The Structure of Advertising


Radio advertisements and their relationships to their surrounding entertainment programs were exactly the opposite of their modern counterparts, television commercials. Today, the most popular television shows, news programs, and, in particular, sporting events command extraordinary fees for commercial time. Television advertisers attach their products to entertainments with wide audiences and therefore hope to benefit from the large numbers of viewers. In the 30s, however, a company hoping to draw attention to its product was not simply responsible for creating a fifteen-second commercial; it had to provide the entertainment as well, usually fifteen, thirty, or sixty minutes worth of it. Some occasions called for a one-time production (such as the Tastyeast Company featuring music by the Tastyeast Jesters male singing quartet and a storyteller of Scandinavian dialect tales) and others, such as "The Shadow" sponsored by ?????? became long-lived weekly series. On sponsored programs, the line between entertainment and commercial often became blurred: retail stores sometimes broadcasted a sort of fused medium, along the lines of "five-minute talks on pertinent subjects of the day which were tied in with facts about...merchandise and delivered in person by a member of the firm" (Sandage 160). About one third of all radio broadcasts were sponsored ones, but they were often more memorable because they were under considerable pressure to uniquely stand out and to increase sales of their products.


Television and radio have one extremely important characteristic in common, however: both reach enormous national audiences that most print mediums cannot even approach. In its day, radio was easily as proportionally popular as is television today: in 1937, an estimated 24,500,000 families owned a radio, adding up to about 80,000,000 individual listeners. 4,000,000 families reported owning more than one radio in their homes, and about 4,500,000 automobiles were equipped with radios. When all the math is done, approximately 33,000,000 radios were in operation in 1937, about the same total number of automobiles and telephones combined. At that time, radio obviously provided the largest audience in history to advertisers, and the potential to increase sales via broadcast was incredible when compared to newspapers that were mostly centered around their respective cities and a few popular mail-order catalogs.


Bing Crosby, "an early crooner" for women's radio.
While some companies "sandwiched" their commercials between already-established and popular broadcasts, most placed their primary emphasis on creating interesting entertainments. Frank A. Arnold, writing Broadcast Advertising: the Fourth Dimension in 1931, pointed out that "it should be remembered that at the start no one knew the technique of programming, nor was anyone sure just what a cosmopolitan audience such as we have in this country really wanted in the way of programs...the broadcasters were facing a demand for more and better programs" (29). Rising popularity and audience numbers led to an emphasis on research into listening habits, the effectiveness of different entertainment genres, and racial, class, and gender preferences. Hettinger and Neff's Practical Radio Advertising manual of 1938 reminded their readers that "the housewife considers [a program presented in poor taste] a personal affront" and urged them to consider women's "great emotional sensitivity" when creating daytime broadcasts; hence, serious music, romantic drama, and "Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby in their early crooning days" were considered wise programming choices. Children, being hero-worshippers who were both "capable of extreme enthusiasm" and hard to interest for long periods of time, were given the "Sunbrite Junior Nurse Corps" and "Tom Mix and His Ralston Straight Shooters" for their special entertainment needs. Many cigarette companies, seeking youth audiences, sponsored swing broadcasts that were instrumental in the music's popular success. Since radio reached a heterogeneous population and advertisers hoped to attract broad audiences, the timing and nature of programs involved much careful planning.

The ads themselves covered a spectrum as large as commercials do today. Some catered to their listeners' minds and rational considerations, involving "official" and "scientific" evidence, while at the same time including symbols and catch phrases to create the feeling of familiarity. The Lucky Strike Cigarette ad campaign is an excellent example, featuring both expert opinion and the then widely-recognized auctioneer's call:

"Man: It sure makes me feel at home to tune in on Lucky Strike programs and hear the auctioneer crying out tobacco bids. And I heard something else on a Lucky Strike program the other night to make me feel right at home. That was when the announcer told me how independent tobacco men pick Luckies for their cigarette. You see, I've been an independent buyer for years and I've smoked Luckies for years, too.
Announcer: Thank you, Mr. Valentine. It's interesting to get such reactions to the statements we make over the air from the tobacco experts themselves. For these statements are not claims but facts, backed by sworn records...Remember that when you ask for cigarettes. Remember-- the men who know tobacco best smoke Luckies 2 to 1!" (53)

Simply using a few technical-sounding words, such as in this Crisco commercial, could be effective, but the "jingle," invented for radio, was extremely popular as well, appealing to a listener's sense of fun and perhaps attempting to further blur the line between ad and entertainment. These jingles were generally upbeat, and the songwriters eliminated negative phrases or words whenever possible to impart a generally positive feeling. "The Happiness Boys", a popular group similar to the aforementioned "Tastyeast Jesters" performed the first sung commercial for the Interwoven Socks Company, and Pepsi-Cola and Barbasol shaving cream featured music as well.

Perhaps the most important consideration to be taken in an advertising/entertainment broadcast, however, was not to be condescending or to make any assumptions about audiences. Hettinger and Neff warn their educated readers that while "many programs that seem trite, uninteresting, and childish to you appeal strongly to a large portion of the American radio audience...in choosing a program for his campaign, a business executive can make no greater mistake than to base his choice on his and his friends' preference" (111). C. H. Sandage, in Radio Advertising for Retailers, also urges those who create advertisements not to consider their own daily routines when timing their programs, telling the story of a retailer who decided to run a 7:15 A.M. sports program because he reasoned that most of his laboring-class customers shaved at the same time he did. Having done no research into any lives other than his own, he failed to realize that most laborers were on their way to or were already at their places of employment as his program was on the air.

These were a few of the most common forms, characteristics, and considerations of radio advertising. Because radio was a revolutionary form of sound communication, however, companies sponsoring programs carried with them a new set of psychological assumptions, which shall be the subject.


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