Without creativity, listeners will turn a deaf ear to your radio ads

Avoidance is top of the agenda for advertisers, but while other media are struggling to reach out to new consumers, creative radio still has the power to engage, argues Andrew Ingram

Advertisers are worried, and have a right to be. Despite claims to the contrary, many are asking whether personal video recorders (PVRs) signal the death of the 30-second television ad spot. There is a lot of confusion about the issue of “advertising avoidance”, and people who claim to have all the answers are⦠well, guessing.

So we need to be clear about what ad avoidance means – in our case in the context of radio. Not least because some radio stations are reassessing their ad schedules and advertising strategies.

The latest Radio Advertising Bureau research (“How radio reaches out in an ad avoidance world” conducted by Clark Chapman, 2005) suggests that ad avoidance is a tendency, not a black-and-white issue, and one that is strongly influenced by context and mindset. So your marketing can adapt to take account of this.

But we also need to be clear about the reasons why people avoid ads. As ever, it might be helpful to think about why you avoid ads yourself. For instance (and let’s take a medium we all use) – last time you were on a website where a pop-up ad came up, did you read it? Chances are, like most respondents in our research, you didn’t.

But if you did engage with the ad, why was that? My guess is, it was either about something you felt was relevant, or it was an engaging creative approach – or both. The point is, you make judgements about the advertising that is being directed towards you and, as technology improves, you can exercise those judgements more brutally.

It’s a form of prejudice. Here’s a message from HSBC – no, sorry I already know what I think about HSBC. Here’s a message from the Government about Family Tax Credits – well, no, that doesn’t apply to me. Here’s a message about the new Ford family car – no sorry, we have a Vauxhall.

But if consumers are making decisions about whether to engage with advertising based on what they already know about a brand, how on earth are we going to tell them something new about it? Where does this leave brands that are trying to reach out to new customers? Or indeed brands that are trying to reach out to old customers with new information?

One valuable route is to counter expectations. If people avoid bank ads that seem “bank-like”, we are going to have to learn to be more unexpected – in the way we speak, where we speak, in the dialogues we start. Advertising is going to have to become less like advertising. We are also going to have to learn to be honest, which means communicating with people about things that are important or relevant to them. If we trick people into watching something that is ultimately trivial corporate puffery, it’s going to make the industry’s life even harder.

The other key route is in the media we use: some media, like internet pop-up ads, are more prone to avoidance than others. On the other hand, radio and cinema jointly suffer the lowest levels of deliberate ad avoidance.

Broadly, our study demonstrates that ads in the real-time media (radio, TV and cinema) are less avoided than ads in static media such as print or on the Web. But in fact, the biggest category of advertising behaviour is not engagement, or avoidance – it’s inattentiveness, the mindset that sits somewhere in-between.

And radio is the medium with the biggest “inattentive” pattern, a finding that led Robert Heath to conclude: “Radio is arguably better than other media at insinuating powerful messages into the minds of the consumer, because we are unable to switch our ears off. We hear even when we are not listening.” The point is, people don’t skip stations very often with radio. It’s usually an accompaniment to another activity, and they listen selectively according to what’s interesting.

That’s good news for brands that are used to being shut out on the Web, “zapped” on TV or ignored in newspapers and magazines. But it does mean that, if you want to reach out to new consumers, you will have to be interesting and engaging on radio, or at least develop means of communicating with people at low levels of attention.

Either way, that means more care and attention paid to producing good radio creative work. Because if you don’t, you’re missing one of the most effective opportunities you will have to reach out and speak to potential new customers.â¢

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

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