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Improved reception

Mark Barber, Radio Advertising Bureau
Mark Barber, Radio Advertising Bureau

As the strengthening of established radio brands gathers pace and new technologies for listening come on stream, the medium may at last be able to alter marketers' benign neglect of it. By Mark Barber

There's an uncomfortable tension that exists between how radio is perceived by the ad industry and the reality of how it is valued by consumers. This is not a new phenomenon - it's existed to some degree since the birth of commercial radio in 1973 - yet there's a real confidence that the developments taking place within radio across 2011 will positively alter this misconception, evidenced by further growth in the sector's share of advertising expenditure.

Because the reality is this: radio - and by radio I'm referring to that broadcast linear stream of predominantly live presenter-led audio content - is in absolutely amazing shape.

Don't be distracted by all the noise stimulated by the DAB switchover debate. Freely available and effortless to consume, radio on any platform continues to play a unique emotional role in the listener's life - lifting their mood when engaged in other tasks, wherever, whenever - a role that is impossible for other media to fulfil to the same degree.

Perhaps that is why in 2010 record audiences of 47m adults listened to the radio every week for just over 22 hours on average, with 33m tuning into the commercial sector alone. It is also no surprise that the launch of the IPA's Touchpoints 3 study confirmed radio is still the nation's second most-consumed medium after TV, accounting for over a quarter of the average adult's media day (more than one-third greater than the multi-faceted and much-feted internet).

This sheer scale of listening alone makes radio a compelling advertising vehicle, with any lingering uncertainty about radio's effectiveness in the digital media context addressed by the evidence set out in the Radio Advertising Bureau's (RAB) Radio: The Online Multiplier research report, combined with the effectiveness data provided for individual radio campaigns by the RAB's ongoing RadioGauge project.

Yet despite these impressive audience statistics and evidence of effectiveness, radio's share of total display ad revenue remains resolutely at just under 6%. Clearly, there are wider emotional factors afoot exerting a strong influence over the consideration of radio for advertising plans.

If this is the challenge, then what's going to change in 2011 that will create a positive shift in perceptions of radio?

Let's start by exploring radio brands. Next year, the expansion and strengthening of established radio brands with compelling audience propositions will reach new levels.

There has been a lot of coverage recently about the geographical roll-out of Heart, Smooth and now Capital by Global and GMG Radio. Let's not forget, though, the brand-authoring success of Absolute with its 80s, 90s, Classic Rock and 'Extra' stations helping to stimulate its best audience performances since relaunch.

Strong brands don't just operate at a national level. Witness the continued investment by radio groups such as Bauer Media and Orion in powerful local brands such as Manchester's Key 103 and Birmingham's BRMB. Strong brands, actively marketed, attract bigger audiences and fundamentally shift the perceived value of the editorial environment, influencing how the ad community relates to the medium.

The second important development in 2011 is in the field of technology and platforms. February heralds the launch of Radioplayer, a common interface linking streamed radio content online, jointly funded by the BBC and commercial radio.

Radioplayer is radio optimally enabled for the internet. It allows seamless switching between stations, as well as live and on-demand content, all bound together with a content and geographical search function.

Make no mistake; Radioplayer is game-changing technology, especially for the commercial sector, which from the outset will have a new shop window providing exposure to the currently untapped weekly audience of 4m people that listen to BBC radio via the iPlayer.

As well as this, and alongside already impressive radio reach of 30% via mobile phones, the roll-out of radio brand apps for smart-phones (almost 5m commercial radio apps downloaded to date) continues to extend the medium's accessibility and functionality for listeners.

With record audiences, stronger and more widely available brands, and game-changing technological developments, there's a real confidence that advertisers will alter their misconceptions about radio. As a result, commercial radio is approaching 2011 in a hugely positive frame of mind - why not exploit some of that optimism for your brands?

Mark Barber is planning director at the Radio Advertising Bureau

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