It's a vexing problem. And unlikely to be solved anytime soon. Since no one wants to put money in it yet.
How exactly does one measure the airwaves? Media planners admit they are clueless. At least for now. And so, into the breach have stepped the media companies themselves. For example, Radio Mirchi, which claims, on the basis of a study by the IMRB in Indore, that radio is listened to much more than TV is watched in that city, has been putting across this study at every possible opportunity. The Times Group, which owns the station, has also touted this fact in the other media that it owns. The idea? To draw attention to the brand and attract advertising revenue in a nascent market.
Not that it is alone. Senior industry sources admit that they don't have a standard yet when it comes to a measuring system for radio. In fact, admit media analysts and professionals alike, what goes for reasoned analysis right now is plain hearsay. One major way in which this happens is for media agencies to get feedback from their colleagues, or media professionals, across cities for this - to find out which station is doing well, and so on.
Some large agencies also cull out dipstick research, which essentially involves surveying groups of people to find out which station is listened to the most. Adding to the confusion are the radio stations themselves that have their own databanks that, predictably, say their station is the best.
In fact, the only method, currently in existence, that has some validity is the "response specific" survey. "This, basically is the measurement of the effectiveness of a radio station or advertisement, by seeing how many people call in or respond to a programme or an ad," explains a Bangalore-based research professional with an avid interest in radio.
So why is radio neglected by agencies and media research outfits? Simple. Radio does not count for much of the advertising pie. Estimates vary - from Rs 175 crore to Rs 200 crore - not more than 2 per cent of the total ad spends. This, in effect, leads to a Catch 22 situation. Companies are not really interested in buying data on how far radio programmes reach, or what kind of audiences are listening to them. As long as companies are unwilling to do that, research agencies are reluctant to put in concerted efforts to set up databanks or to do intensive research. And, without such data, companies rely on word-of-mouth to decide which station to put their money in.
Not that word of mouth is bad. A recent research report indicated that it was the most important measure of Internet sites, ironically after Internet advertisers had perfected a host of ways to measure the effectiveness of online advertising and sites. However, one thing that is really working in favour of radio advertising is its relative cheapness. So what media planners do is look at the perceived reach and potential of a radio station, and more importantly, at the budget they have. In fact, radio scores over TV, print and outdoor, by being more economical. And it scores over the Internet in terms of penetration.
"Thus, if there is money left over, or paradoxically, little money, radio comes out on top," sums up a research professional. "In the first case, there is no harm with a spot of radio advertising, and in the second, it is the cheapest option. With radio slots going at a few thousands rupees for a 10-second slot, advertisers are willing to shell out the money unless they are working on ultra tight budgets."
Samindra Das, head, media operations, Carat India, puts it succinctly, "If the budget is really squeezed, then radio is likely to cut into other media. In the end, it all boils down to the budget." © 2002 agencyfaqs!