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Forward Thinking Essays 2012: Upwardly mobile radio, Mark Barber, Radio Advertising Bureau

Figures show radio is still a popular medium with a mood-enhancing effect, while studies suggest it has immense potential to drive consumers to interact with social and mobile brand activity.

In predicting in 2012 the big themes that might drive the post-internet world, you could do worse than reflect on some words from cyberpunk novelist William Gibson. Speaking during a radio interview from the mid-90s, he said: 'The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet.'

On the basis of digital column inches, conference platforms and executive time dedicated to fathoming how best to exploit them, it's fair to say that last year the future of marketing was dominated by two topics - social and mobile.

Branded mobile apps and Facebook pages were 2011's de rigeur addition to most media plans. It was a rare day when one could read the online trade publications without being bombarded by impossibly big numbers reflecting the scale of social or the growth spurt that mcommerce is going to experience in the next five years.

In many cases, however, the desire to be associated with these platforms too often obscures the business reason for being there. As we have learned over the past 15 years with the web, there's still a lot of working through to be done before we fully understand the value of these channels as brand marketing tools, and can exploit them to their optimum potential.

In seeking this, history suggests we should look beyond the channels themselves to identify what might stimulate significant progress this year. The reality is that offline media is, and will remain, a vital component in exploiting online or on-demand media to its full potential.

The good news is that, despite the doom-mongers predicting that the rise in on-demand content would precipitate a slow lingering death for traditional media channels, offline broadcast linear media - radio and TV - remain in remarkably robust health. The consumer offering of an edited content stream played out in real time is as relevant as ever.

It is undeniable that Britain loves radio, with a record 47m adults listening every week in 2011 for 23 hours on average, and almost 34m tuning into the commercial sector alone.

Beyond scale of audience, it's a fact that digital evangelists are wont to undervalue the distinct functions that different media serve in people's lives. Freely available and effortless to consume, radio plays a unique emotional role for the listener - lifting their mood when engaged in other tasks, whenever, wherever - a role that it is impossible for other media to fulfil to the same degree.

This exceptional nature of radio also delivers a quantifiable value to advertisers. The RAB 'Media and the mood of the nation' research study from 2011 revealed how, at an overall level, people consuming radio feel happier and more energetic than those consuming television or online.

The mood-enhancing effects of radio editorial are proven to extend into the ad break, generating higher levels of positive engagement with radio advertising. These findings offer further support to the evidence set out in the 'Radio: Online Multiplier' report, which demonstrated radio's effectiveness in driving people to interact with brands online.

There is already a lot of data out there revealing the potential for radio in positively shaping both social and mobile brand activity. More so than other media, radio stations are avid and active users of social media, wielding high influence over their followers.

For example, the 140,000-plus followers that Capital has on Twitter (for perspective, about the same number as The Sun and Big Brother combined) helped get Jingle Bell Ball 2011 trending, and added an exciting extra dimension for sponsor Windows 7.

Similarly, Kiss enhanced engagement with its recent BlackBerry on-air promotion through activity involving its 460,000 'likers' on Facebook.

In terms of mobile, latest Rajar stats highlight that 16% of adults, and a third of 15- to 24-year-olds, listen to radio via a mobile phone. It is estimated that more than 10m commercial radio station-specific apps have been downloaded (soon to be joined by a Radioplayer app), with the latest Midas study from Rajar suggesting that about half of downloaders use their apps at least once a week. Radio apps on mobile devices offer opportunities for advertisers, such as visuals and content tagging, all of which are being tested currently.

Smart advertisers are exploiting this incredibly symbiotic relationship between radio, mobile and social to unlock the full potential of these channels for brands. Perhaps this best represents the, as yet, not-widely-distributed future that will be realised in 2012. Don't wait to play catch-up - find out for yourself now.

Mark Barber is planning director at the Radio Advertising Bureau. To find out more, visit www.rab.co.uk.

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