Devina Joshi

Radio, the theatre of the mind

Once regarded as the underdog, radio is being much talked about these days. A look at how admen and marketers view the viability of the medium and how radio advertising can evolve over time

In the olden days, an auto rickshaw used to do the rounds of villages, the driver or his helper making announcements (of the ‘aaj ki taaza khabar’ variety) over a loudspeaker. Villagers never actively waited for the loudspeaker to pass by every day, but they stopped and listened whenever it did.

Over the years, as a medium, radio has become somewhat like that – a ‘bhopu’ or loudspeaker of sorts. It has always been the advertiser’s choice when it comes to sales promotions, local events, or even when serving as a reminder medium. Radio, being local in nature, helps in better segmentation of target groups. It can also be used effectively to generate instant reactions, with call-in and SMS options. But ask a client whether radio can build brands and he’ll hem and haw.

“Clients have very different expectations from radio,” says Vijay Lalwani, creative director, Everest Brand Solutions. “Say, when television is the lead medium, and the overall spends are around Rs 8 crore, radio is allotted a mere Rs 25 lakh! In such a case, it is obvious that a client’s demands from creative folks will change.”

Priti Nair Chakravarthy, executive creative director, Lowe, has a different viewpoint. “It’s not as though clients don’t pressurise creative people when it comes to radio. Which brand won’t want to stand out, no matter what medium is used?” she queries.

Having said that, she feels that the onus is on the admen, who need to wake up and produce better spots because radio is a purely audio medium. Advertising has to work twice as hard to entertain when it comes to radio. “Crappy radio ads are purely products of laziness and nothing else,” says Chakravarthy.

That probably explains why creative guys tend to borrow from Bollywood, with most ads using either the mimicry route (which automatically means voiceovers of Gabbar and the Big B) or jingles that are based on film songs. Explains Manish Bhatt, creative director, McCann-Erickson, “That is because we can’t escape from the fact that we live in a loud cultural environment. In such a case, Bollywood is bound to serve as a reference point for radio spots.” After all, we have more Johny Levers among us than Charlie Chaplins, he says.

But do radio ads have to be loud and funny? Vikaas Sachdeva, country head, business development, ING Vysya Mutual Fund, provides the advertiser’s perspective. “Humour on radio is safe,” he says. “Few clients would want to take a risk and do something others haven’t. I personally tell my agency to feel free to use the sounds of animals, birds or even nature related sounds, if it means standing out from the clutter.”

Sadly, many clients tend to accept whatever the agencies dish out because they don’t really understand the medium. “Radio is almost an afterthought for clients,” Sachdeva says.

This implies that media planners need to sell the concept of radio in a better manner to their clients. “Yes, if planners recommend radio seriously, good work will automatically follow,” asserts Bhatt of McCann.

Praveen Tripathi, CEO, Media Direction, comes to the media planners’ rescue, armed with two theories. According to him, a big part of the situation will soon correct itself with the entry of big players into radio. At present, AIR is the only platform for an advertiser if he wants to air a message on a national scale. “But this will soon change, with several radio stations spreading themselves nationally and new ones coming on to the scene,” Tripathi says. This will automatically make clients regard radio seriously.

Secondly, Tripathi passes the buck on to the radio programmers, as stations will no longer be able to depend on Hindi film songs alone once aggressive competition sets in. “At present, with the shows on every radio station sounding the same, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the reputation radio has earned in the eyes of advertisers,” he says, resting his case.

Sachdeva of ING Vysya Mutual Fund agrees, “Maybe differentiated content, such as reality radio, can alter things tremendously.”

While Sachdeva and Tripathi are quite candid about how the client perceives radio, Vishnu Athreya, vice-president, programming and brand, Radio One, talks of brave clients who are trying different routes, such as integrating brand messages in the content of a show. “The Saffola Gold-Jaggu ‘Mission 10K’ attempt broke paradigms,” he says.

Similarly, several other brands have tried to be innovative while using radio. Close-Up used its effervescent jingle, ‘Kya Aap Close Up Karte Hain’, and integrated it into the show, ‘Good Morning Mumbai’, on Radio One. It launched ‘Close Up Mornings’ with RJs Jaggu and Tarana. Rexona leveraged the show, ‘Babber Sher’, on Radio City, making use of the ‘shairi’ platform to bring out the odour perspective. Pepsodent used its ‘Aarti’ jingle as the signature tune of ‘The Midday Show’ on Radio One in 2005, which even fetched it a gold at the Emvies this year.

There’s more good news: Research shows that a visual image fades in about one second, while an auditory image lasts five times as long. “Thus, what you hear is retained longer in your memory than what you see,” reveals Abraham Thomas, COO, Red FM. So, maybe, the theatre of the mind can leave a lasting impact after all.

According to Lalwani of Everest Brand Solutions, three factors will improve the quality of radio ads in India – clients who demand more from the medium, lazy creative guys getting their act together, and the boom in radio stations, which will make it mandatory to be disruptive in radio advertising.

© 2006 agencyfaqs!