FM can drive you crazy. Just when you begin to savour the mellow voice of Paul Simon, or the soothing lyrics of the Beatles, a jarring jingle breaks the music. You curse, but you dare not switch stations lest the music start again…
Now there will be many more jingles.
The government has approved the setting up of 150 new FM channels in 40 cities, outside the All India Radio network. But for advertisers the question is simple: Is advertising on radio effective? And what will the explosion of channels mean for advertisers?
To start with, radio has many advantages. Many people spend hours listening to radio. After all, there is little one can do if stuck in the chaotic traffic of New Delhi or Mumbai. And market research indicates that most listeners tune in to one or two favourite stations. In theory, advertisers have it simple. Identify the stations that best fit their target audiences, and then identify the time slots when most listeners tune in. Bingo! It's time to get the message across. Says N. Bhaskara Rao, of the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies, "Until now, the radio was a reminder media. With the coming of more channels, and the emergence of lifestyle advertising, radio will become a push and pull medium."
However, the scope of advertising will also depend on the product category. Points out Sanjay Garg, general manager, Enterprise Nexus, "For example, a retail store can effectively advertise on radio alone. Advertisers can effectively build brands using different communication strategies on television and radio, but emphasising on the same product benefits."
Things may not be all that easy. For advertisers, radio comes only after television as a medium of advertisement, that is, in the majority of cases. Comments Kapil Khanna, creative services, A/V, McCann-Erickson, "I don't think that the multiplication of channels will have much impact. Initially, there will be a rush of listeners trying out the new channels, but then the listenership will go down." In fact, there has already been a shakedown of sorts, with the number of licences taken being far short of the ones that the government was willing to give out to start with. Analysts say that the explosive growth that FM radio witnessed when the sector was first privatised is unlikely to be repeated.
And then there is the problem of listener fatigue. "Creatives will have to get their act together." Observes Shovon Chowdhury, general manager, Bates India, "Radio advertising is really cheap. The price is low, and it becomes a suspect medium. And so, it is not valued highly. It is a vicious circle. Success will really depend on what is delivered."
Like in other media, quality will be king. "People who deliver quality will stand apart. The key to success will be the creation of niches. The days of just two or three channels are over. In a free market, it will be the consumer who decides," points out Sunil Sachdeva, director, Capital Advertising. Adds Rahul Kansal, deputy managing director, Leo Burnett, "The rules are different. Too often, in radio advertising, the stuff is not too hot. FM is a tremendous opportunity. Used properly, with the right mix of editorial and advertising content, a brand can be made to come alive."
In short, if delivered judiciously, radio advertisements can be damn effective. Scientific research shows that consumers tend to associate a product with intangible, emotional benefits, often conveyed by words rather than images. What would a Nike shoe be without the slogan "Just do it"? One more shoe.
Or take retention. The mind is able to understand a spoken word in 140 milliseconds, while it takes 180 milliseconds to understand the printed word. Why? Psychologists believe this 40-millisecond delay occurs when the brain attempts to translate visual data into aural sounds it can understand. Words are also retained longer than visual images with a visual image fading in about one second, while an aural image lasts four or five times as long.
And then there is the tone of voice. Soft. Suave. Harsh. Vibrant. But certainly not the jangle that marks most radio advertising in India. All the more when a voice can make words mean so much more.
Finally, there is the phenomenal range of radio. From only six stations at the time of independence, All India Radio's network has expanded to 146 AM stations plus a National Channel. The reach of private companies is also high. At present, the privately-owned Times FM is the biggest broadcaster on the FM channel in five cities - Mumbai, Delhi, Madras, Calcutta and Goa and has a reach of about 7 million. Despite all this, FM covers only 17 per cent of the area and 21 per cent of the population of India through 104 transmitters.
The new policies will at least double the reach of FM. But the question is: Will the advertiser drive home the message?
Perhaps they could start by trying to change the jarring jingles on FM.
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