I'm in the minority on this one. All the buzz in advertising is over Facebook, Twitter and social media. Yet radio technology is burgeoning. The appointment audio of the podcast is catching on, and satellite radio, HD radio and streaming mobile radio are all gaining interest and audience. So, too, is Internet radio: according to research firm American Media Services, 38% of adults surveyed six months ago said they expected to listen to radio on the Internet at some point in the future; more recently, the figure was 48%.
Listening to President Obama's inauguration speech again on YouTube recently got me thinking about stirring orations. Because I'm a Brit, naturally Winston Churchill's 1940 "Fight them on the Beaches" speech to the House of Commons came to mind. Even today, when I listen to it via a scratchy YouTube recording, I am struck by radio's power as a storytelling medium. I can't help but wonder: In our visual age, have we lost the art of audio communication?
I've long been a believer in radio.
After nine years in this business (and 20-odd as an avid radio listener), some of my favorite effective brand communication has come over the airwaves. Sure, they've been jewels nestling in the swill of sales announcements for Bob's Discount Furniture and Joint-ritis, but they stand testament to the fact: It is possible to do really wonderful radio.
Many people tell me that radio is a dying medium. Certainly, it long ago ceded its top-dog status to TV--and just last year, according to Zenith Optimedia, was surpassed for the first time in the U.S. by the Internet in total media spend. Of the seven categories of major media, radio fell down a notch to the fifth-largest.
And it's not surprising to hear that radio has lost status with Americans in the past five years: A 2007 study by eMarketer revealed that only 17% of those polled call radio their most important medium, down from 26% in 2002. The Net, in contrast, has jumped in popularity as the most important medium, rising from 20% to 33% in the same time period.
True, radio is no match for the infinite utility of the Internet. But radio still has a purpose, and a following. Sixty-four percent of the U.S. population tunes in once a day, and 94% of adults tune in every week. That's a cumulative audience of 283 million weekly listeners. It may not be seen as essential, but it does seem to entertain a substantial majority of the population.
The good news in these tough economic times is that radio is relatively cheap to create and produce. Moreover, its short and simple production times allow brands to be opportunistic and flexible in their media buys--a noteworthy advantage over the more-than-four week production lead times of out-of-home, magazine and newsprint, and TV's eight-week minimum.
Most important, however, is that great radio work can have a huge impact. Best-in-class examples: Bud Light's Real Men of Genius, or CDP's Hamlet cigars. A 2005 study by research firms Millward Brown and IRI found that radio provided 49% better return-on-investment than TV. In recent years, numerous studies conducted by third parties prove that radio is more personally relevant, more persuasive and just as emotionally engaging as TV. Some particularly thorough researchers have gone so far as to use facial electromyography to track emotional response!
Radio as a medium is tailor-made to the challenges of our multi-tasking, ADD age. Consumers might be working, driving or gaming, but they can still listen. Acceptance of radio ads is higher than that of TV ads: 51% of the listeners queried by American Media Services claim they do not switch radio channels when commercials come on. I recently worked on Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World" campaign. In qualitative groups, my colleagues and I were shocked at how many respondents recalled lines from the radio--even more so than the TV.
With so much to offer marketers, where are the new opportunities for brand integration in radio programming? In the 21st century, radio and brands should have a more evolved relationship than "Prairie Home Companion" and Powdermilk Biscuits. Where are the custom sound skins on podcasts rather than the usual sponsorship messages? Why not bring real brand integration into programming content? Or savvy communications planning, where ads complement content?
"RadioLab," National Public Radio's show about curiosity, recently aired a segment that dealt with the results of an experiment conducted by Yale psychologists. Participants bumped into a lab assistant carrying books and a cup of coffee--who, when jarred, asked for help with the drink. With one group of participants, the assistant's coffee was cold. With the other, the coffee was hot. Curiously, those participants who held the cold cup were more likely to rate a hypothetical person they read about as being colder, less social and more selfish than the other group. So why didn't Nescafe or Starbucks sponsor the show?
There it is: Clinically proven to be entertaining and economical, innovative democratic and about as underleveraged as a medium can be in our frenzied multichannel universe. I may be in the minority on this one, but I do think that in today's economy, radio affords some of the juiciest creative opportunities, at a bargain price. A radio revival could be just the thing to beat the recession blues.