you get your hands on my email address and send me an unsolicited email trying to sell me something (or get me to give you money, or visit your porn site, etc) …without my permission, we call that spam. You invaded my inbox without my permission.

When I turn on my local radio station, I know there will be commercials. They pay for the music/news/weather programs for which I tuned in. I’m giving tacit permission for the the station to try to sell me something on behalf of their advertisers. Value for value. That doesn’t sound like spam to me.

And if every commercial I heard was talking about something I cared about, something of interest… I’d probably pay more attention and the commercials would be worth more to the advertiser.

This is how cable TV programs work. If I’m watching HGTV (House & Garden), there’s a pretty good chance the commercials will at least marginally relevant.

I’m sure a lot of radios stations attempt to do this when and where they can. But it’s tough. They’re trying to reach the largest audience they can and will sell a spot to damn near anyone (preachers and politicians pay in advance).

Given the choice, most of us will choose NOT to listen to a poorly produced or irrelevant message. Commercial or otherwise.

So are are radio spots spam or not?

Only the listener can answer that. And he or she does, every time they punch the button to another station. And keeps punching it until they find a song or talk show they like (at least more than the commercial). Or pull out the iPod.

3 thoughts on “Are radio commercials spam?

  1. *gasp* The great Seth Godin responds! I’ll never wash my computer screen again!
    In my opinion, advertisements are almost always spam. The very way they are placed in my stream of attention classifies them as interruptions to what I was interested in when I tuned in, linked, or downloaded. The trick, I suppose, is to make the advertisement sufficiently relevant that I do not see it as an interruption, but part of the content stream I asked for. We still have a long way to go on this front.
    I remember reading an article, when TiVo was first becoming popular, which reported some network television executives were calling PVR use “signal theft”. They said digital recording allowed the audience to break the implicit contract of having to pay attention to commercials as they unspooled from the unfiltered teat of the live television broadcast, and it was reducing the value of their advertising.
    This outrage, I am sure, made sense as they watched the red numbers spread like a bad rash on their charts. But, it also betrays a mentality that says I must allow myself to be exposed to suggestions that may not be entirely truthful or in my best interests. Maybe I don’t want to be neurolinguistically programmed to feel bad if I don’t go shopping or eat fatty foods or throw away toys more than a year off the factory line. This way of doing business has caused a lot of problems, and frankly I’d rather it find another way of operating. We would be better for it.

  2. I agree with you Steve. Of course half my families income also comes from Radio advertisments.
    When I sign up for a website I’m not giving my permission for that website to sell my email address to a third party so they may send me advertisments.
    If I like a website and want advertisments sent to me that is not spam.
    When I turn on the radio I know they are going to try and sell me something just like I know when I turn on the TV (which is less and less common) I know they are going to attempt to sell me ads. When I watch Diggnation or listen to TWiT I know there will be ads in them. I have agreed as a consumer that I’m okay with all of that. It’s the price I pay to watch Diggnation or listen to Dave Ramsey.
    Emails for Viagra in my inbox I do not agree to. Therefore, is spam.
    Great topic!

  3. Your last paragraph is my favorite part.
    If I think it’s spam, it’s spam. If it’s a commercial I’d rather not hear or an email I’d rather not read, it’s spam.
    If I can listen to a station with better commercials or no commercials and the same music, I will.
    And once I have g4 or wifi in my car, that station will be there, for sure.

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