Tag Archives: radio

Hey, Radio! Science Says Surprise Your Listeners.

Tuesdays With Coleman

How predictable is your radio station? Have listeners “heard it all”?

That’s not necessarily a good thing.

There’s a region of our brain called Broca’s Area, and it is known to have multiple roles involving speech production.  It turns out that another function involves surprise. When we’re surprised, it triggers this part of the brain.

But Broca anticipates the predictable. It’s the part of the brain that literally tunes out what it already knows and expects.

I once saw marketer Roy Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads, explaining the Broca lesson in terms of radio contesting. There was a time when winning 25 bucks was a big deal. Until listeners heard $100 given away, then $1,000, and so on.

Listeners had certain expectations for morning drive radio before Howard Stern. Howard shattered those expectations, thereby stimulating Broca’s Area and becoming a superstar.

I recently visited a friend in Las Vegas and experienced an example of Broca stimulation.

Go figure, it was a billboard for a hospital.

Hospitals used to only run basic billboard campaigns. Name, location, specialization maybe. Picture of a patient. “The cardiovascular hospital.”

Then, we saw billboards for emergency rooms with digital wait times.


Now it’s not quite as unusual to see those wait time billboards. Still neat and effective, but the element of surprise has passed.

The board for St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Las Vegas does something I’d never seen before.

It welcomes new babies in real time.

The digital message I saw welcomed a baby by first name that was born 15 minutes prior.

The hospital is even using a mnemonic device in the labor and delivery unit itself—they play a lullaby throughout the entire hospital every time a baby is born.

They stimulate Broca with the billboard birth announcement and reinforce it in-house with the lullaby.

Have you been watching Jeopardy! lately? Lots more people have, because contestant James Holzhauer is currently torching records left and right.

He’s a professional sports gambler from Las Vegas. Can’t recall ever seeing one of those (at least mentioned) as a Jeopardy! contestant before.

He regularly goes all-in or heavily in on Daily Doubles, betting 10, 20, $30,000 or more.

Never seen that before.

He’s broken the record for single-day winnings, then broke his own records. $131,137 in one game?

Never seen that before.

Jeopardy James is one big ball of Broca stimulation, and there are two ways to look at it from the show’s standpoint.

#1, We’re over budget!

#2, This guy is a marketing machine. It’s been great for the show. There’s great buzz. Our ratings are soaring.

I think the Jeopardy! folks are probably pretty happy right now.

Now, think about Broca’s Area in the context of your radio station.

Before you do, be careful not to confuse Broca with message repetition. Your listeners lead busy lives, have short attention spans and are not paying attention to your station like you may think.

Therefore, repeating the same positioner over and over again is important. Running benchmarks at the same time has value. You may utilize a mnemonic device, like a jingle, sound effect or voice that listeners associate with your station. These help build images through repetition.

So, what can you do to stimulate Broca?

Stimulating Broca can be additive to images, like the ones we track in strategic perceptual research.

The hospital billboard and Jeopardy James create buzz.

Buzz builds top-of-mind awareness.

If you live in Las Vegas, maybe you’re more likely to think of that hospital first—just as you’re trying to get listeners to think of your radio station first.

You’re very likely to think of them as the baby hospital, which I’m sure is an image they’d love to own.

But they simply could have put a tag line up on the board, right? “First for babies?” “The baby hospital?”

Would that build the image as fast as a real-time birth clock??

Sure, you can throw a tag line or an artist on a billboard. But I’ll bet you can come up with something we haven’t seen before.

And sure, Jeopardy James is lightning in a bottle. Contestants like him and Ken Jennings are once-in-a-blue-moon events.

But it is a reminder to seek out memorable talent and to find ways of presenting your product that the listener hasn’t heard before.

And those repeating messages I mentioned? Just because they say the same thing doesn’t mean they need to be presented the same way each time. When they are, they become wallpaper.

So think about your core messaging and the images you want to build with your listeners.

Think about all the ways you’ve relayed and presented the messaging up until now.

Then, think about the opposite. Something completely different. Something even you haven’t heard before.

Broca (and your listeners) will thank you.

When it’s Time to Hunt (for Talent), Go Outside

Tuesdays With Coleman

This September, NBC will debut “A Little Late With Lilly Singh,” a new late-late-night talk show in what will be the former timeslot of “Last Call With Carson Daly.” NBC’s choice of host for this timeslot is a bold one for the network in a lot of ways. Lilly Singh will be the only woman with a late-night broadcast network show. She’s Canadian. She’s a young woman of color. She is also relatively unknown to the general TV-watching public. Lilly Singh earned her chops not on the stand-up comedy scene or as a bit player in sitcoms.

Lilly Singh is a star on YouTube.

Ms. Singh is not the first person to build a career from that platform (we wouldn’t have Shawn Mendes without it), but it’s fair to say that she’s the first person to be plucked from YouTube by a major network and given her very own eponymous TV show right out of the gate. Say what you will about the 1:35am timeslot on NBC, it’s still part of a network with a lot of heritage and a good amount of prestige that relies on advertising for its success, so it doesn’t make its host choices lightly. She is one of the main reasons people are opting to purchase youtube views and growing in their own way.  TV is looking for talent in new places and banking on that talent. Why can’t radio? When radio stations and syndicators look for on-air talent, they tend to look fairly inward. And that’s understandable on some level, because we all know radio isn’t like visual media. If your audience can see you, you work a lot with facial expressions and body language. Radio requires everything to be in the voice. It’s not a skill everyone has, for sure. It’s not always translatable from film or TV. Radio hosts also have to be able to think fast and be creative on the fly, read copy often with little notice and, in many cases, be willing to wake up at ungodly hours and make their way to the studio in all types of weather conditions. Great hosts are not always easy to find.

But why not… try?

I’m reminded of major films that took huge casting risks and ended up with something great. 2006 brought us the long-awaited film version of Dreamgirls—who knew Beyonce could act? Jennifer Hudson, at that point known primarily to the public as a runner-up on American Idol, even won an Oscar! Yalitza Aparicio, the star of recent Best Picture nominee Roma, was a schoolteacher. In a different part of the media universe, Megan Amram, a writer for some of my favorite sitcoms, got hired because of her clever and indie-popular Twitter feed. These people all had that something and were given a chance.

Now, I’m not completely naïve. I’m sure there was a lot of hard work that went into polishing the performances in Dreamgirls and Roma, and I’m sure Ms. Amram took a while to get comfortable in the Parks and Recreation writers’ room.

So why not apply some of the resources radio already uses into developing innovative and interesting on-air talent? Program directors coach their morning show hosts all the time, and I’m privileged to know some wonderful consultants out there whose careers are built on perfecting on-air charisma and chemistry.

There are already some successful stories of hosts plucked from other areas. D.L. Hughley comes to mind; his established career in comedy and TV hosting have served him well on his nationally syndicated morning show. And say what you will about Dr. Laura Schlessinger, but her ultimately extremely successful radio career started when she simply called into an LA-based talk show and impressed the host enough to get a gig. She was working as a biologist at the time, which reminds me that Janeane Garofalo’s character in The Truth About Cats and Dogs was a veterinarian-turned-radio-host (fictional, yes, but same idea).

My colleague Jay Nachlis knows firsthand about finding talent where you least expect it. Back in July, Jay made the case for hiring someone who was thrust into Internet fame because she eavesdropped on a conversation and Tweeted about it. His argument comes from experience; Jay told me a story about how when he was a PD here in Raleigh, back in the early 00s, he ran a “Search for Supermouth” competition. He hired the winner of that contest, a college student named Megan Sosne, to work at his station—and Ms. Sosne went on to several on-air gigs, eventually landing a longstanding hosting job at KBKS in Seattle and starting a podcast.

So how about it, radio? We at Coleman Insights talk about Outside vs. Inside Thinking all the time, and this is one of those areas where radio can definitely go “outside.” There might be a comedian out there whose brand of humor is perfect for your afternoon drive audience. You might be looking for an additional cast member to balance your morning show whose ratings are good but whose perceptual images are lackluster, and you might find that person on local cable access. Or from a contest. Or from your local karaoke bar.

Or stations can find talent on YouTube. People like Lilly Singh, who are building a huge base of followers that you can tap into as future listeners to your station. Potential radio talent really is all around you, even if you might not realize it at first glance.

When you’re looking for your Next Big Thing, don’t just stick to the studio. Look further afield. Like NBC.


What’s Radio’s Crossword Puzzle?

Tuesdays With Coleman

Benchmarks can be awesome, and late night television has known it for years.

There was Johnny Carson’s future-telling Carnac the Magnificent.

Remember David Letterman’s Top 10 List?

How about James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke? It’s been made into a prime-time special and has spun off its own Carpool Karaoke: The Series.

Jimmy Fallon reads viewer comments from Twitter hashtags on Thursday and writes snarky thank you notes on Friday.

But there’s only one benchmark we can think of that has lasted 77 years.

The New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

The Times wasn’t the first newspaper to run a crossword puzzle. In 1924, an opinion piece in the paper called crossword puzzles a “primitive sort of mental exercise” and a “sinful waste” of time.

In fact, The New York Times was the last major metropolitan daily newspaper in the United States to run one, starting in 1942. It was a way to give readers a distraction from news about the war.

When the Times did start running one, it ran once every week in the Sunday magazine, and was a more challenging puzzle than the norm, carefully edited.

Eight years later, The New York Times added a daily version of the crossword puzzle.

In 2019, The New York Times crossword puzzle remains one of the most successful, long-running benchmarks in American history. It is syndicated to more than 300 other newspapers and journals, has its own app, books and offshoots as well as a fiercely loyal following.

How did a newspaper develop such a deep following for a feature that it originally disparaged? And how does it remain so relevant within a medium struggling for survival?

For starters, the reason why readers use The New York Times crossword puzzle is likely no different than it was in 1942. It is a distraction from the chaos.

Digging in a little further, we can understand some of the other reasons why this antique benchmark maintains its relevance in a digital era.

  • The New York Times runs its crossword puzzle consistently. Every single day, since 1950. Readers know where to find it and can rely on it being there.
  • The New York Times spends a great deal of effort on their signature benchmark. While they could go the cheaper route and deliver an inferior product, readers understand The New York Times crossword puzzle is not like other crossword puzzles. It is fun, clever and challenging. It is one-of-a-kind in the puzzle world.
  • The New York Times adapted the benchmark for a digital world, offering an app version that features things like inside tips, puzzle syncing and additional games. At $6.95/month, it is an additional revenue generator for the newspaper.

This brings us to radio. What’s your crossword puzzle?

There are plenty of personalities that rely on powerful benchmarks on their radio shows.

As you consider which benchmarks you have on your own station and shows, perhaps there are some takeaways from The New York Times that can provide a road map to your own 77-year success story:

  • Be consistent. Just as the NYT runs its puzzle every day in the same place, are you running your most popular benchmark enough and do listeners know where to find it?
  • Make it a focus. You likely run more than one feature, as does the Times, but give your most popular benchmark the attention and preparation it deserves to maintain quality over time.
  • Many radio show benchmarks are variations of the same basic premise. What can you offer that is unique, exclusive and appointment listening?
  • The New York Times adapted its benchmark for the digital age. Are you doing the same for yours?

As radio thinks about its crossword puzzle, consider the essential appeal of a great benchmark.

Great benchmarks complement the brand. (The New York Times can use crossword clues to enhance the overall brand images it wants to build.)

A great benchmark is deeply engaging. (The crossword puzzle can intensely occupy the reader’s attention.)

A great benchmark is relevant (The crossword puzzle can adapt and be topical and timely as that day’s news.)

If I were to craft one benchmark for radio, it would be deeply connected to the music (for music formats) or the talk angle. It would contain audio, to complement the medium.  It would be smart in its construction and would make me feel alive and engaged.

Coleman Insights Crossword Puzzle

So, radio, what’s your crossword puzzle?

How Amazon Uses Research for World Domination

“Hey let’s put that song in rotation, it sounds good on the air.”

“I think that morning show benchmark is really gaining traction. My wife and her friends love it.”

“The station is sounding too old. It’s probably time to start playing some newer music.”

Is this is how your radio station conducts research?

Radio is fighting daily battles within a never-ending war for top-of-mind awareness. This is no time to trust your request line or mother-in-law for market intelligence. Rolling the dice is not a sound strategy.

Amazon is often rightfully credited with coming up with innovative ideas. How Amazon evolves those ideas into big, successful initiatives is by utilizing market research.

When the company launched Amazon Prime, it offered unlimited two-day shipping for $79 per year. The price increased to $99 and now $119, but also includes added features like Amazon Music and Amazon Prime Video. How did Amazon navigate which features to focus on and which price points were viable?


Amazon doesn’t just use research to determine how to grow – it uses research to know when to quit.

Even Amazon fails sometimes, as with the Fire Phone, Amazon Local and Amazon Destinations. By using research to track customer perceptions and product/market fit, Amazon was able to mitigate further losses and shift resources into profitable segments.

Do you really know what’s working and what’s not working on your radio station? What if you’re running a feature that’s not compatible with the brand and you have no idea? What if the only measurement you have of your morning show is ratings and you don’t actually know if its familiarity and appeal are growing?

Rolling the dice is, as they say, a crapshoot.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos likes to say “We start with the customer and work backward.”

Are you truly focused on your customer?

Sure, you can gather the troops in a conference room and detail your target listener on a whiteboard. But wouldn’t it be nicer to actually know who your listeners are instead of guessing based on wobbly ratings? Wouldn’t it be helpful to know which ones have the best potential of converting to P1s?

You better believe Amazon knows all about its competitors, probably better than their competitors know themselves.

They’ve done their research.

How much do you know about your competition and its listeners?

Radio should constantly innovate with fresh, new ways of entertaining its consumers. By conducting research to identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, you can focus on what works and feel confident your strategy is sound and optimized for success.

It sure beats rolling the dice.

Radio’s New Softer Side

At the tail end of 2018 and in the first part of 2019, there’s been an interesting wave that seems to be, on a medium-ish scale, sweeping over the radio landscape. A significant number of stations in the US and Canada have flipped to a Soft Adult Contemporary (AC) format that started gaining traction in 2016 when KISQ in San Francisco flipped and became “The Breeze.” The Breeze is… well, it’s breezy. It’s designed to be great for your workday; songs on The Breeze don’t require you to work too hard to understand them, many of them are hits from years past and they’re all intended to put a smile on your face.

KISQ 98.1 The Breeze San Francisco

So the big question is… why? Why is this format so popular all of a sudden? Why are stations turning to the soft, “lite” music they started rejecting 25 years ago?

My colleague Meghan Campbell and I recently discussed our views on why this format is suddenly so popular.


To me, the Soft AC format is all about hygge. Haven’t heard of hygge? Google Translate will tell you that it’s the Danish word for “fun”, but really, it describes a kind of coziness. Hygge is a movement, a way for people (usually women) to incorporate relaxation into their lives. Hygge is a way to shut out the craziness of the world and just breathe.

I firmly believe that people seek out hygge and Soft Adult Contemporary-type formats because we’re surrounded by chaos. In a world that is so uncertain and seemingly unstable, where information flies at us so much faster than it ever did, where our news sources fight with each other and family relationships erode because of political differences, people are looking for an anchor in a sea of chaos. In times of strife and trouble, we look for things that are familiar and calming. We try to create order in our lives where we can.

The Breeze and its variations provide a space where the music is calm, we know many of the songs by heart (even if we think we forgot them) and we get to go back to a time where things seemed much simpler.


For me, it’s less about creating a space for yourself than it is about how everyone gets it. I think the magic of Soft AC is that it can be a familiar, shared experience.

In a fragmented world, people yearn for shared experiences. I love going to concerts—have you noticed the rise of big festivals, where people can gather for several days of enjoying music together? These concerts always feature a headliner people know. There is some discovery of new artists, which is great, but the biggest acts are generally the ones all people can enjoy, no matter their age or stage in the life cycle.

We all remember the songs we hear on Soft AC stations, and they’re not limited to one decade or one artist. On a Soft AC station, you’ll hear artists ranging from Billy Joel to Styx, from Adele to Christina Perri. You might not like every song played on the station, but listen for a little bit and you’ll hear something that triggers nostalgia, and so will the person listening with you.

Jessica mentioned all of the news and information that flies around us. I find that it’s less about the speed of information and more that there’s just too much of it. You can end up as your own island of entertainment, choosing shows and movies and music from a variety of sources. There is a playlist for every taste on every different streaming service.

A couple of weeks ago, everyone was watching Bird Box on Netflix. My social media feed was full of it. So was my mother’s. And it sounded scary and intense—the opposite of Jessica’s hygge—but people were engaged with the show and each other, seeking out that shared experience.

The Soft AC format is like that, a way for people who gravitate towards different styles and eras to come around one format that works for almost everyone. People from all walks of life coming together to share familiar, comfortable songs and artists.


Regardless of why people are listening to the format, there is definitely something that draws people in. Right now, we don’t know whether I’m right, or Meghan’s right—maybe we’re both right, or we’re both wrong—but time and research will tell how strong these soft sounds will continue to be.

Radio and the Death of Anticipation

Tuesdays With Coleman

Somewhere along the line, anticipation died.

It may have been when Heinz started selling ketchup in a plastic container, and you no longer had to excavate your prize from a glass bottle with a knife.


Heinz ketchup anticipation

It may have been when smartphones reached critical mass, and the answer to every single question in the universe was suddenly accessible in less than 10 seconds.

Perhaps it was when you no longer had to memorize a phone number. Or figure out math in your head. Or call a theater to get movie times. Or send letters in the mail. Or use a travel agent.

Anticipation doesn’t exist anymore because technology took it out to pasture with the local TV weather report. You know, the one you can get on your phone in 10 seconds.

Sometimes our “instant gratification” society doesn’t align with the way radio has always done things.

In the beginning of the 11th episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, Johnny Fever accidentally tells listeners the station will be giving away five thousand dollars to one lucky listener. Program Director Andy Travis says, “You read the memo wrong! It was fifty dollars! Five thousand dollars was the whole budget!”

When we have Powerball jackpots that grow over a billion dollars, maybe it’s harder to get excited about fifty bucks.

That’s also why in-the-moment experiences are more important than ever.

Consider the Coleman Insights Brand-Content MatrixSM.

Brand Content Matrix

When contemplating programming elements for your radio station, it’s always been important to aim for great in-the-moment content that supports your brand.

Today, it may be worthwhile to consider just how much of an in-the-moment world we live in and how much harder we are to impress.

Live sports and podcasts serve this need for instant gratification.

With radio, you’re not sure what you’ll hear when you tune in. With a podcast, you get to hear what you want, when you want it, and if you don’t like something, you can skip it. Instant gratification.

In-the-moment radio contests like “The Secret Sound” can be valuable because the entertainment can be as interesting as or even more important than the prize.

When Fox debuted their new singing competition, The Masked Singer, I was hooked from the get go. Then I discovered only one singer would be revealed each night. And I had to watch through the entire episode to see the reveal. Now I’m so hooked, I have to watch it live.

It’s brilliant.

In a world of instant gratification, TV is finding creative ways to motivate its viewers to avoid their DVRs and stay hooked on its programming.

Building strong top-of-mind brands that deliver incredible in-the-moment content is also how radio will satisfy listeners and keep them coming back for more.

Our Top 5 Blog Posts of 2018

Tuesdays With Coleman

Radio loves a good countdown.

WMCA-FM in New York was counting down the hottest singles all the way back in the 1950s.

Casey Kasem took the countdown format coast-to-coast with the debut of American Top 40 in July 1970 (on just seven stations!)

Countdowns have stood the test of time, from syndicated programming to the local “Most Requested,” Top 8 at 8 or Hot 9 at 9.

2018 marks the first full year of our Tuesdays With Coleman blog, providing tips and insights on branding, content and research strategy every Tuesday.

As we get ready to say farewell to 2018, it seems only fitting to highlight our five most-read blogs of the year in honor of the great radio countdowns of past and present.

With the assistance of Google Analytics, we’ve got the facts and figures and the list below (counted down, of course, from number five to number one.) Now, on with the countdown.


#5           Should I Play That Song on my Radio Station?  By Jon Coleman

In this blog, originally posted on September 25, 2018, Founder Jon Coleman explains that deciding which songs to play on your radio station isn’t always as clear as it seems. Jon describes how our Brand-Content MatrixSM and Acceptance-Fit Matrix can assist with your evaluation strategy, and reveals when it makes sense to take some extra risks.

Acceptance Fit Matrix


#4           Why Radio Stations Are Like Toy Stores  By Jay Nachlis

Associate Consultant Jay Nachlis wrote this blog on September 4, 2018, after FAO Schwarz announced the iconic toy brand would reopen in New York.

By revisiting his thoughts on why Toys R Us closed earlier in the year and examining new plans by FAO Schwarz, Jay discovers that the things that make toy stores appealing are strikingly similar to what makes radio stations appealing.

#3           The Branding Genius of Trader Joe’s  By Sam Milkman

While just about every Tuesdays With Coleman blog covers brand strategy, not all focus entirely on radio. This April 3, 2018 entry from Executive Vice President/Senior Consultant Sam Milkman highlights four reasons why Trader Joe’s has succeeded in the hugely competitive grocery space.

If you do work at a radio station, you’ll discover ways to carve out your own market position using lessons from Trader Joe’s.

#2           The 90s Music Research Conundrum  By John Boyne

Executive Vice President/Senior Consultant John Boyne reveals the reason why Adult Contemporary and Classic Hits radio stations are playing such small percentages of 90s music, despite the fact that much of the target demographic grew up listening to it.

#1           10 PPM Tips for Program Directors: 10 Years Later  By Jon Coleman

10 years after Arbitron rolled out the Portable People Meter to the Top 10 US markets, Jon revisits a dos and don’ts list he wrote for radio program directors in the early days of PPM.

This blog republishes the 10 tips, with brand new commentary from Jon looking back at the advice through a 2018 lens.

All of us at Coleman Insights wish you a wonderful holiday and Happy New Year! If you haven’t yet subscribed for Tuesdays With Coleman, click here and you won’t miss a single post in 2019.

“Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.” – Casey Kasem





The Palessi Brand Fit Lesson for Radio

Tuesdays With Coleman

Do listeners visit your radio station or podcast for the product or the brand?

While you chew on that, let’s visit the story of Palessi.

A couple of weeks ago, Payless ShoeSource opened a pop-up boutique store at a former Armani location in Santa Monica. The company invited groups of upscale fashion gurus and social media influencers to a grand opening event, complete with gold mannequins, soft lighting and models. The name of this new store?


And so, this fashionable, trendy new brand in town brought in their target crowd where they could get a good look at the merchandise.

The customers loved what they saw. Influencers used words like “elegant,” “classy” and “sophisticated” to describe the shoes, which attendees guessed cost between $400 and $600.

The shoes were from Payless. Actual retail price? $19.99 to $39.99.

The stunt brought the Payless brand a great deal of publicity, but perhaps more important is the larger branding lesson.

Would it have worked if the store was opened, same mannequins, same lighting, same models, same pricing….using the name Payless?

Would it have worked if the store was opened, same mannequins, same lighting, same models, same pricing….using a line extension? Like Payless Premium?

Of course it would not have, because fashionistas have a preconceived notion of what Payless Shoe Source is and it is not for them. It is not a brand match.

But what about the product? Could Palessi have gotten away with selling $20 shoes for $400?

For a short time, yes – while the store’s newness had a halo effect and word spread about how cool it was.

But before too long, the inferior quality of the shoes would probably have become apparent. Straps would fall off and soles would start wearing out long before they ought to for shoes that cost $400.

In a different decade, this ruse could have played out a little longer but not today. The Google reviews would be vicious, Instagram would be littered with photos of the disintegrated shoes, and someone would make a video outing the store for selling $20 shoes for $400 that would go viral. Then TMZ would show up, and well…you know the rest.

Back to the original question.

Do listeners visit your radio station or podcast for the product or the brand?

It is the brand that brings your listeners in – just as Palessi brought its customers in. It is the product that keeps them there. If your product is misaligned to the brand – as Palessi’s was – you will ultimately pay the price.


Why Elton John Will Make You Cry

Tuesdays With Coleman

Last Tuesday, my colleague Warren Kurtzman blogged about the value of video strategy for radio stations.

The effective use of video is one cost-effective way brands can tell their story and reach potential consumers in new, emotional ways. Warren explained in his blog that there are a number of examples from the recent midterm elections of videos that went viral, and radio can utilize some of those techniques in its own marketing.

Now, radio gets to learn from an old-school retailer.

John Lewis & Partners is a chain of department stores with locations throughout the United Kingdom. Like many traditional brick and mortar retail stores, John Lewis & Partners has struggled to maintain market position. The company claimed a staggering 99 percent drop in profits in the first half of 2018.

The evolution challenges facing legacy brands has been covered numerous times in this blog including “HBO and the Mass Appeal Trap,” “Harley-Davidson Has More Problems Than Tariffs,” “International House of Branding Bewilderment” and “Why Toys ‘R’ Us is Closing.” I rang the warning bell for a recently bankrupt retailer in “How Would You Restructure K-Mart” on my LinkedIn page two years ago.

Last Wednesday, John Lewis & Partners unleashed a new commercial for the holiday season starring Elton John. It begins with present-day Elton performing his first hit, “Your Song” on a piano. What follows is a pretty magical sequence, as we watch segments of the song performed by the many generational variations of Elton in reverse. It ends with Elton as a child being presented with his first piano by his mum and the tagline, “Some gifts are more than just a gift.”

It’s freaking fantastic.

It didn’t take long for the two minute and twenty second masterpiece to go viral. Shortly after its release online, “Late Late Show” host James Corden tweeted, “Holy s—t. This commercial.”

John Lewis & Partners didn’t make a video about what clothes you can buy there or what’s new in the Home & Garden section or how long mattresses would be on sale.

John Lewis & Partners made you feel something. Rather than being about what they sell, they focused on why you buy it. Instead of dialogue, the spot used the power of music and its intrinsic attachment to memories.

You’ve seen radio station TV spots. A CHR or Hot AC station might play some song hooks from its core artists, with images of the singers and bands flying across the screen followed by the obligatory station logo at the end.

Or maybe it’s to promote the morning show and you get a picture of the talent and the big voiceover. “(Insert name here) in the morning. Number one for hit music all day!” That may be fine for a 30-second spot.

But shouldn’t radio be taking advantage of the long-form video?

If a department store can use music to generate emotion, doesn’t it make sense that a brand whose product is music should do it?

Let’s say a CHR station has a heritage morning show that’s been in the market over 20 years. Can you picture utilizing a 2:20 long video to focus on some of that show’s most impactful moments and connection to the local community set to the biggest hits during each of those times?

Can you visualize a Sports station utilizing some of the biggest sports moments of all-time (making sure some incredible local ones are included), and ending with “(Station) was there?”

How about a Throwbacks station covering the History of Hip Hop?

As our Image PyramidSM illustrates with the crucial Base Music or Talk position, listeners do need to understand the “what.” Just as consumers need to know what John Lewis & Partners sells, listeners also need to know what you play.

But the truly great brands—the ones that will thrive in our more crowded-than-ever marketplace—are the ones that move past the “what” and into the “why.”

How’s Radio Doing in Australia and New Zealand?

Tuesdays With Coleman

I recently returned from Australia and New Zealand, where I had the pleasure of meeting with representatives of most of the major radio groups in both countries. If you’ve ever visited either country, you know that—thanks to breathtaking scenery, friendly people and excellent cuisine—it’s next to impossible to come home with anything but positive perceptions. But as I reflect on my meetings, I am struck by how positive my perceptions are of the radio industries in both countries.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

My wife Sharon and I atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge

In the simplest terms, radio is killing it in Australia and New Zealand. Revenue is strong, the major groups enjoy solid financial positions and the medium’s share of the advertising pie is higher than it is in North America.

In fact, an executive with one of Australia’s largest groups—a very smart guy who I have known for more than a decade—challenged me to convince him that “US radio still has something to offer to Australian radio” and to help him “fall in love with US radio again.” Fortunately, after acknowledging the difficult period our industry went through following The Great Recession, our discussion about the impact of two of our three major groups emerging from bankruptcy, the increased investments companies like mine are seeing in research and the industry’s embrace of podcasting and other new platforms led him to agree that paying attention to developments in radio on our side of the Atlantic could still be a good idea for his company.

If I had to boil down why radio is going so well in Australia and New Zealand into three points, they would be as follows:

  1. Radio in Australia and New Zealand is embracing change. The radio groups there do not look at the introduction of new technologies as threats but embrace them as opportunities. For example, Commercial Radio Australia—the trade association representing Australia’s radio broadcasters—partnered with Amazon before the introduction of the Echo smart speaker to ensure that any of the country’s 300 AM, FM or DAB+ digital stations can be easily accessed by name or frequency.


  1. Radio in Australia and New Zealand is investing in nonmusical content. While streaming and other platforms for consuming music are not yet as prevalent as they are in North America, most music stations in both countries’ major markets feature prominent personalities in morning and afternoon drive. Furthermore, the use of syndicated morning shows is much less common than it is the US.


  1. Radio in Australia and New Zealand does a lot of research. Given what I do for a living, it is refreshing to have conversations with radio groups about what kinds of and how much research they should be doing, as opposed to discussing whether they should do research in the first place. There is plenty of room for the art of programming in Australia and New Zealand; however, radio programmers in both countries get to create their art with objective knowledge about what listeners want and perceive they’re getting from radio.

Each country faces unique challenges, and I want to stress that I am encouraged by the progress I’m seeing on all these fronts by radio groups in North America. Many companies that are embracing new technologies and investing in their brands are seeing their efforts pay off.

Auckland, New Zealand

A picturesque backdrop of Auckland, New Zealand

While radio professionals around the world can certainly learn best practices and new ideas from North American radio, I think we can all be inspired by what Aussie and Kiwi radio is accomplishing. I absolutely found the 40 hours it took me to travel there and back was well worth it!