Forums » Friday Polls

Friday Poll: How Many Spots Is "Too Many?"

    • 1048 posts
    January 31, 2019 7:15 PM PST

    I've never seen "scientific evidence" supporting an absolute number, but many radio folks think we're running too many ads? Sales trainer Jim Williams had plenty to say about what he termed the ads-are-bad myth. He used to say, If one radio ad is good, two are better (and so on). He even broached the idea of an all-ad format, the radio equivalent to a newspaper shopper.

    Still, people talk about "commercial clutter" driving away listeners. Is it due strictly to the number of ads, or might it be that so many of them lack engagement and entertainment value in conveying the sales message? (Spot Q's Jerry Lee, having sold his legendary Philadelphia station to Entercom for $57,500,000 a few months ago, is on a mission to improve the quality of local radio commercials, as we've reported elsewhere. And he's looking for exceptional copywriters to join him.) 

    RSC member Scott Howard recently asked, How many spots per hour do you air? And he provided this graphic showing NBC TV airing 30 spots an hour. 

    About the same time I read Scott's post, I ran across a story about a broadcaster in the United Arab Emirates, Shock ME, promising to air no more than 2 ads per break.

    In what is a radio first for the UAE, Shock Middle East (SME), is providing listeners a clutter-free radio experience as the network introduces an “Only Two Ads in A Row” USP with the promise of airing no more than two ads per commercial break before returning to music and content.

    (Read full story here.)

    So, this Friday's Poll Question:

    What's the "right" number of commercials to run per break or per hour?

    How many is "too many?" 

    Look forward to reading your replies below.


    This post was edited by Rod Schwartz at January 31, 2019 11:28 PM PST
    • 2 posts
    February 1, 2019 5:26 AM PST

    How many commercials are too many? First of all, is it a talk format? You can get away with a lot. Those people are listening to the spoken word and are there to be informed, including advertiser messages. But WAIT! if it is a music format? Be Careful! Well, I believe that 10 to 12 minutes is sufficient. We have a station in the market that frequently plays 20 commercials in a row... IN ONE BREAK! I like to write down all of the advertisers in the break... choose the advertisers from about position 5 on, call those clients with a list of all the commercials that surrounded theirs and ask them, "How many listeners do you think are still tuned in by the time they got around to playing YOUR commercial?'" Come on... good or not, how many commercials will YOU sit through before you push the button (if you are not monitoring for leads, that is)? Break it up into small clusters and it is not too much for listeners to bear. Remember, patience is fading fast in this "I want it NOW society."

    Regarding TV? Generally, they use up 20 minutes per hour for commercials... that is precisely why I watch NOTHING that is not pre-recorded so that I can skip the commercials.  That is entirely too many interruptions that totally destroy the enjoyment of the program. And another reason why I love being in radio sales!

    This post was edited by Barbara Scott at February 1, 2019 5:29 AM PST
    • 3 posts
    February 1, 2019 7:30 AM PST

    Referring to the posted graph with 30 ads in "This is Us" hour...that's why I quit watching it.

    • 1 posts
    February 1, 2019 7:37 AM PST

    I agree with several others that it is dependent a bit on format.  Talk stations can definitely get away with more, though I still think you have to be cautious not to run too many spots within one break to avoid tune out.  With talk stations, you often have the option of more breaks and can keep your breaks to 2 minutes each.  With our music stations, we allow four units per break (doesn't matter spot length) but do our best to avoid having them all 60 seconds.  We break 3 times per hour.  If we sell out, it drives our rates up, so you can still increase revenue.  We also have been discussing additional ways to effectively use "product placement" or sponsorship content as well.  

    • 29 posts
    February 1, 2019 8:07 AM PST

    I think Barbara Scott has got this right.  I host and produce an hour-long weekend program offered for barter.   The standard network ad time on our end is six minutes.  With 45 minutes of network programming this leaves stations 15 minutes for top of the hour news and bottom of the hour weather along with another six minutes of ads per hour.  Most of our stations are a talk format though several of our small town stations have a country or variety format.   

    I have heard some weekend shows that go over the six minute mark on ads and it does make it an unpleasant listening experience.  One way you can go over the six minute mark though is through advertorials taking place within the program and narrated by the host.  We have a local afternoon host in our region (Don West on News Radio 560 KPQ) who does this in such an entertaining way that you actually look forward to what he has to say about the sponsors of his show.  Now that's effective radio advertising!



    • 2 posts
    February 1, 2019 8:48 AM PST

    You just KNEW I'd weigh in on this. I think the key quote from the original post is about radio ads lacking engagement and/or entertainment value. With that in mind, might I opine that the possibility of too many ads COULD work to one's advantage. If there's an ad (or 2) in a stop set that steps out of the realm of "commercial correctness", takes some risks and possibly even attempts to entertain: 1) there's a possibility that a listener will tune in to that specific message while tuning OUT the rest of the clutter (great news for the client who had the guts to attempt to convey their message in an out of the box manner) and 2) There's a chance a listener might actually keep the radio tuned to that next commercial cluster, no matter the length, with the anticipation they might be pleasantly surprised/entertained by an ad style they're not likely to hear on the competitor's air waves. And because the successful execution of said produced commercial is from that station's creative dude, it won't have the exact sound of an agency perpetrated ad, which could make it even more unique and more worth hanging around for.  But it all starts with having the intestinal fortitude to go out of your comfort zone to present something that bursts the "commercial correctness" bubble (I'm beginning to like that term I just made up). Then if the client has been educated to the potential benefits of this type of approach--after all, doesn't selling include educating?--you just might have come up with a winning formula, regardless of spot set length.


    • 76 posts
    February 1, 2019 10:21 AM PST

    I really can't add to the prior comments beyond chiming in on quality. Our problem is the client that buys is calling the shots. Most of us are not in a position to reject business if the client is dead set on the commercial done their way. Most stations lack the ability in both time and talent to churn out and endless stream of unique 'entertaining and engaging' commercials. Mostly that is limited to the rare times a spark of genius happens. Generally we churn out spots that will get heard and produce results but beyond that, they are elements of programming we can hardly call entertaining. In my mind the commercial ideally would be to the format what a product placement is in a movie scene. That's rather a pie in the sky dream because the client has approval authority and generally cannot grasp the concept.

    I am a believer in separating competitors (never 2 car dealers or restaurants in the same break). I think 4 units or 'song length' breaks is about the maximum before listener fatigue sets in or information overload has the listener tuning out the mind until music starts again. Ideally 2 breaks, perhaps 3 is about as many as I'd like (8 to 10 minutes ideally) but more often than not, we are typically never sold out because we are always on the hunt for more revenue. 

    I think one habit we should change (call me a rebel), is start selling messages, not lengths of time. So many times we can convey the message a client wants delivered to the radio audience in far less than 60 seconds. The more 'fluff' we need to add to reach 60 seconds, the more we risk the message not getting across. That's not to say we can't get creative but rather than fit a message to a specific length why not concentrate on selling the message which is what the client is really buying.

    Pay attention to TV ads. You'll notice many are now using a 15 and 30 to get more frequency but the 15 is an edit of the 30 without losing the message it was designed to deliver. Some say listeners cannot sense length but I disagree. Check a break on the local affiliate for NPR in morning or afternoon drive. Granted it is underwriting but they can cram in 7 or 8 messages in 3 minutes or less and you don't feel it is too much. If they were all 60s it would be. Sure it is a straight read but my point is the message is not tied to length. 

    I also see a trend in small markets where advertising budgets are getting smaller thanks to the national chains and online options. Some markets are losing up to 5% a year and it's not going to a competitor. For many mom and pop businesses they are seeing the line between profit and loss closing in on each other. It's a good reason to be pushing local shopping/services and exploring ways to effectively do what you have always done for a bit less money. That means we have to work smarter on appeasing the listener and centering more on how we can keep the client's message front and center. A perk like a shop local business directory on your station website might just give you a bit of an edge on getting the same dollars while your competitors take that 5% on the chin. I think we need to think beyond the radio signal to bolster results. Have you heard the line Facebook is now radio's request line? We need to know our listener better to understand how to maximize results for the people that ultimately provide us with a paycheck.

    • 2 posts
    February 1, 2019 12:58 PM PST

    Bill, go ahead and be a rebel.

    It's the rebels that help generate out of the box ideas that turn problems into solutions.

    And for those stations that lack the time and talent to churn out an endless stream of unique entertaining and engaging commercials-

    that's why there's guys like me for hire :o]

    Great input

    • 1262 posts
    February 6, 2019 4:34 PM PST

    From James Henderson: Greetings everyone. Responding to the question as to how many commercials an hour are too many? Our market size is about 25,000. We sit in the shadow of San Francisco (20 miles south on the San Mateo County Coast). People here have a lot of choices, but our success comes from - surprise! - being local. Those that like us really like us. And we have something our SF radio brethren would die for - people tell me they like listening to the commercials. Why I ask them (after thanking them for listening). They say it is because they hear people they know or local businesses and that reinforces the sense of community we have here. Now after all that rambling, we have 3 breaks an hour - :15, :30 and :45. We have 3 spots per break. I only sell 60's as I want to give good value to our main street merchants. That means we limit our commercial load to 9 spots per hour or 9 min. an hour. We also produce Radio Magazine, an hour of locally produced shows that runs 2 times a day Monday thru Friday at different times. So all in all this seems to be working for us. Yes, the downsize is when we get sold out, but that does not happen that often. Then comes the challenge of increasing rates - always a real joy, no? Best to all my Cafe friends.

    • 1048 posts
    February 6, 2019 6:04 PM PST

    Just for the heck of it, listen to this commercial break and share your thoughts.

    If all breaks were of similar quality, would anyone fear "tune out?"