Down But Not Out

Ra­dio advertising was the first point of con­tact be­tween cus­tomers and busi­nesses.

Slogan - - COVER STORY - By Mahrukh Fa­rooq

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.

In­ter­na­tional Re­view of Ba­sic and Ap­plied Sciences

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