Shock: How Many Promos Your Campaign Needs

Shock: How Many Promos Your Campaign Needs

by Tracy Johnson

It’s becoming more and more difficult to inspire audiences to take action. Programmers tend to create a structure for promotions, then plug the contest into the formula and take their chances. But how many promos does it take to be effective? Is there a scientific way to determine what works and what doesn’t?

The answer is that yes, we can apply some science, but only by overlaying a healthy amount of art.

 The Offer

Realize that not every promotion campaign is created equal. If an electronics store were selling 65-inch HDTV’s with 4K resolution for $100 at a specific time and place, you’d only need a handful of 15 second promos to deliver a crowd. It’s highly appealing. The offer gets heard very quickly.

But if the offer is to save 20% on an oil change with purchase of a set of new tires, you’ll probably need to run a little more frequency (and change the offer!).

Promotion is not an “If you build it, they will come” proposition, but the appeal of the offer does has a tremendous impact on every aspect of a successful campaign. The better the offer, the greater the natural response.

Time Spent Listening

How long your audience is tuned in makes a huge difference. If you’re a talk station with long TSL, your message will resonate more quickly than on a station with a higher turnover audience like CHR.

Taking into account length of listening occasion will help determine how often your promos should run.

The fastest way to increase TSL is to reduce tune out. Here’s how

Attention of Audience

However, TSL doesn’t tell you everything. Many stations are background companions (I’m looking at you, AC) while others attract a more active, attentive listener.

The more foreground your station, the more effective each individual promo will be. That also means the shelf life for each promo is shorter than for a background station. That may not impact how many promos are scheduled, but certainly is a factor in how many need to be produced.

Where Promos Are Programmed

Programmers often obsess about quantity of promos, but rarely take into account whether those promos are actually being heard.

Are they between songs? They’re probably being heard, but are they being understood? Are they just part of the music flow? When promos lay between songs, they often blend into the background.

As the first unit in a stop set? The first part of the message is heard, before the button is punched or they mentally tune out. That’s why the first few seconds of a promo is critical (the hook).

Do they come at the end of a break? Good luck with that. You can triple the frequency and still have little impact.

Clarity of Message

Many promos sound great but are filled with so much production, the message is obscured. If the message is over-run with zaps and lasers, it’s going to take more promos to be effective.

Clarity in the copy is also key. Many promos simply try to do too many things. Avoid loading the copy with details and instructions. The goal should be to demonstrate the benefit and make me want it, with a clear and simple call-to-action.

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That may mean you need more promos in the campaign to tell the full story. In a true campaign, each individual promo contributes to the overall story, each playing a key part but not trying to tell the entire story. Each individual promo should make sense by itself (self contained) but when put together inside the series, it creates a storyline.

It’s not about getting each individual promo heard (or remembered) but about the promo series making the story heard, understood and remembered.

Each promo should have a unique perspective focusing on just one aspect of the campaign. That also helps keep each promo shorter. It will make each promo much more specific, focused and exciting. And, since they’re not being heard nearly as frequently, the individual promo won’t burn as quickly.


In an audio medium, there are endless possibilities to creatively entertain and engaged the audience, yet we tend to fall into patterns where every campaign sounds the same.

The produced elements may be slick and fit into the fabric of the station brand, but they’re not cutting through.

Listen to great promos like the Last Contest campaign on the legendary KCBQ/San Diego in the 70s. These promos were long but were at least as compelling (or more) as the music on the station. The audience actually looked forward to the promos airing!

The more creative the promo, the greater the impact. Therefore, fewer promos are required. However, the better the promo, the more you’re going to want to play it.

Another factor: The more creative it is, the faster it will burn. So you need to constantly feed the creative-promo beast.

Frequency of Message

Finally, we get to the heart of the message. How many promos do we need? One an hour? Once every 3 hours? 3 times an hour? 4 times an hour? What’s the answer?

Ultimately, the answer is: You need more promos over a shorter period of time than you think. If you’re planning to run 1,000 promos for a campaign, I’d rather run 200 a week over 5 weeks than 100 a week for 10.

The Science of Frequency

Thinking about how the audience listens suggests we need more promos. How many promos? Consider:

  • The average listening occasion is about 9 minutes. And those tuned in probably aren’t paying attention.
  • They tune in about 3 times per daypart.
  • And they listen an average of about 2 days per week.
  • That means the average P1 listener is listening for around 25 quarter hours per week.
  • There are 672 quarter hours of programming in a full week (24 hours/day).
  • The average P1 is hearing less than 4% of your programming. Put another way, they miss 96%

Don’t Ask How Many Promos. Ask How Many Impressions?

Thomas Smith, in his book Successful Advertising, makes the following reflection on effective frequency:

The 1st time people look at ad, they don’t see it.
When they see it a 2nd time, they don’t notice it.
By the 3rd time, they are aware that it is there.
The 4th time, they have a fleeting sense that they’ve seen it before.
At #5, they actually read the ad.
The 6th time, they thumb their nose at it.
Then, on the 7th time, they get a little irritated with it.

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The 8th time they see the message, they think, “Here’s that confounded ad again.”
On the 9th, they wonder if they’re missing out on something.
At #10, they ask their friends or neighbors if they’ve tried it.
Then on the 11th exposure, they wonder how the company is paying for all these ads.
The 12th time, they start to think that it must be a good product.
They see it a 13th time and start to feel the product has value.
The 14th time, they start to feel like they’ve wanted a product like this for a long time.

On time #15, they start to yearn for it because they can’t afford to buy it.
The 16th time, they accept the fact that they will buy it sometime in the future.
Then the 17th time, they make a commitment to buy the product.
The 18th time, they curse their poverty because they can’t buy this terrific product.
On the 19th time, they count their money very carefully.
The 20th time prospects see the ad, they buy what it is offering.

The language he uses is “sees the ad”. That’s because this was written in the 1880s, before electronic media and a world where the average consumer is inundated with over 5,000 messages per day, all competing for their attention. By the way, you should absolutely buy this book. It’s principles are just as relevant today.


It may seem that it would be effective to just cram more promos on the air, but the art of a promo campaign isn’t simply overwhelming the audience with bulk.

Rather, it’s using it to influence them with the story.

And each promo plays a part in the story.

So what’s the magic formula? How many promos do you need? If you read through this hoping for the magic answer, sorry!

My advice: Promote heavily, much more than you think you should or need to. Do it over a relatively short (or shorter) period of time. Do it with a single-minded focus using the principle of Concentration of Force. And be creative.

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