Time to rethink marketing?

About 500 consumers tell us that they seldom listen to an entire radio commercial, that even if they do, they usually tune out by the second spot in a commercial break, and that radio ads have a slim chance of influencing their purchase decision. They also tell us that creative content is most likely to win them over. So what are we to make of this?

Here’s what others are making of it, based on press coverage and some direct feedback:
* “Eye-opening.”
* “A red alert.”
* “Of the utmost interest.”
* “Supports exactly what I’m trying to do.”

It’s interesting—when we conducted our recent online survey, more than 80 percent of respondents confirmed that they pay little attention to radio spots. Even more interesting is that traditional spot buys make up the overwhelming majority of revenue in the $16 billion radio advertising market.

Our diverse survey base reflects the profile of the millions of Americans who listen to radio. Their demographics—considering age, income, education, listening habits, and other criteria—practically mirror those of the full-time research houses that regularly study this stuff.

While Portable People Meters (PPMs) are now the accepted means to monitor radio exposure, they don’t measure whether participants are actively listening or whether they recall later what they heard. Our survey gave consumers a chance to express more emotionally how they feel about the various types of marketing messages employed on radio.

While spot ads didn’t score well as a marketing tactic, our research was hardly an indictment of radio as a viable marketing format. As we suspected, custom content—perhaps a little harder to develop and a lot less “in your face” than standard commercials—was found to have a great impact on purchase consideration.

Additionally, respondents said testimonials from real, everyday people like themselves were likely to increase their purchase consideration. That would stand to reason: Robert B. Cialdini, in his classic 1984 book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion notes, “The principle of social proof operates the most powerfully when we are observing the behavior of people just like us… One successful way to sell a product to ordinary people is to demonstrate that other ‘ordinary’ people like it and use it.”

CRN conducted the research to validate what we suspected has been true about radio marketing for a long, long time—consumers are more likely to act upon messages that aren’t coming across as straight ads. An earlier online poll CRN conducted among a much smaller group of marketing and ad agency executives generated similar findings.

So again, what are we to make of all this? Well, what if some of the billions of dollars currently spent on traditional spot ads were invested in the more creative, non-traditional and attention-getting tactics that our research tells us have a greater impact on those very people advertisers are obsessed with reaching? You just might have a more engaged audience, primed and willing to consider the brand you are selling. Purchase consideration is, after all, what marketers look for, not just awareness. They can find it, but not if they stick to the very tactic that turns off listeners, produces unsatisfactory results, and eventually prompts them to spend their hard-earned dollars elsewhere.

We know people are listening to radio—all 244 million of them every week. And now we know a little more about what they are listening to. For marketers, it never has been a matter of whether to use radio; it’s always been a matter of how to use it. So how about it?