Coming soon: The next golden age of radio advertising

February 5, 2015
February 5, 2015 Marty Donohue

(Truth be told, this blog entry is in reply to a post by the most excellent Mark St. Amant (Partner-Creative, Grenadier) which was in response to a post by the legendary Ernie Schenck who asked, “Where has all the great radio gone?” I felt it deserved way more than a quick comment, so here goes…)

For several years, clients and agencies alike have been searching for the next great messaging vehicle – that highly creative, cost-effective, awareness-generating, consumer-engaging, loyalty-building, sales-driving form of brand storytelling and communications we can all embrace wholeheartedly.

Did you ever think it could be radio? I certainly do. In fact, I’m pretty sure radio can still be all these things and more.

So why has radio been put on the back burner? There are a number of factors:

  • The digital marketing age gave everyone a new toolbox of sexy and innovative ways to hyper-reach, geo-target, and create branded “experiences” for consumers.
  • Measurability and interactivity became the shiny new must-haves, rendering awareness and brand building as marketing’s older and far less interesting stepchildren.
  • Certain advertising and media pundits, when they weren’t predicting the death of the TV commercial, would tell whomever would listen that radio, as an effective medium, was just as dead.

But in no way does it mean radio advertising should be ignored. In fact, it’s time more clients and more agencies take a fresh new look at what is still one of the most powerful brand storytelling vehicles we’ve ever had at our disposal.

There is enough evidence to suggest that things are starting to bend back toward a re-appreciation of the true power of radio advertising.

There were a number of brands that pulled way back on radio advertising not too long ago, convincing themselves that a more digital/social approach was a cheap and effective solution to achieve better results and bigger returns on their investment dollars. What happened instead was that many of them experienced a prolonged dip in sales and awareness. Somehow their .25 click-through rates and 100+ likes of a branded Facebook post were not translating to more business.

Then there was last year’s startling study by Nielsen Catalina Solutions (reported in AdAge March 25, 2014) that showed radio beating most of the digital ROI numbers by a wide margin. In this study that tracked a number of brands in a number of categories that advertised on Clear Channel radio stations, brands averaged a sales lift more than $6 for every dollar spent on radio ads—an ROI double that of even the best results from many recent studies of digital media.

Finally, there are just way too many radio success stories over the past few years to ignore. Some obvious examples come to mind. The gold standard, of course–Bud Light’s Real Men of Genius campaign (Thank you Bob Winter and DDB/Chicago). It went on for over 200 commercials, won more awards than any campaign in history, and sold a ton of beer.

Other examples of national brands sticking with radio and showing us how it can be done brilliantly? Motel 6, Old Spice, Little Caesars, Netflix, Milky Way, HBO, and, of course, the phenomenal Most Interesting Man In The World campaign from Dos Equis.

Closer to home, we have our own impossible-to-ignore examples of radio success stories right here at Full Contact in Boston.

In 2008 we launched a brand new coffee for convenience store Cumberland Farms, using radio as our only messaging vehicle outside the four walls. In the first three years, coffee sales at Cumberland Farms skyrocketed over 150% (and are still going strong today). Here’s one of our favorites from that campaign.

Also, for Cumberland Farms, we came up with a unique way to transform radio into a truly interactive experience for young consumers of the Chill Zone frozen beverage station. We created a traditional radio campaign in the form of a Mad Lib word game that directed listeners to a Facebook app where they could create their own custom Chill Zone commercial. The campaign was successful on two fronts: sales spiked dramatically in store and our brand new Facebook community exploded from zero to 165,000 Likes.

Finally, and most recently, we created a single radio commercial this fall for D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches. The spot, a comically heroic tribute to its signature steak sandwich, helped D’Angelo achieve its highest sales lift in the past ten years.

So, what does all this mean? It’s simple really—radio is still very much an unbelievably powerful and creative medium. But only if it’s used powerfully and creatively.

For clients, that means making a fresh new commitment to radio, especially those small to midsize brands that don’t have the luxury of a $20 million+ media budget. Radio combined with digital makes for one hell of an effective one-two punch, by the way. And let’s not forget the power of Pandora, the digital radio format that now offers a host of ways to create a more branded experience online. Plus, with the extremely low cost of radio production and media (compared to TV), brands can stay relevant and on top of mind much longer and with far more unique messages.

For agencies, there may be even more of a need to re-commit. Creatives have gotten so caught up in inventing the next big thing that they have lost sight of the best storytelling vehicles there is outside of TV and digital video. So who’s to say radio can’t be the next big thing?

Is radio easy? Hell no. For a copywriter it may be the ultimate challenge. It’s the exact opposite of writing a clever headline or a quippy meme. You are, after all, telling a story. It can be funny, edgy, poignant, shocking, uplifting or heartbreaking, but it is a story. I’m pretty sure this is not what many writers currently think when a radio assignment hits their desks. Crafting a great idea with words, sound and music is very different from filling a script with copy points.

Fortunately for all you writers out there, the path to radio greatness has already been laid out before you. I would suggest you become a student of what makes a great radio idea. Go to your past CA annuals, One Show books, or regional advertising award winners. Or better yet, visit the website for the Radio Mercury Awards, the mother of all radio competitions. Their website is filled with examples of the very best of radio:

I have had the privilege to work with many great radio writers–no one better than Mark Nardi. He has won every award there is in the category (and lots of other categories too). We talk radio all the time, and not in that lamenting sorry-to-see-it-go kind of way. It’s still too good of a creative opportunity to give up on. And for clients, it’s way too good of a brand and business driver to not be jumping all over it.

So let the new golden age of radio begin. I, for one, am all for it.

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