What DJs can teach us about advertising and consumer behaviour
A view from Paul Burke

What DJs can teach us about advertising and consumer behaviour

Clubs will be reopening soon and when they do, try getting a side hustle as a DJ. You’ll learn a lot.

It would now be called a “side hustle”. But my previous “side hustle” of working as a club DJ was more out of necessity than choice. As a junior copywriter, I needed those late night wads of cash to pay for luxuries like food, clothing and shelter. Playing records for money was not a D&AD Pencil-worthy pursuit that deepened my understanding of consumer behaviour in the late 20th century.

Except I now realise that it was.  

When the good people at Gas Music in Manchester interviewed me about my former double life, the parallels between my night job and my day job became more and more apparent. Clubs will be reopening soon and when they do, try getting a side hustle as a DJ. You’ll learn an awful lot. For example….

Oh dear, digital

Digital technology, as we all know, has transformed the advertising industry – though not necessarily for the better. The same is true of DJ-ing. All DJs now work digitally. Of course they do. Instead of lugging heavy decks and weighty crates of vinyl, all they need is a laptop, a software program and thousands of tracks on pre-mixed playlists. 

It’s technologically phenomenal but, as in advertising, technology is no substitute for creativity. Snazzy digital OOH sites and precision-targeted online pre-rolls are all very well, but if the punters don’t respond to your ideas you're wasting your time. As a DJ, you may now have some astonishing digital wizardry at your fingertips but if the punters don’t respond to your tunes, you’re wasting not only your time but theirs.

The theory of everything

Since DJs went digital, they no longer need a compendious knowledge of music and an insane obsession with tracking it down. Any tune can be streamed in seconds, so anyone can be a DJ, can’t they? In theory, yes. Just as anyone who can write their own name can, in theory, write an award-winning TV campaign. But in practice, they can’t. 

In advertising, too many students leave ad schools technically proficient but creatively lame. Their portfolios are full of digital “decks” (how’s that for irony?) but the richness of technology will only expose the poverty of ideas. Sadly, you can now get a degree in being a DJ, which must be the equivalent of a degree in “Media Studies”. This suggests that some very dull people value theory over practice. Which is a shame because what does practice make...? 

Set in their ways

DJs now often play pre-programmed “sets” with little thought of who their audience might be. Imagine creating an ad campaign with the same clueless disregard. In either endeavour, you start with your audience and build from there. If your campaign is going well, keep it running. But if it isn’t, you’ll need to change your strategy and try something new. On a dance floor, it’s much easier to tell because the qualitative research, right in front of you, will be very hard to ignore.

Familiar but not too familiar

If a DJ’s music is too well-known, it’s like an advertising idea that’s been done a million times before. But if the music is too weird and unfamiliar, the audience won’t know what to do. Semi-familiarity is usually the key to both good creative work and a packed dance floor. But isn’t that also true of almost any form of human interaction?

Girls and boys

Men and women are more similar than some advertisers, with their "divide and conquer" strategies, would have you believe. Most dance floors, like most products, tend to be quite gender balanced because great music – like great advertising – will appeal to both sexes. However, just as most purchasing decisions are made by women, most dancing decisions are too.

If they like what you do, they’ll do what you like

If people like your brand, they’ll buy your product. For a DJ, the same applies. If you create a good feeling and tailor your work to your audience, they’ll respond very positively. This usually just means getting on the dance floor and enjoying themselves. Though in my case, it has often meant making them sit on that dance floor and pretend to row a boat. 

Do try this at home

They are always technical tricks you can employ to make your work more effective. If you have a sound system at home, set it up like a DJ: balance in the middle, bass about two-thirds of the way round and treble a tiny bit further (clarity is more important than depth). Then point your speakers slightly inwards to create an apex of sound. Your music will be clear, powerful and enjoyable.

Now do the same with your advertising.