Why live reads are killing your brand

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live & dangerous

Fast food chains, solicitors, workwear companies, furniture retailers and personal trainers. Just a few brands I may have maimed, injured (or worse) via live read back in my radio days.

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A live read is a radio personality / announcer / host delivering a commercial live on air from a script, fact sheet or personal experience. Basically the opposite of the pre-produced, pre-approved radio commercial using a voice actor, music and / or sound effects. Live reads have been around pretty much as long as radio itself.

When done right, it’s a beautiful thing. A perfect marriage of personality and product. It is authentic, believable and builds trust. It offers cut-through amongst a sea of jingles, hard sells and call nows. And it supports the brand equity of all players.

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  • The car enthusiast host of a motorsport show hooking up with a premium engine oil brand
  • The personality who shares way too many dating mishaps joining forces with a professional matchmaking company
  • The money-talking presenter of a finance segment shacking up with a financial planning provider.

Oh, live read music to my ears.

Unfortunately not always the case.

All I heard in my live reading days was ka-ching! 20 bucks per live read was a sweet deal thank you very much when living on provincial market wages in one of the most expensive cities in the country. So heck yes, I was taking all the live reads placed before me. In hindsight, probably not the best deal for either party but I live-read the shiz out of those scripts. What I lacked in brand alignment I made up for with passion dang-it.

In those days the live read still had an air of exclusivity about it with reads strictly capped—only appearing in the top of hour or half hour commercial breaks with a max of one per break.

I can also say, hand on heart, I never deviated too far off script:

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Lately I’m hearing more and more live reads making less and less brand sense. So as an advertiser or on-air personality, it pays to consider how a live read could hurt your brand.

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1. Live read overkill … There doesn’t seem to be a cap on live reads these days. It is not uncommon to hear three live reads in one commercial break. Can your brand stand out when live reads are no longer the exception?

My advice: find out how many live reads there are per commercial break and consider whether the station is already oversaturated. Compare the cost with a produced spot that could include alternatives that would achieve increased cut-through at a cheaper rate.

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2. Battle of the brands … With an increase in live reads, naturally there is a risk of duelling brands. Hearing a host spruiking a fast food chain’s latest meal deal, followed a minute later with the same enthusiasm for a health food brand undermines credibility.

My advice: find out how the live reads are spread across the commercial breaks and shows. Is there some kind of guarantee competing brands won’t appear in the same break? And if so, how does the station even define a competing brand?

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3. Brand mis-fits … Don’t tell me about how much you love your partner of 15 years and then try to sell me the latest online dating service. I’m not going to believe you about that awesome new green smoothie spot after hearing your segment on how many nuggets you ate in one sitting. And I don’t take apartment-purchasing advice from a broke 20-something enjoying the share house vibe, thanks anyway.

My advice: get to know the announcers / hosts / personalities and their show content before handing over your brand. If you think you might be a match, meet them and let them experience your brand. Seek opportunities to expand the pairing—use them in your other advertising, include them in your social media marketing (and of course compensate them appropriately).

And as a personality, consider whether a product is the right fit for you. Think about the potential damage a poor brand match could do to your credibility and profile.

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4. Collateral damage … Worse than not aligning properly is the damage of aligning with a personality or product that harms your brand. The personality in trouble with the law. The product revealed to be dangerous or harmful. A major brand controversy. Yes it’s hard to foresee these risks, but they’re still risks nonetheless.

My advice: learn all you can about the product or personality before hooking up.

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5. Dangerously live … Live reads are live. That’s whole point. Yes, I get that. But what happens if you have an announcer who likes to get a bit too creative? A personality known to drop a few colourful words? Inappropriate jokes? Missed key messages? Or even the mention of a competitor brand? Unfortunately I have heard all of these happen. Remember there is no final approval, quality control or production value. Control freaks, this is probably not going to work out too well for you.

My advice: again get to know the announcer / host / personality and their style. If you have key messages, highlight them on the script as must-mentions. Find out if the station has a refund policy if agreed terms are not met.

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6. Branded for life … Live reads are endorsement minus the big bucks. There is no George Clooney – Nespresso contract here. As the personality, you are in effect, offering your brand equity to a product without any type of exclusivity payment.

My advice: think about how it could impact other income streams for you. Are you signing your brand away for an extra 20 bucks? Will it exclude you from aligning with other brands? Know your rights and station policies. Are you pushing something you don’t agree with or support? Do you have a moral issue with a product? It doesn’t hurt to ask questions and decline deals that don’t work for you.

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