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Two Advertising Lessons From the Bar

Once a month I pick up my six-string and head to The Poison Frog Brewery to entertain the folks. I’m not all that great of a guitar player. No one is wowed by my prowess on the strings. I’m more like George from Sultans of Swing. I know (almost) all the chords but I’m strictly rhythm. I have an adequate voice that doesn’t turn people away. What I bring to the table is a fun and entertaining show.

Better yet, what my playing guitar in a bar brings to you is two lessons in advertising worth sharing.

About one-third of the patrons on a typical night are there to see me. I put it out on Facebook and promote to my friends and that puts a few butts into seats. The other two-thirds are there whether I was playing or not. They came to drink beer, to meet up with friends, to get away from their lives, or simply just to have something to do.

They aren’t actively listening to me.

If I want to entertain them, I better do one of two things:

  • Play something interesting that they didn’t expect to hear
  • Play something they love to hear

That is the formula for success. Ask any singer in a bar and he or she will tell you the same.


When your audience’s attention is somewhere else, they aren’t going to listen to you unless you get their attention. Screaming doesn’t really work. It just turns them off. The best way to get someone’s attention is to say something totally unexpected. If you’re an excellent musician, you might say it with your instrument. In my case, I have to say it in my lyrics. I have to grab you by singing something funny and unexpected. Anything less and I’m just background noise.

I have two or three songs that through experimentation I have found get almost everyone to perk up their ears if only to ask, “Did he just say what I thought he said?”

Your marketing works exactly the same way. Other than this Sunday during the Super Bowl, the other 364 days of the year we are conditioned to tune out advertising. If you’re using radio, those listeners are already focused on something else, as radio is primarily used for background noise.

You have to say something more interesting than what is occupying their brain at that moment if you want to get their attention.

That’s why stories and humor tend to work so well. They say the unexpected in fun and interesting ways. I use songs with unexpected lyrics as a means for drawing in my audience. I used ads with interesting word combinations and OMG-did-he-say-that!? content to get potential customers to listen. It works.

One thing is certain … If the song is boring, the audience tunes out. If your ad is boring, your potential customers tune out. Yes it is that simple.


The other simple way to get the people at the bar to pay attention is to play a fan favorite. There are cover songs that every guitar player knows will get the crowd listening and singing along. Play a few of those and you’ll have the whole place instantly clapping and singing and having a good time.

But what made those songs favorites in the first place? Those songs have two elements.

  • They are interesting and fun
  • They have been played with a ton of frequency

It is that second point that is the clincher. Favorites don’t become favorites without a lot of play. Yeah, you might like a song, but if you don’t ever hear it again, it never becomes that instant-clap-and-sing-along song. You have to play it over and over again until it becomes entrenched in their lives.

Likewise, your advertising might be interesting and fun, but it doesn’t truly sink into a customer’s mind until they have heard your message several times. The more consistently they hear your interesting and fun message, the more you become the fan favorite to the point that as soon as your name is mentioned people want to clap and sing along.

Don’t take it from me. Go to your neighborhood bar when a guy with a guitar is performing. When he plays an obscure song he loves, he’ll have the attention of some of the patrons. When he plays something interesting and unexpected, he’ll have more. When he plays a popular cover, he’ll have the whole place jumping. (By the way, that popular cover was at one time the interesting and unexpected song that became popular mainly through repetition.)

Plan your advertising the same way. Say something interesting and unexpected. Then say it often enough to become a fan favorite.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Not everyone will like what you have to say, just as not everyone will jump in and sing along to every popular song. That’s okay. It is always better, whether you’re an advertiser or a performer, to have a few loud fans, than a bored-to-tears audience.

PPS If your message isn’t interesting and fun, frequency won’t help. If Pavlov hadn’t first given the dog some meat when he rang the bell, the dog probably would have eaten the bell just because ti was annoying him so much.

PPPS I use a mix of both in my shows. I play songs you’ve never heard that make you say OMG-did-he-say-that!? And I do a whole set of covers where you get to choose the song (and I include a songbook with lyrics so that you can sing along.) No one is going to give me a recording contract for my musical talents, but they all walk away saying that was fun and entertaining. My next show is Saturday, February 17th. See you then!