Radio’s come a long way from the ‘cricket commentary on little transistors’ and ‘evening music on giant radio apparatus’ eras that many of us grew up in. But it’s never really been able to shake off all the myths and misinformation that it has been dealt with by advertisers and media planners.
In the early years of media planning, radio, de-glamorised by colour television, was often misinterpreted as only a rural reach medium. In recent years, as FM has come of age, we’ve labelled it, again quite erroneously, as the car owner’s medium and synonymous to morning and evening office traffic. In my view, many of these perceptions are far from the truth. Just take a look at the numbers of mobile phones that now sell with FM radio. Take a lazy afternoon walk through a chawl in Mumbai. Or just pay more attention to the increasing chatter about Internet radio in the office cafeteria. And you’ll get a sense of what I mean. RJs are heroes for many young people. And loyalties to shows are beginning to sound a bit like television. Yet, we continue to ignore the medium, except to spend a bit in building ‘frequency’ for our campaigns. Frankly, it just isn’t as ‘sexy’ as TV or print on our plans.
Let’s continue to ignore the obvious limitations like ‘no visual’ for a bit longer, and ask ourselves if the industry does in fact get its due. The fact is it doesn’t. And advertisers are certainly not the only people to blame. After a brief renaissance of creativity, radio channels are beginning to sound more and more like each other again. And the guys marketing them are happily pandering to our narrow vision, to collect whatever little they can. Tell me the last campaign launched on radio, even if it was only city-specific? Name five retailers who innovated on radio to build a low cost but high reach brand? How many successful case studies can we actually think of? How often do we hear above average advertising on the medium? My bet is most people reading this will struggle for answers. And that’s not good going for a medium that gives access to millions of people and many cities (with or without FM), and yet allows you to customise, refresh, innovate and even interact locally. What’s more, I haven’t yet met a media planner who’ll put his hand on his heart and vouch for reliability of even a single piece of listenership research that exists in the country.
In sum, my wish list for radio – continuous innovation, research that’s reliable and higher standards; an industry that takes itself more seriously; more advertiser confidence; and a lot more creativity.
(Rameet Arora is Senior Director, McDonald’s India - South & West.)