Music and Marketing

Why Marketers Need to Reevaluate Radio, the World's Most Popular Medium

It's the Perfect Platform to Combine With Emerging Applications and Innovations

By Published on .

Over the past few years, digital marketers have been so focused on display, better ad-tech and creating experiences on the ever-expanding list of social platforms that we've managed to largely ignore a traditional medium that's becoming increasingly sophisticated right under our noses (well, our ears): radio.

Radio is ripe for a renaissance. Major advances in up-to-the-minute distribution and segmentation, as well as innovation from the likes of Spotify, Pandora and Apple make radio -- or radio-type service -- a good bet to add scale to campaigns at efficient cost.

To better understand the opportunity, it helps to know the broader context. In the early 2000s, radio's significance as a leading advertising channel started to wane -- or at least the perception of it did -- as attention, and then dollars, shifted to digital.

The result? Many bad jingles and poorly executed direct marketing. And while TV and digital may be advertisers' media of choice when it comes to branding, it's worth mentioning that radio retains its place as the most widely used mass-communication channel in the world. The 13,000 radio stations (about 8,800 FM, 5,000 AM) broadcasting across the U.S. together reach over 94% of the U.S. population 12 years and older each week.

Radio has also evolved a lot to compete with digital platforms like Pandora and iTunes. On-air jokes turn into trending topics, rare tracks are purchased at red lights and rural backchannels make Reddit's front page. There's an interesting media merge that needs to be explored.

Key to 'Dumb Ways to Die' was the music.
Key to 'Dumb Ways to Die' was the music.

As much as we talk about the phone being the second screen to TV and how our audience is multitasking, it's more plausible to think about looking at your phone and listening to the radio at the same time. It's also a lot more interactive than TV. You can call in to shows, do shout-outs, make requests -- pretty interactive!

As formats like Vine, Instagram Video and Cinemagram show, even with zero time restraints, people still are attracted to digestible nibbles of content, a fact that should only make 10-, 15- and 30-second radio spots more enticing.

Our agency grew to appreciate this when producing a recent radio and digital campaign for the AdCouncil and Environmental Protection Agency. The initiative, which promotes preventative measures parents can take against asthma attacks, is delivered in a series of 30-second pop songs.

Another recent example was Little Caesars' "Do Not Call," an integrated radio and online campaign by Barton F. Graf 9000 that explored customer curiosity and reverse psychology, relying on radio to do a lot of the awareness legwork in the beginning.

And of course there was the popular "Dumb Ways to Die" campaign by McCann Australia, a cause-marketing effort -- for preventing injuries on the country's rail system -- at the root of which was an original and catchy song.

The success of that campaign, which won McCann Melbourne a Grand Prix Radio Lion at Cannes, among several other awards, was proof positive that creatives need to reconsider radio as a medium for their clients, too.

Instead of radio being an advertising afterthought, it can be a pretty great source of inspiration. In the age of social media and composing tweets and six-second Vines, radio doesn't seem quite so limiting.

And contrary to the production costs and time associated with TV, radio creative can be executed for a fraction of the cost and in a significantly faster timeframe, giving advertisers the flexibility and agility to adapt campaigns on the fly.

Finally, there's a strong argument to be made on the metrics side, as broadcasters continue to develop credible audience-tracking metrics, in addition to products that support digital advertising and allow for increasingly targeted messaging and data collection.

Similar to the best digital campaigns, marketers are now able to tie metadata with GPS, enabling customized, targeted radio ads and content. And while this is obviously easier in digital radio, terrestrial radio is coming along.

While digital agencies have been focused on capturing the essence of every emerging platform, we may be missing opportunities to combine new platforms with existing ones. We're in the business of investing in new ways of storytelling, so let's reconsider the value of radio in the marketing mix.

Benjamin Palmer is co-founder and CEO of The Barbarian Group.
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