Down But Not Out
Radio advertising was the first point of contact between customers and businesses.
When radio made its debut back in the late 19th century, few expected that ‘wireless’ communication, in which intangible signals could be transferred through the air over long distances, would ever be competitive in a world dominated by telegraph and the telephone. From establishing connections between ships at war to broadcasting all kinds of programming, radio had successfully been able to make the transition from just being an object of curiosity to becoming a tool for a new kind of communication.
Once radio stations began to operate on a regular basis, concerns emerged related to the manner in which these stations would be able to support themselves financially. In the U.S, AT&T announced in February, 1922, that it would begin selling ‘toll broadcasting’ to advertisers, in which businesses would underwrite or finance a broadcast in exchange for being mentioned on the radio. Thus, the first paid radio commercial was born on August 28, 1922, courtesy WEAF of New York for the Queensboro Corporation advertising an apartment complex in the newly expanding neighbourhood of Jackson Heights. As the industry developed, many stations began to experiment with different formats. Radio broadcasters were encouraged to deal with relevant advertisers directly to sell tie-in commercial spots for established radio programs.
In Pakistan, the first era of advertising (1947-1964) can be characterized by a small number of players in the newly formed advertising industry; very few businesses were taking advantage of new and innovative advertising techniques and reach was limited to mainly urban geographic regions, that too, through print ads. Radio emerged as a new promising advertising medium by around the mid-60s along with television that began to make a drastic change in existing advertising practices. The Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), then known as Radio Pakistan, enjoyed a reach that spanned major cities, thus making the proposition all the more lucrative. Earlier, advertising done through radio was merely restricted to announcements which later evolved to jingles, musicals and poetry, to increase recall.
The immense amount of influence that radio holds is no secret to anyone. The mere nature of the medium ensures connection and impact across widespread regions. According to Marc G. Weinberger, Leland Campbell and Beth Brody, in their book, Effective Radio Advertising: A Guide to Winning Customers with Targeted Campaigns and Creative Commercials, some of the
most unique strengths of radio include reach, targetability, cost-efficiency, frequency and creativity. When used correctly, i.e. with the proper station formats, radio copy and strategy, radio advertising “has the unique ability to reach any number of highly selective demographic groups who, subsequently, may take actions (i.e., buy a product advertised on radio) to help increase an advertiser’s buying line. The authors of the book have gone on to say that radio is an “omnipresent medium” or, as some experts refer to call it, “a ubiquitous medium – the medium that is with consumers from the time they awaken in the morning until they go to bed at night.”
Studies conducted by the authors have shown that those who listen to the radio, “view it as the most useful advertising medium for information when they shop, and there is strong evidence that consumer shopping and radio advertising exposure are much more proximate than for any other advertising medium. In other words, timing is everything.” These, combined with the medium’s ability to target and reach very specific audiences, its cost-efficiency as compared to other media, its ability to reach very high frequencies in short periods and its ability to let listeners use their imagination to create mental images of the messages, makes radio an extremely impactful medium.
With the advent of numerous FM channels in Pakistan after FM 100, was launched in 1994, researchers became involved in conducting various studies in order to correctly determine the effects of these channels on Pakistani society. According to the Gallup Survey Paki- stan, the percentage of FM 100’s listenership has been erratic at best. However, the figure continued to remain at the higher end of the spectrum until 2002 when the total listenership stood at 85%. Many factors played a role in the maintenance of such popularity. These included easy tuning systems, listener-oriented programs, access to all classes of society, the encouragement of listeners’ participation during programs and 24-hour transmissions, among others.
A recent study conducted by the International Review of Basic and Applied Sciences for the city of Peshawar in July 2013 painted a rather different picture of the popularity of radio. An analysis of responses from participants of the survey and the overall assessment of consumer behaviour in the region, revealed that radio had the weakest impact along with other contenders such as point-of-sale, flyers, television, banners and print media. The media with the strongest impact included billboards, internet and word-of-mouth.
Still, one cannot ignore the prevalence of the medium in rural areas, particularly where television has yet to reach and connect with audiences. Many individuals rely on this particular medium as a great source of information related to daily events and current affairs taking place in the country and around the world. Conversely, in urban areas, daily commuters while traveling in their cars or on public transport turn to one of the many radio channels currently in existence for their entertainment and informaion needs. Therefore, the problem lies not in the frequency of listenership as outlined by the study con- ducted in the urban area of Peshawar, but rather its nature; for many residents in urban areas, the objective of listening to radio is purely for entertainment purposes.
The arrival of digital media and the overall shift in the consumer tendency to place more significance on visual rather than auditory impact has had a direct effect on the importance of radio in Pakistan. Now, people turn to their phones to get the latest information on a topic of interest. In addition, visually appealing banners and billboards placed at strategic locations in the city make up for the ‘timing is everything’ factor previously held by radio. This has probably been one of the reasons why many advertisers are now steering clear of radio and moving towards media which they deem to carry the most impact, such as digital media and OOH (Out of Home) tools. More impact means more revenue, resulting in radio to fall out of favour with a large number of advertisers. According to a report from the Pakistan Advertisers Society, total advertising on radio decreased by 3.93% in May 2015 as compared to April 2015. Still, an average number of 4,440 ads per day were being broadcast on FM stations in Karachi.
Radio may be down but it is definitely not out. There is still a lot of potential to be taken advantage of in terms of reach and overall cost efficiency. Rural areas still place a lot of significance on the medium as their main source for all kinds of information. If utilised efficiently, companies and advertisers can exert the right of impact on their target market with radio.