Radio advertising: Pinning hopes on private FM

By , agencyfaqs! | In
Last updated : May 06, 2002
The sharp rise in the number of private FM channels across India has given ad folk hope that radio advertising will get a much-needed boost. But will it?

Last week, in the course of a visit to a Top 10 agency in Mumbai, I chanced upon a rather intriguing sight in one of the conference rooms. Three creative types, clustered around a small conference table, were emitting rhythmic, toad-like croaks in different sharps and flats. A fourth was drumming on the table and soulfully singing 'Yeh raaten, yeh mausam, nadi ka kinaara…' in a manner that would have done the late Kishore Kumar proud. Suddenly, the quartet stopped, looked at one another and nodded enthusiastically. "Chal, let's now try it with 'Bheegi, bheegi raaton mein'," one of them prompted.

The discordant croaking started to a different beat, but before I could see this performance through to its logical conclusion, the account director who was accompanying me applied enough pressure on my elbow to suggest we make ourselves scarce. "They're working on a crack radio spot," he smiled apologetically, as he guided me out of the room. "Client ne FM ke liye maanga hai."

I was not told who the client was, or what product was being advertised. It's not pertinent either. What is, is the fact that a client had asked for "a crack radio spot" exclusively for FM. What is, is the fact that the creative chaps seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the creative challenge. What is, is the fact that the account director seemed to be proud that the agency was doing some good creative for radio. "If this work gets cleared, we'll hit big-time," he had added.

It certainly looks as if ad folk - especially creatives - are raising a silent toast to FM. And the number of private FM channels mushrooming all over the country. For despite the odd truly remarkable radio spot, as an advertising medium, radio has long been in deep-freeze, television and print taking precedence, both at the agency and the client's end. Much of the time, radio has simply been used as a 'reminder medium'. Naturally, creativity in radio advertising has suffered.

But the question is, will the rise in the number of private FM channels really give radio advertising a much-needed boost? It has to start with the client, of course. "FM will drive clients and agencies to consider the medium seriously," opines Rajiv Sabnis, senior vice-president, Contract Advertising. "The problem with AIR (All India Radio) was that it did not offer an interesting-enough proposition to marketers. There was no option of audience interactivity, neither any scope for experimenting with the medium, in terms of good adlibbing or branding opportunities. Add to that the absence of good tools for database collection or media monitoring. There was nothing measurable that the marketer could put his money on. But I think FM will be marketed more aggressively, so radio will get noticed. And if the medium is opened up governmental policy-wise, even better."

Clients are already sitting up and taking notice. "Three-four of our clients have renewed their interest in radio," reveals B Raghu, associate creative director - copy, Ambience D'Arcy. "Clients are asking for radio-specific creative." Josy Paul, chief creative officer, rmg david, agrees, and feels it has to do with the 'newness' of the medium. "Every time a new medium rears its head, it stimulates thinking," he says. "And FM radio is a new medium. People are bound to realize the potential this canvas offers."

Self-confessed radio loyalist Prasoon Joshi, national creative director, McCann-Erickson India, too believes radio's resurgence is at hand. "I have been involved in the launch of Radio Mirchi in Mumbai, Indore and Pune, and FM has been received very well," he points out. "The revival is a healthy sign, and now creativity in radio advertising has to happen."

Interestingly, it is the 'urban' nature of FM radio that could well spark the creative turnaround. Radio, as a medium, has somehow got associated with smaller towns and rural India. And advertisers - and perhaps even agencies - can be faulted for keeping the communication linear, simple and idiot-proof to appeal to this audience. With FM targeting the 'evolved' urban audience, advertisers would perhaps be more willing to back radical ideas.

Sabnis argues the same case - from the agency perspective. "FM is certainly urban, so it gives writers the chance to think in English or Hinglish," he says. "On the other hand, with AIR, writers were forced to think in the rural or local idiom, which, I believe, does not always come naturally to them. So, in that sense, the gap of 'not thinking radio' will be filled by FM, and communication should become vibrant."

While it is a fact that radio has been a neglected medium, everyone might not agree that creatives in agencies have willfully ignored radio. "Radio is a natural medium," says Joshi. "I've picked up so many awards for radio. It's a challenge for any creative mind because there is no visual support - you have to rely purely on sound to make your point. Take the 'rang barse' spot rmg made for Benetton. Radio offers you the opportunity to do such great work - if you apply your mind."

"Radio is a great thing," Paul insists. "You can do things on radio that you cannot do on television because, in radio, the theatre is in the mind… they're pictures in the dark. The challenge is to use the listener's imagination to create pictures in his head. It's tough, but it's also more effective. After all, children are afraid of the dark because they cannot see, and imagine ghosts. That is the power of imagination, which radio leverages."

"Radio is maybe the most creative medium around," says Raghu. "It offers immense scope for creativity. And I think the power of radio is such that you hear it once and you remember it for years. I remember Prasoon (Joshi) had once made a spot for the WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature) which I heard at the A&M Awards. It was all about an employee disparaging the boss using references to various animals. It was so memorable. O&M has done some fabulous spots for Asian Paints and Fevicol. Even the Benetton ad by rmg… I think creative teams just love the medium."

Nobody disputes radio's potential. Certainly not as a low cost answer to a communication need. "You can do a great radio spot for rupees thirty-forty thousand," says Paul. "And because it's so cheap, the time taken from approval of the idea to execution to airing is that much faster. It's so much more an 'instant medium'. If you learn that your competition is doing something on television, you can beat your competition by taking your counter-idea to radio. I think the radical side of radio has not been truly explored."

So will radio advertising bounce back with private FM? "Right now it's a metro phenomenon, so we'll have to wait and watch how it grows," Joshi tempers his optimism. "It could just be a fad. But going by what we've seen in the West, I think it'll look up."

For his part, Sabnis feels that the quality of spots will improve, now that marketers will "push agencies to experiment with the medium" on "measurable objectives". "FM will certainly have a favourable impact." However, he adds that this need not mean a huge growth in value terms. "In volumes - number of seconds of ad time bought - I see an upward trend. And overall, even the client spends should go up to 5 per cent (from the current 2 per cent.) of the total spends pie."

"It's a good sign when both advertisers and agencies begin seeing the potential," says Raghu. "Good radio spots have always been there. Lack of exposure has been the problem. FM will surely help."

Here's hoping we hear more 'rang barses' at the next Abby Awards. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

First Published : May 06, 2002
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© 2002 agencyfaqs!