Four in a single cluster is one too many. Now this is ancient research data on the subject, talking 1980’s, but I see no reason to believe the findings would have changed. The study has respondents listening to an hour of radio and later being questioned about the commercial content. One of the areas of inquiry sought to answer the question above. The report said three ads in a row was acceptable by all, not intrusive. When the cluster had four spots, a significant percentage said that was too many. With five spots, the majority said too many. With six spots, every respondent agreed that was too many commercials.
Considering that, I concluded the ideal the ideal music radio format plan should be: Two songs, three ads, two songs, three ads. The station’s commercial breaks would always be shorter than the average length of the songs in the library, even if all three spots were :60’s. Listeners would come to realize that when this station went into a commercial run, it wouldn’t be long before another song came, they would become conditioned to that and would be less likely to punch the button to another station when the first ad came on.
Now bear in mind, music radio program directors had long pondered this thing; where to put the spot breaks so as to gain some advantage over the competition. When the Top 40 Radio battles for market-share began to heat up in the 60s, the first thing done was the upstart station moved it’s newscast from the top of the hour to :55. Then when the competitor was going into his newscast, the upstart would be blasting a hit song whenever a listener punched the button to switch stations. Of course the upstart had to do news too, but by getting into the new first, at :55, if a listener punched away she’d hear no more than one and a half songs before that station hit launched their newscast and the button puncher would come right back. That was the theory, anyway.
Next came something fresh: Twenty-Twenty News. The two hourly newscasts were positioned at 20 past the hour and 20 before the hour. This allowed the station to be in a music sweep across both the top and the bottom of every hour when virtually every other station on the dial was in a newscast. Brilliant move, it was. Bill Drake and/or Ron Jacobs conceived the idea about 1965 or so.
Back to advertising content. Commercials are not a tune out. Too Many Commercials is a tune out and so is “ads I don’t like”. Now that second part, we can’t do much about. One spot that you think is informative and entertaining, I mind think is silly and irritating. And vice/versa. We can’t do much about “ads I don’t like.” But we can do something to lessen the negative effects that ads have in our programming flow. And the best way is to follow the research, so it would seem.
Now I related this information and my opinion about it far and wide in my most active consulting days of the 80s and 90s and nobody would try it. I mean, there was a time when I was the golden boy on the team, when some of my clients considered me to be indispensable to their ratings success. And even those guys wouldn’t go with my 2-3-2-3 formation. So you read this now and maybe it makes sense to you. Try it if you will and let me know how it goes for you.