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Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Grand Experiment - Linux Ads on Radio

For those that are not aware, two radio ads introducing people to Linux and our services/non profit recently ran on KLBJ AM radio in Austin Texas.

The results were surprising in part...some of them confirmed wide-held suspicions about computer users in general.

Some of them fostered thoughts of running knitting needles through my eyes...


What follows is our analysis of those ads and some potentially important information that may prove useful for anyone wanting to do what we did.

The ads were scheduled to run multiple times during the week and weekend. The 30 second spots would run during the week and the 60 second spot would run exclusively during the Kim Komando show. It ran once an hour for the duration of her program.

In total, there were just at 100 ads played for a two week period. We had scheduled a month to do this but budget restraints just did not allow it. The first surprise is that our web traffic did not jump like we anticipated. People chose to call us and talk rather than visit a website and get their information. Those that did visit the site were there for a short period. noting the duration of visits and pages clicked on by the visitors...they went to the "contact us" page or to get the phone number.

The fact that many chose to call instead of reading a website for information, at least to me is telling. As well, Thomas Holbrook of graciously placed our ad on The Oracle Broadcasting Network online radio site. To date, we have fielded four inquiries from that ad. One sale pending the upgrade of his current computer.

We fielded 179 phone calls, 63 emails and 4 personal visits of inquiry from the ads. There are three categories in which I have placed these communications.

Cautious and curious.

Interested but skeptical.

Should never be allowed to touch a computer without professional on-site guidance

The first group comprised the largest and ranked at just over 62 percent of the calls. Their questions were probing and showed sincere interest but almost all of them asked more about the legality of Linux than they did the efficiency of it. Once the Free Software concept was explained to them, caution dropped significantly, especially when they found that large corporations were involved with the effort. Many expressed concern that there seemed to be "no one at the helm".

We explained this to them to the point of becoming a potential and unacceptable time sink. Some but an obvious minority, thought that a loose-knit group of thousands of developers is superior to one company holding the reins.

It was this group that purchased our services with the exception of one.

The second group, the ones that I identify as skeptical, were so for a reason. The 60 second ad produced the majority of the calls. 83 percent of them to be exact.

The skepticism stemmed from the 30 second ad. I will take direct responsibility for this particular failure.

The trick was to encapsulate the essence of Linux, or the benefits therein within 30 seconds.

It was kind of like trying to fill a pillow with goose feathers using a fork.

I wrote the ad, thinking that if people knew what the various EULA's allowed Microsoft and third-party vendors to do in and to their computers, it would prompt them to investigate further. As well, I did not proof the final and consequently, there were some untrue things stated in that 30 second ad. "all the software you will ever need is free".

A third grader can pick that apart. My bad....

lessons learned.

The skepticism stemmed from that ad.

"No one can do that to my computer", said one email. "It's illegal and Microsoft didn't get where they are today by breaking the law."


Where do you go with that? Espeically when your phone has three calls waiting on hold.

You simply guide them to the EULA and wish them luck.

The third category made me sincerely consider large amounts of narcotic pain medications.

All of them, to the last one, thought Linux was a "program" they could run on Windows and solve these problems.

Question from us: "Did you go to our website and read about Linux and the advantages?"

Caller/emailer: "No, I just want to know how to get this free program"

Response from us: "Linux isn't a program, it is a different operating system. It is designed for security and ease of use."

Caller/emailer: "A what?"

Response from us: "An operating system. Microsoft Windows is an operating system, Linux is an alternative operating system that will stop the problems you are currently having with your system now."

Caller/emailer: "OK, then I want to install that program on my computer. Will I still be able to play online poker?"

And no, I didn't want the narcotic pain medication for pleasure purposes.

I thought it would dull the pain when the knitting needle penetrated through to the eye socket.

It was during these little talks that I sincerely wished that spontaneous combustion was a common end or theirs...

Either way would have provided the desired relief.

In all, we made six sales. out of all the calls and email inquiries we received, there were six sales. However, there is a fairly well-known employment agency that is working with us to migrate 30 percent of their clerical machines to Linux. That isn't sealed yet but should it become so, these ads, from our perspective, would be a success.

An interesting side note...four out of the six people that hired us to install Linux on their home computers were female.

As it stands now, even in my most delusional of days, I cannot present this grand experiment as a success.

Monetarily it failed. When you recover less than half of what it cost to run the ad, it just plain didn't work.

Now, had we run the sixty second ads exclusively...would the outcome be different?

We think so...we simply didn't have the money to find out. As well, maybe running fewer ads during the week but stretching them out over a 30 day period might have been more efficient.

So...the forkable ads are out there for whoever wants to use them. We may try it again with the 60 second ad at a later date, but for now...we are chalking it up to experience gained and moving forward.

knit one - pearl two...

All-Righty Then


Anonymous said...

I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard and actually learned something at the same time.

You have missed your calling.

Justin Hall said...

The last group reminds me of Jerry Lee Cooper. "Wow, you mean Linux is a complete OS, it does not use low level windows services? No way, can a bunch of hippies make a complete OS, only MS can do that!!" Well that was not his actual words, he has taken down that post. I too have had a hard time explaining this to people. Now that Apple is popular it is easier to get across the concept of multiple operating systems. However they still have a hard time with the free as in the monetary way. Perhaps it will take Google and their ChromeOS to make Linux popular.

Thanatos said...

You think it wasn't a success. Perhaps not monetarily, but then again, I don't think that is what this was completely about.

How many people heard the ads and didn't call you? How many just said forget about calling or visiting the website, let's google this Linux thing? You may not have made much money off of it, but you did successfully get word of Linux out to people who probably had no clue what it was before. Which, unless I missed it, was the whole point.

Also, don't feel bad about not getting the 30 second commercial just right. Under the circumstances I think you did a fine job. Just remember, the only mistake that is truly a failure is the one you don't learn from.

Anonymous said...

Hello Ken,
To the vast uniformed who believe a "computer" is Windows. I equate the operating system to the engine that powers your computer.

I tell them that Windows is not the only engine out there. Yes, there is Apple/Mac and it is a fine engine. However, if you want a great engine look to Linux.

From here you can go in many directions with your analogies.

I'm not a car nut by any stretch of the imagination. But, I have this works with most people I meet.

Don't feel too bad about the 30 second spots. Think about this. . . those other guys have vasts amount of marketing dollars and huge creative staff teams and look what it got them: Bill Gates and Jerry Sienfeld.


Dave Meyers said...

Ken, I can see your point. You were at least trying to break even on the ads if not more. Yes I agree, there is not much you can say in 30 seconds but I think you took the right tack.

Hope the employmnent agency works out for you. I have been cheerleading for you from the beginning of this thing from years back.

If there is anything I learned from your experience, it is that tenacity and focus win the day.

Regardless of the outcome, you did want you said you were going to do. Much more than may of us have been able or willing to to.

You did well regardless of outcome. You are a good ally Ken...I am proud to work beside you when the opportunity presents itself. You get things done.

David Meyers

Anonymous said...

tbh I think you are drawing your conclusions to fast, you gave it 2 weeks which is to short, and yes I understand it has to do with financials.

People do not like change, it takes time and this is not what you have given them, your trying to get them away from Windows and as you might have had success with a few people you probably had a lot more people slowly getting interested but suddenly after 2 weeks the adds stop and people stop thinking/wondering about it and will think stuff like "see it was a one day thingie".

To get a campain to work you need to run it much much longer, sometimes 100 in 2 weeks as you did now, then drop to half for a while then back to full, people need to think more like "hmmm that add is still around, must be some truth to it".


Adam Gonnerman said...

Having worked in data support for AT&T Mobility, nothing you wrote here surprises me. I lost confidence daily with nearly every call.

One thing that's good to remember is that the vast majority of people are not at all tech-savvy and never will be. Another is that GNU/Linux and open source is "new" to the public. This was only the first ad of its kind. It will take a while to educate the public sufficiently.

Thanks for sharing the details on what types of calls/e-mails you received. Very informative.

Unknown said...

To get a campain to work you need to run it much much longer, sometimes 100 in 2 weeks as you did now, then drop to half for a while then back to full, people need to think more like "hmmm that add is still around, must be some truth to it".

Without a doubt, this is true. Unfortunately we just didn't have the money to do so. The money we spent on the ads that did run was gifted to us so we used it as we could.


Anonymous said...

If the most responses came from the 60-second advertisements and the bulk of the cautious and curious inquiries originated from listeners of the Kim Kommando show, the next campaign should focus on that demographic using the 60-second format. Have you thought about advertising during the Alex Jones broadcasts? His audience should be an easy market given their inherent distrust of the government and corporations as well as their fear of being tracked and monitored.

Kory said...

Yep I'd think you'd have better luck running it on the Alex Jones show as well. Just mention how the NSA was involved in the development of Windows Vista/Win7 and how they can modify the system without the owner's permission and you'll have a winner there! I use Linux on a daily basis (except at work, stuck with old Blue (BSOD for those who didn't get it)). Anyhow, I also listen to the Alex Jones show but am not so afraid of the NSA or government dropping in. I'm sure they have better things to do than to watch what I do! Take care!

ShopForLinux said...

I've always explained to the less informed that Windows and Linux are what make the computer work, like gas is what makes their car run. You can get gas in different places, but they all accomplish the same goal. Some gas is just better than other gas ;)

Don il said...

A success indeed.

Having developed a system for a client of mine to track calls to potential buyers, I learned that three to four calls were needed for an individual or company to think of you as an option, and four to seven calls to start buying from you.

Maybe the most discouraging part is knowing that it took between three and ten months to sell to a new customer.

Nevertheless, once the sales flow starts it can go steady for months or even years.

When my customer started his business --he was on packaging tools and supplies-- the goal was to get a new client each day. After some 18 months the goal was reached and remained steady --and healthy-- for about three years until the economic downturn of the country made it very hard to compete and profit.

Yes, it takes time and money, but I think yours was a very big first step.


Anonymous said...


You seem to be forgetting that the NSA also has done some Linux work (SELinux among other things), so if someone is paranoid about the NSA, then Linux is only better than Windows in that you can read the source code for the stuff.

Eric said...

@Kory - the NSA helped with Linux too. That's what SELinux is. I know Fedora has it (that's what I use) and I know Novell doesn't - they have Apparmor.

@Helios - People are often incredulous at EULAS when I tell them what's in there. Don't worry too much about it. Your story about people calling you reminds me of the book "21 Dog Years". Read or listen to audiobook if you haven't. It's great.

Just one important thing - make sure you also talk about Linux's limitations. Worse than people not trying Linux are people who feel duped that it would do everything for them. For example, I don't try and convince my father because he uses some very specific software for a small industry sector that isn't available on Linux. My wife's aunt, OTOH, only wants to surf the web and kept getting viruses. So I installed it on her computer.

uC said...

I think that the fact that the takers were Female is telling.

Please go to the womans studies department of the University and go after some help. This is really interesting and might net you a project group of university women to follow up.

That is such a clear cut finding that a professor would be a fool not to go for a term project for a group with some of your help.

This might go back to the Female of the species is more likely to ask for directions but in itself is stunning!

Anonymous said...

Linux Adds on Radio

I had the same experience only yesterday October 5th 2009. Someone came to my door asking me if I could sort out a computer for him, he told me that a friend was give him a Dell system, he told me that windows system was messed up and had no windows install disk.

I mentioned that I could install Linux on it for him, Right away I heard a vice telling him that Linux is no good and not to have Linux put on the system, as it does not work like windows, and it was to technical, used by Linux Geeks, at this he pulled a phone out of his pocket.

I asked could I speak to the caller and he handed me the phone, I asked the caller had they ever used Linux and the answer was “No! I know all about it, how difficult it is to install and use “

My question was
“ Do you know Dell install and support Linux for consumers outside the USA.
Silence for a few seconds, answer was..... “No!

My next question was
“ Do you know that all PC manufactures support and install Linux on their business systems”
20 second silence then..... “No”
My next question was
Do you know Microsoft now support Linux operating systems” “ Only because they have been forced to, not because they want to of their own free will”
Long silence then..... “No”

Next question
Do you use Google or Yahoo
Immediate answer “yes both” my reply was they use Linux not Microsoft

You have excepted out right from someone that Linux is no good, without trying or knowing what Linux is, you have condemn it out right to someone else. yet you won't or can't except the benefit of the doubt to me, “Why” . No answer,

The best part of this, is this person has never owned a computer so he is not MS brain washed and when he learns in an hour how to use Linux he will be able to tell his friend how easy Linux is to use that might convert them to Linux,

Anonymous said...

Exactly how much will it cost to run the 60 second ads for a month?

David Gerard said...

There is also a lot of interest in the open source world about how to be less sexist in general. - so academic feminists might be a great demographic to hit!

Unknown said...

Exactly how much will it cost to run the 60 second ads for a month?

between 5 and 8 hundred dollars a month if done daily multiple times, about 300 for just the weekends.


tracyanne said...

Ken, it does not surprise me that the majority of those who hired you to install Linux are women. This too is my experience.

I don't see the ads, and the responses as a failure. What I read there was a success. The ads ran for way too short a period for anyone to draw the conclusion that they failed. The fact of the matter is that (in my experience) the majority of people prefer to hear it from the horses mouth, rather than read a bunch of "boring" text on a web page. They want someone to answer their question in person, it gives them more confidence that the information is true, and they have the ability to raise additional questions on the fly (and yes you probably did answer that question, and yes you may have been asked it a million times, but to this punter it's something new that only they have thought of). Whereas a web page or a book or a brochure is static, you read it, and anything you don't understand remains not understood.

For a thing like this to work one needs a call centre, a shop front, or some other point of information. And yes the questions will often seem really really silly. Microsoft's ads, and HP's ads and Dell's Ads etc etc, do not differentiate between the computer and the Operating system. Watch any ad for any brand of computer, and you have no idea that an operating system even exists. Non technical people are simply not going to get this distinction quickly. And as silly as it sounds to us the ability to play on line poker or bookworm(tm) or whatever non blockbuster game is very important to the people you are going to be dealing with. The majority of punters out there don't play your First Person Shooters and other high profile games that the geekerati (whatever OS they use) obsess over. The majority of of people play solitaire and Mahjong and Bookworm and Professor Fizzywig and those types of games.

On the plus side, a company called Kogan, here in Australia, is selling netbooks at a $AU399.00 price point, that's Aussie Dollars, and occasionally dropping the price "on sale" to $299, at which time they literally sell out in hours (I've missed out on several of these bargains simply by not reading the email I get from them until 2 or three hours after it was received). All of these netbooks have gOS installed, they are advertised as such, and if the comments from purchasers are anything to go by, the customers are primarily non techie people, mostly women, and they are very pleased indeed with their purchase.

Jose_X said...

This reminds me of the commercial where a company opens for business online and at first gets very happy when before their eyes a few hits come in but eventually are blown out of the water (not prepared) when thousands and thousands of hits tick in within seconds.

Next time consider using more staff (so warn so people could volunteer). And then try to lure each person into a person-to-person demo so they can see.

Seeing is believing.

I'm sure lots of people want to stay tuned to this story. I wonder is someone else will try the ads and also report.

seriouslycgi said...

ken might i suggest also, the url should be easier, loads of people probably didnt even bother because they dont know how to spell linux, i for one never call phone numbers because i dont know what to expect and dont want to talk to a sales man who will guilt trip me into buying something without me doing research first. if the url was something like i would have gone to it straight away, im sure quite a few got frustrated at the url and maybe tried fixedbylinucks or fixedbylinicks etc and then just googled it, thats if they even bothered or remembered the name. is real easy and could be re-directed.

Anonymous said...

You can't rule out word of mouth either. As intangible as it may be it's very possible that that small run of advertising has very important ramifications in the future.

I see it as a snowball effect and the one thing you really have going for you is that the infrastructure behind the scenes is already in place. You're 98% of the way there. Build it and they will come ;)

Nate Bargmann said...


I agree with the others who believe your effort was a success. I'm no advertising expert, far from it, but it's my understanding that the response rate to advertising is quite low despite the claims of advertisements selling advertising. Also, as already pointed out, advertising during the Kommando show put your information in front of people already attuned to computer technology. The other ads may have been scattered in timeslots and among programs with listeners not necessarily interested in a computer advert.

In the future you may consider only advertising during the Kommando show to both stretch your advertising funds and target an interested audience. However, it might be interesting to test such advertising during the Phil Hendrie Show.

FelixTheCat said...

I hope more folks take the ads and use them in their local areas. I think Ken mentioned using Audacity to the radio engineer and he was pretty impressed with the results. Heck, even if folks don't run a radio ad, perhaps a print ad will also garner some business.

This was a huge learning experience, had a big writeup all over the place (and lots of people conveniently forgetting the ad had contact information - "Why advertise Linux? It's a kernel! They'll go download it and mess up and blame Linux! Blah!")

Geh, I'm getting cynical. You practically lay it on their laps and they still have a flipping tantrum.

Anonymous said...

Another idea that might be tried is have a Home demonstration party!??!?! Where you have DVD's or CD's of a few distrobutions, do a demonstration or answer questions?

And if you do not know a piece of information, hand them a card to give you a call or email?

How about press a 100 CD or DVD's with your business phone number, address or information? Put a couple Distrobutions on it with a LIVECD-DVD enviroment on it, so people can try-before-they-install?

Just a couple of thoughts to get some thinking going....

Anonymous said...

Great run, I agree with the posts above although not with as much enthusiasm. I don't think with such a short run you could call it a failure, however you defiantly couldn't call it a success either. IT just would take more time.

I find the women thing kinda interesting. I've had a few male co-workers that had windows die on them. They ask me about Linux, I talk about it allot anyway, but they tend to just fork over the cash for a new system in the long run without ever giving it a chance. However one older lady, mid 50's I'd say, asked me about Ubuntu when one of her laptops died. She isn't computer savy at all but installed it herself and after about a month is very pleased. Although she was glad I forewarned her about disappearing windows, you know when you accidentally switch desktops. That tends to get new users.

Unknown said...

Hi Ken,

I believe that you have had a success... perhaps you did not add enough revenue to pay for the ad campaign, but then, this is the nature of advertising. I'll soon be running a similar ad campaign here in South Africa, but not on the radio just yet.

One thing you must remember, ads are a tricky business, they tend to create 'word of mouth' spread, rather than direct sales. If you had a particular "package" (say a computer with xyz) that would do a different thing. But as we're both actually in the services market, the responses we get are different.

You sold, on a Linux AD... If we we believe in the process of success-failure-retry-success... then you will succeed at the real goal. Spread the word of Linux, get people to change their thinking about their computers and finally... make a bit a cash to help the next lot of kids... and pay the bills.

I believe in the process.. and you have shown me that no matter what the current circumstance, you will succeed.

Stay positive my friend... We will achieve our goals and be rewarded by seeing the smiles on the face of those we help.

EMil Wentzel

Anonymous said...

Many responses are along the lines of:
"people are ignorant"

Why look down on people who do not understand your life? You do not understand theirs.

To get an idea on how this feels, a small thought experiment:

You are dropped with only your clothes in the mids of some dense jungle (eg, the Bird's head in Irian Jaya Barat, New Guinea, Lat 1° 3'25.20"S; Long 132°55'31.87"E). You have to hike to the coast, some 50 mile as the bird flies. How confident do you feel? Locals get there in about two days. Would you get anywhere?

And I am pretty sure most of the locals would NOT know how to install Linux, even if they had electricity.

Whenever someone shows complete ignorance about computers, think of yourself hiking in the mids of a dense jungle next to a local ignoramus who cannot install Linux.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ken

Like many who have commented, I disagree. It was not a failure. It was the tip of the iceberg. For the few who called, how many heard of Linux for the first time, and looked it up on the net?

More importantly, if you had got say 200 calls a day, how would you have coped?

Personally, I'd be inclined to do an ad or two a week in a relevant show if possible. Or perhaps try to set up a computer maintenance class at the local adult education college. Even an open day at your project once a month.

I've given total computer phobics a quick half hour session on Linux, and they have gone away thinking that it wasn't nearly as terrible as they thought. The face to face lessons for the terminally non technical can't be beaten.

Stephan Beal said...

i've been using Linux since 1994, and as my exclusive (except for gaming) OS since before the turn of the century. In that time, many people have asked me "should I also try out/switch to Linux?" i have, without exception, told them "no." If someone has to ask that question, it is a clear indicator that they are not ready to understand what Linux is and what it can (or cannot) do for them. To avoid millions of dumb questions (and the associated frustration), and to avoid becoming that person's personal support technician for the next 7 years, just tell people, "you know what? i think you're better off sticking with Windows/Mac/whatever you currently use."

Anonymous said...

I wonder if posting transcripts of your ads might be useful? That would at least let others have a look at them, and possibly polish them up for you, or polish them for local use. I've no idea what license one might employ on them, or is there some implied/actual assignment given to the radio station when they ran the ads?

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should steer people who want to install the "Linux Program" in Windows to the wubi-installer. That may satisfy their expectations. It installs, and uninstalls from within Windows.

Anonymous said...

Ken: Does any of your local radio stations have a "talkback" service to offer where listeners can ring in to participate with the program?; you could put in half or full hour "guest" appearances to discuss OS and Linux with the listeners? The advantage of the talkback is that you always get the last say (the trick being not to make any necessary post-call comments to sound as such). Millions of computer users already know about Firefox; someone has already made the comment about Google's association with Linux, and almost every computer user can figure out that "Google" has become a VERY large business VERY quickly and therefore knows a lot about doing some VERY SMART things. Some ideas I use when designing ads, is to say things that give the listener a few tips like: People tell you that your computer's slow because it is old and they slow down with age; my tip to you the listener is- reinstall Windows from scratch and see if you don't get the speed back that you once had, then ask yourself "why would a modern computer require you to completely reinstall your software just to keep it running like normal?". The advert would remind them of some things they have had personal experience with (how many common complaints with Windows can you think of in the space of 60 seconds), touch on some of the reasons why the listener should not be afraid to try something different yet not so different (like going out and buying another car, which many can relate to), and by the end, the ad should leave them curious to know more. You need more than one advert obviously so they can get the contact number that they now want, but missed the first time round, and yes, you want them to contact YOU, not the computer shop down the road, which quite likely, will want the business if they have the opportunity to steal it from you (going to a web site just might make them do that, because when people get out of their depth, they seek out one-on-one personal contact, which is why you found what you did).

Anonymous said...

"Is it a program I can run on my computer?" Just answer, don't argue - yes.

Ask if they want to do the installation themselves, if not you can do so - gratis or for your normal fee.

Ask them to come to your office, then install Virtualbox with Pardus2009 - it's more or less the only one that does resizing of screen resolution automatically on Microsoft Windows and it looks nice too. Give them coffee and cookies while they wait, have some magazines for them to read. JUST DO IT. Show them what it looks like, and let the experience speak for itself. THEY will say - "but this does everything Windows does?! I thought it was just one program, but here are lots of programs. Is this all free? Are you kidding me?" No, you are not kidding. If you have any questions, or if you would like to completely replace Windows at a later time, you get three free calls. Bye! Next, please!

Jazz said...

Here's something to consider as well, Ken: in our consumerist society, many people learn from our various agents of socialization to be suspicious of anything that is free of charge.

An attitude like this not only supports the economic system we currently have in place, but also stubbornly resists change. It's a twofur.

BobK54 said...

The Helios radio experiment is gaining traction. I just downloaded the GoingLinux podcast (#80) and guess what I heard at about 12:49 into the show? It's your commercial with the last few seconds trimmed! No phone numbers but the content is there. Sweet!! Of course, a linux commercial on a linux podcast is "preaching to the choir" but lots of beginners listen to this one (as well as those of us still learning). Maybe it'll go viral!! We can hope....

o said...

Working at a Windows PC repair shop means dealing with group 3 every day. It's terrible.

cheap computers said...

I agree with the posts above although not with as much enthusiasm. I don't think with such a short run you could call it a failure.

Jingles said...

I think its all microscopic :)