I spent three days this week driving across the wide-open spaces of Montana with my daughter.
Interstate and backroad, mountain and plain, “city” and town.
We ditched Spotify and listened to radio — country radio — the whole time.
I am 50. Gen X. I grew up on radio. Casey Kasem and Rick Dees were totems in my teenage world. Their shows were events. If you know, you know.
Of course, radio has succumbed to consolidation and automation. It’s not the same today. But out in Montana, listening to local stations, there’s something of it left, and it felt good.
Even the commercials.
There was the mortgage broker in Bozeman who explained, in simple terms, that because of the run-up in housing prices, there are new kinds of mortgages that don’t require a 20% down payment, and that there are options for the self-employed or others who have struggled to squeeze into the mortgage mold.
I understand what the GSE’s do, what a non-QM product is, and what an FHA loan makes possible. But somehow, this plainspoken 60-second spot made it all clearer for me.
The General Manager of an “auto center” in Helena explained that, yes, used cars are definitely expensive right now, and car loan rates are in fact rising, but they are still managing to get people into cars that will last, including some smaller all-wheel drive models that don’t guzzle gas.
This used car salesman didn’t repel me.
Also gleaned from these interruptions to our George Strait and Miranda Lambert:
What makes a good sheet metal shop good.
Why it matters that your partner for seed is a family-owned business.
Where I can go for emergency medical care if I don’t have insurance.
Who I need to talk to in town to vouch for a plumbing company.
Most of these ads were people simply talking. Explaining themselves. Sometimes the DJ/host would “interview” the business owner. Interestingly, many of these ads did not hammer on the CTA (again, that’s 888-555-1234 — CALL NOW), feature laser-shooting sound effects, or tell me what I really need, or must do.
They communicated information. They made a case for something, and offered reasons to believe that case, in 30 or 60 seconds, largely without bullshit.
I’m not in the market for a used car, or alfalfa seed, or sheet metal right now. But I learned things about these things. I was not precision-targeted by these ads, but they commanded my attention.
You may think I am just romanticizing something I found quaint. Maybe a little. But I think there’s a lesson here nonetheless:
Our programmatic, algorithm-conditioned, hyper-targeted, medium-before-message ad and marketing world has in some ways led us astray from basic principles. And maybe, just maybe, it all kinda just mostly sucks.
My highway listening reminded me that while the purpose of some advertising is to inspire, and the purpose of other advertising is to simply draw attention, oftentimes the first principle is to inform.
I think this is particularly salient in cases where you are advertising something complex, or around which people have anxiety.
Like, say, real estate services.
About a dozen years ago “content marketing” was super buzzy. At its best, it did (and does) exactly what I am talking about here. You can build trust by informing people about something. You can demonstrate your worthiness by explaining.
And you can do this in algorithm-land too. Some of the best pros on TikTok are in this mold. It’s all over YouTube.
I believe the opportunity here for real estate pros and brands has never been bigger. Because people are desperate for understanding in a housing world that’s never been crazier. Our own recent research highlights this.
So next time you’re driving through the country, turn on the radio. You’ll probably learn things, just like me.
Have a great weekend.