Forward Thinking: Radio RAB - Realise radio's mass reaction

Mark Barber: planning director of the Radio Advertising Bureau
Mark Barber: planning director of the Radio Advertising Bureau

The reach of linear broadcast media makes it the most effective platform to achieve brand success, and with high levels of engagement and emotional influence, radio can help deliver this.

Future-gazers often fall into the trap of concentrating on the exciting promise of the futuristic over the realistic.

This focus on the potential over the probable seems particularly prevalent in the world of media. A constant spew of updates about new technologies, evolving applications and ever-bigger data creates an enthralling blur of communications possibilities with infinitely precise targeting prospects, yet risks distracting the unwary advertiser from the reality of what will drive success for their brand.

Many of these stimulating communications opportunities operate principally at a short-term activation level, converting rather than creating brand value. There is also a theory that their perceived value for marketers may be exaggerated by the distorted media habits of those in advertising.

There's nothing wrong with short-term activation. In their latest analysis of the IPA Databank, 'The Long and Short of It', Les Binet and Peter Field highlight the importance of advertisers striking the right balance between long-term brand-building and short-term sales stimulation activity to deliver the highest returns, with an optimal 60:40 investment ratio favouring brand-building over activation.

Their analysis also demonstrates that reaching a mass audience is the most effective strategy for brand success. Targeting new customers generates more large business effects than attempting to build deep, loyal relationships with existing customers. Martin Weigel of Wieden & Kennedy explores this in his presentation 'How (not) to fail', and concludes that 'generating a mass reaction is more important than mass participation'. In both cases the authors agree that mass advertising reach is vital for long-term brand success.

This conclusion elevates the importance of media use in the debate - even the best creative work will fail if it has insufficient scale - but the groundswell of interest in efficiencies through the application of technology is pulling advertisers in the opposite direction.

This distraction is exacerbated by the disconnection between how the advertising community consumes media compared with the wider population. IPA Touchpoints 4 data reveals that advertising professionals spend twice as much time with online media as the average UK adult, reflected in online's disproportionate share of adspend. While we like to believe our media choices are made rationally, it could be that 'mere exposure effect' is influencing our decision-making process.

Perhaps the best way to counter this undue prominence of the 'futuristic' over the 'realistic' - as Alison Lancaster suggests in her interview in this publication - is to take everything back to the consumer. When we do, we are reminded which media channels provide brands with the best means of driving significant growth.

The latest IPA Touchpoints 4 research reveals that broadcast real-time media - radio and TV - currently account for about three-quarters of all time spent with media, and continue to deliver the highest reach of editorial media. Surprisingly to many, most people still prefer live and linear to self-editing on-demand content; easy to access and consume, yet with a high perceived reward, linear media is perfectly in tune with the lazier instincts of human nature. Perhaps that is why more than 97% of radio content is still consumed live, while online streaming services such as Spotify account for just 0.5% of all time spent with radio.

Beyond dominating reach and hours, broadcast linear media seamlessly incorporate advertising into a real-time linear flow and, with the lowest levels of active ad avoidance, haven't yet been superseded as the best way for brands to attain significant outreach.

Within broadcast, radio continues to offer unique qualities for advertisers seeking to stimulate mass reaction. First, with a lower entry production cost than TV, radio makes high reach and share of voice attainable for more brands. For TV advertisers, radio perfectly complements the audience delivery of TV, cost-effectively extending a brand's reach and share of mind by following the consumer out of home and across the day. Finally, sound exerts significant emotional influence, enabling radio to stimulate mass reaction for brands and enhance activation plans.

The best advice for any marketer bewildered by the cacophony of 'next big things' clamouring for attention in 2013 is to stay focused on the big goals for brands and allow critical-mass consumer behaviour to guide your media decisions in delivering these.

As ever, radio will be here to help.

Mark Barber is planning director of the Radio Advertising Bureau

Read more Forward Thinking essays


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