Radio: Will on-ground activation regain its charm in 2021?

Industry leaders say the trend of digital IPs that saw a rise in the pandemic will continue, but on-ground activations will see a spur in the coming months

e4m by Noel Dsouza
Published: Feb 12, 2021 8:53 AM  | 5 min read
revival of radio on ground activations

On-ground activations have always been a key strategy for radio players to connect with listeners and attract new consumers at a local level. Being a hyper-local medium, FM channels leverage RJs, who are nothing less than celebrities, to build a strong rapport with listeners across multiple languages and cities. This consumer connect was lost as the Covid pandemic halted on-ground radio activations last year. With digital solutions on the rise during lockdown, these on-ground activities shifted to social media platforms of radio channels and digital events, contests, and programmes soon became the norm.

As year 2021 begins on a hopeful note, e4m spoke to industry leaders to find out about the status of on-ground activations and their potency in the current post-pandemic market.

The revival

According to Sunil Kumaran, Country Head, Product, Marketing and THWINK BIG, BIG FM, as the country began the un-lockdown in phases, brands started to amp-up advertising through activations on radio from the third quarter. “As per the recent TAM AdEx report, Q4 recorded five times rise in radio ad volumes compared to Q2. During 2020, there were more than 10,600 brands present on radio and more than 4,900 advertisers, and 6,500 brands exclusively advertised on radio during 2020."

Kumaran has witnessed categories like automobile, telecom, and real estate sectors engage in activations off late. "As markets start opening up further, we will see activations resuming normalcy as well. However, we will continue to ensure that safety measures are in check as per the guidelines with regards to on-ground activations," he remarked.

Pooja Gulati, EVP & Sr. Director IP Solutions, Mirchi, shares that radio activations had never really gone away. “There was an increase in focus on these activations during the pandemic and will continue throughout 2021. Albeit small in size, radio activations provide continuity, speed to market, and are hyper-local. Therefore, they attract sponsors who are tight on budget, yet seek city-centric impactful activities,” explained Gulati.

However, Nisha Narayanan, Director and COO, Red FM and Magic FM, said the pandemic devastated brand activations, as we knew it in 2020. “But the physical limitations it presented to brands also brought about innovative solutions,” she added at the same time.

“2021 will be a recovery year for the industry that will see a revival of brand activations in a slow phased manner. Brands have already started venturing into on-ground activations. Moreover, coming off the downturn of almost a year, the market is considerably enthusiastic right now and is ready to explore more outdoor options,” Narayanan shared.


An essential strategy

Talking about the potency of activations to build a local connect, Kumaran shared, "The biggest strength of radio is its mass hyper-local reach and brands are leveraging this strength to reach out to their target audience and create engagement. For radio, on-ground interaction and activations have always been a vital part of its reach and engagement. While RJs develop a personal connection with the listeners through on-air interactions, on-ground activations further enhance the relationship between the radio-jockey and thereby the brand, with the listeners. RJs have regularly conducted OB activities which give a deeper engagement to our brand and advertisers."

Talking about an activation that they recently conducted, Kumaran mentioned their Lohri campaign, ‘Kudiya Di Lohri’. As part of the campaign, BIG FM RJs had formed a ‘Kudiyon Ki Toli’ with selected listeners and visited multiple houses to meet and greet their new friends with the customary ‘Shagun ki Thaali’. Also, BIG FM had collaborated with Samsung for ‘Samsung Diwali Utsav’ to promote their Galaxy mobile series. The month-long campaign saw BIG RJs Juhie, Gagan, and Shalini covering top dealer locations in Jammu, Patiala, and Shimla in two phases.

Gulati informed that nearly 30% of their events business is in the form of radio activations.  “Radio and its RJs play an integral role in connecting with the city audience. The RJs are no less than big celebrities in their respective cities. Therefore, when they promote any radio activations, listeners respond with high engagement levels,” said Gulati.

The future: Digital or on-ground?

Sharing his thoughts on the road ahead, Kumaran said, "With the absence of large events happening on-ground, audiences experienced entertainment by steering towards digital platforms. At BIG FM, our digital property Big Café Online enabled our listeners to enjoy concerts from the comfort of their home. Going forward, given the merits and demerits of both online and on-ground activations, we believe there will be a healthy mix of the two that will be continued."

The network recently conducted a digital fundraising event with Sunidhi Chauhan for the campaign ‘Together Against Cancer’ which received an amazing response from listeners.

Narayanan too agrees with Kuamaran and thinks that the post-pandemic market will witness a hybrid approach for all entertainment experiences. “There is an out-of-home live experience and the same content delivered at home through a live virtual stream or recorded capsule. Digital was big and attained its peak in 2020 but people are now keener to step out and be a part of on-ground events,” she opined.

Narayanan stated that while 2020 was very high on all digital IPs and that the trend may continue, on-ground will also see a spur in the coming months. However, she also pointed out that this momentum can be a success only if there are no limitations on permissions from the authorities.

On a concluding note, Gulati shared, “Digital events will continue to grow, even after the lockdown. Certain segments like B2B, B2E (employees) or B2C segments will see more hybrid events in 2021. There is a pent-up demand for live events, which will ensure a healthy mix of digital and radio live events.”


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