Radio Ad Strategies Hold Lessons

Aug 30, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Typically, media try to appeal to planners on the basis of logic, rational thought and hard data. In a turnabout, the latest pitch from the radio industry is based entirely on emotions-specifically, the emotional connection listeners have with radio and why that makes radio an especially effective advertising medium.

The pitch, which is based on ongoing research efforts spearheaded by the Radio Advertising Bureau, should resonate on Madison Avenue, where the role of emotions in advertising and media has become a keen focus. The Advertising Research Foundation has embarked on a major initiative to uncover how emotions impact the way the brain processes advertising. And most major media shops have been conducting research delving into the emotional connection consumers have with media.

The study, conducted by consumer researcher WirthlinWorldwide for the Radio Advertising Effectiveness Lab, shows that consumers consider radio a much more personally relevant medium than either television or newspapers, a finding that is surprising some media planning veterans.

“The fact is consumers do see it as a one-to-one medium,” said Lee Doyle, managing partner and director of client services at Mediaedge:cia. “Consumers do recognize it as a very local medium. More local than TV or magazines, and I was even surprised to see, than newspapers.”

“It’s hard to see TV as a personal medium. There’s a portability to radio that it can go wherever you go,” added Shari Anne Brill, director of programming at Carat USA, who nonetheless finds the radio research surprising given the direction of radio programming. “It’s ironic because radio has become much more corporate. It’s about playlists and you don’t have the local station personalities the way we used to. It seems that the local DJ has fallen by the wayside.”

Despite those trends, the new research finds that consumers perceive radio as their personal medium. They consider it a one-to-one medium that is driven by emotional connections, and perhaps most important for media planners, they consider radio advertising more relevant to them than ads in either newspapers or TV.

“If done correctly, radio ads can really hold my attention-I can feel like someone is actually speaking directly to me,” said one of the respondents to the WirthlinWorldwide study.

The trick, said Mary Bennett, executive VP in charge of the marketing division at the RAB, is ensuring that radio ads are done correctly.

“If you speak to them honestly and directly, they will not only notice that advertisers are making that effort, they will reward them,” she said. To do that, the RAB is making a pitch to advertisers that they craft advertising messages that are designed specifically for the radio medium. Toward that end, the radio industry is calling on advertisers to invest in “pre-testing” radio ads to ensure they are effective. Such copytesting is the norm for TV ads, but is far less common with ads in other media, which see the situation as a paradox: Because advertisers don’t pre-test their ads for other media, they generally have less confidence in the effectiveness of ads in those media and therefore spend less money on them.

“The ultimate goal for the RAB is to have more money going into radio,” acknowledged Janice Finkel Greene, executive VP, associate local broadcast director, at Initiative Media. “But it really has to be done on a high level. It has to be planning and research taking the ideas to the client, who understands how to work with them.”

Toward that end, Ms. Finkel Greene said Initiative plans to circulate the radio research in its media department, which will present it to clients to develop radio advertising strategies.

To do that, she said, agencies and advertisers will need to rethink the role of radio in the media mix. “Historically, it has been relegated as a high-frequency or reminder medium. Maybe radio could re-emerge as a primary medium for some clients. More than it is now.”

But Mediaedge:cia’s Mr. Doyle doesn’t think the new radio research by itself will necessarily accomplish that. At least not across the board.

“This is a step in the right direction, but it’s still a little thin. I don’t think for radio skeptics, this will be a great persuader. If you’re already a believer, this will help reinforce your beliefs,” he projected.

The reason, he said, is that radio planning is essentially divided into two camps: media executives like Mr. Doyle who believe radio is an “underutilized medium, and skeptics who don’t believe the medium is as effective as TV or print media.

“It seems like either a category fully embraces it, like the wireless [telecommunications] category, or, on the other end of the spectrum, a category like packaged goods will dip its toe in the water from time to time, but doesn’t really know what to do with it,” Mr. Doyle said. “With radio, you’re either a member of the club or you’re not.”

He said Madison Avenue’s polarity is at odds with the sentiment of radio listeners, who regard the medium in very personal and relevant terms: “People literally define themselves by the station they listen to. You don’t find that with television, or even magazines.”

And while that is the heart of the radio industry’s latest message to Madison Avenue, the pitch is aimed just as much at brand managers and agency creative departments as it is directed at media planners.

There is little that is terribly new in the report for a media planner who has really studied the medium and understands the value of delivering the brand message via the “theater of the mind” and the ability of the creative to be framed within the “most personal image for each consumer,” said Tony Jarvis, former director of the Strategic Insights Group at MediaCom. Mr. Jarvis called radio a “me or my” medium, and said the personal relevance of the medium is well known to media planners, but that the message needs to get to advertisers and the creative departments of ad agencies.

Mediaedge:cia’s Mr. Doyle said the recent reorganization of Madison Avenue that has unbundled media and creative services makes that more of an issue than ever. He said media planners may understand the need for relevant creative executions, but if they’re not approved by clients or produced by creative departments, the medium will continue to be underutilized.

“In the world of specialized media companies, which are separate from the creative process, I’m afraid that not enough thought is given to the right message in the right medium at the right time,” he conceded. To some extent, Mr. Doyle said, media agencies are compensating for this disconnect by developing their own original consumer research and by creating new consumer planning specialists within the media department. But if they can’t convince advertisers and creative agencies to develop corresponding strategies, he said, the radio industry’s efforts may be for naught.