Horns and sirens in radio ads criticized


The San Jose Mercury News has a feature called Mr. Roadshow, and it recently hosted an online conversation on the topic of radio ads that feature loud sirens and blaring horns. This type of content was found to be worse than annoying – some think it’s dangerous.

Mr. Roadshow apparently is annoyed by these types of ads, and so are a lot of his readers. He wrote, “When the first email rolled in, I thought M.J. might be the only driver irritated by these commercials. Boy, was I wrong.”

Here are some comments people sent in to Mr. Roadshow:

“I have pulled over so many times that I can’t count them when these idiotic commercials come on the radio. They have sirens blaring, horns, etc. I am sure that these commercials affect many people.”

“Some months ago there was an ad on KCBS with sirens blasting in the background. Every time it came on I slowed down or started pulling over to the right, when I would realize it was coming from the radio! There should be a law against radio ads using traffic sounds.”

“I believe that the reason some people take so long to move over when they hear a real siren is that they are deciding if it is real or part of a commercial.”

“Often music has a subtle siren sound in the background that is very audible when behind the wheel. I often find myself frantically looking for the cop/ambulance only to realize the sound came from the radio.”

Mr. Roadshow said he checked in with the NAB at one point, “…where an attorney said that there is no regulation that specifically prohibits horns or sirens, but that the FCC might frown on something that could distract drivers. I Googled the topic and found that many others hate these radio spots as well, but that there is no push to ban them.”

RBR-TVBR observation: As a means of getting the attention of the audience, we completely agree that horns and sirens work on the radio, as do ringing phones, both on radio and on television. But we doubt they are effective, because our attention is not being focused on the item being advertised.

We used to have the radio on during our daily challenging commute into and out of Washington DC, and the last thing we needed was to search our mirrors and blind spots for the source of the siren we heard, only to eventually realize it had been part of a radio commercial.

The insertion of this type on content into what was already a highly stressful part of our day did not make us very happy with the advertiser, if we even had the slightest idea who it was, since we were no longer paying attention to the radio.

And seriously, it injected a completely unnecessary element of danger into our driving, taking our focus away from what was around us in an attempt to find what wasn’t – an attempt that went on longer than it should have since we obviously couldn’t find what didn’t really exist and therefore kept looking until the ugly reality finally dawned on us.

The bottom line for us was this: Your horns and sirens may have gotten our attention, but you focused it not on your product, but on the traffic swirling around us. And you’d be lucky if we failed to remember your product, because we would probably deliberately avoid ever buying it as punishment for your ill-conceived advertising message.

We are generally against restrictions on content, but we do believe that in this, responsible broadcasters should keep these distractions off of their stations.