Radio Results Blog

Don Draper Teaches About Effective Radio Advertising

Posted by Larry Julius on Sun, Jun 03, 2012 @ 01:18 PM

Effective Radio AdvertisingDon Draper, the mythical 1960s adman in the TV show Mad Men, has a lot to teach us about effective radio advertising in the 21st century.  Here is, perhaps, Don's greatest lesson:

One Emotion Is Worth 150 Words of Fact

In episode 13 of the first season, Don is invited to make a pitch to marketing executives from Kodak for "The Wheel", a new rotating slide-projector tray. If you haven't seen this, then here is a link to the scene: Watch Don Draper  (note: the video begins with an ad).


"The Wheel" was not thought to be cutting-edge.  Even the Kodak executive says to Don, "...wheels aren't considered exciting technology." But during Don's presentation, he never once talks about the features or the newness of "The Wheel".  Instead, he turns the product into an emotional time-machine "that takes us to a place where we ache to go again." 

The typical radio commercial is 150 words.  Most advertisers use these words to relay facts like open daily, plenty of free parking, fast and friendly service, a family owned business since 1931, and we won't be undersold So how would Don Draper use his 150 words?  He would:

  • Describe an emotional "itch" relevant to the product's target audience...in the case of "The Wheel" it was a longing for the good ol' days
  • Explain the magical property of the product that relieves the emotional itch..."The Wheel" was a time-machine that takes us back
  • Make it personal..."The Wheel" only contained pictures of Don's family but the intimateness of the presentation was easily translatable to each audience members own experience.
Although Mad Men is fictional, Don's technique is not.  Research conducted by Gallup & Robinson designed to assess how radio ads generate emotional responses and engage consumers came to similar conclusions.  G&R found:
  • Strong beginnings make a difference. An involving point of entry distinguishes some of the most successful Radio ads in our study
  • Word selection matters. Words that are sensory-laden, emotional, or empowering have a demonstrable impact on the emotional reactions of consumers
  • Audio can be powerful. Audio can generate stronger emotions than visuals, especially when the tonality in the ad is used effectively

Additionally, research by Gerald Zaltman at the Harvard Business School concludes that 95% of our purchase decisions take place in the subconscious mind.  This is where our emotions live.  So, when our radio commercials are 100% facts, we are only speaking to 5% of the decision making process.

Although we don't subscribe to the Don Draper lifestyle of excess, we do subscribe to using all 150 words of a 60-second radio commercial to scratch an emotional itch.

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Tags: Effective Radio Advertising, radio commercials, research