Radio 2020: Ill-Conceived and Doomed to Fail - Radio World

Radio 2020: Ill-Conceived and Doomed to Fail

Rather than reignite the medium and make a strong case for radio’s continuing relevancy, the campaign reinforces the negative stereotypes of radio that put us in this hole in the first place.
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With radio facing declining listenership, declining revenues and an eroding status in people’s lives, a marketing effort to reverse the medium’s fortunes backed by the weight of the National Association of Broadcasters, Radio Advertising Bureau and HD Digital Radio Alliance ought to be reason to cheer.

The formal rollout of the campaign at the Las Vegas NAB Convention was greatly anticipating, and the NAB went all out with President/CEO David K. Rehr himself doing the presentation.

Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that this campaign is so misguided and ill-conceived that there is little chance it will turn radio around.


(click thumbnail)‘The accompanying pictures just reinforce the dated feeling of the campaign. A boom box with dual cassette players is not retro — it’s old.’In fact, if the industry gets behind the campaign, it might actually do more harm than good. Rather than reignite the medium and make a strong case for radio’s continuing relevancy, the campaign reinforces the negative stereotypes of radio that put us in this hole in the first place.

Why wait?

We get off to a slow start with the name of the campaign.

At first glance it isn’t clear why a campaign launched in 2008 would have the name Radio 2020. We’re 12 years away from 2020. Are we promising something great from radio in 2020? Do listeners have to wait that long for a payoff?

Perhaps the people behind Radio 2020 have some doubts about the campaign’s potential impact and they are giving themselves plenty of time. Perhaps they think HD Radio will be the catalyst to reignite radio, and they think HD will take another 12 years to gain traction.

Reading the Radio 2020 press release, we learn that, “In the fall of 2007, the National Association of Broadcasters, Radio Advertising Bureau and HD Digital Radio Alliance embarked on an unprecedented initiative that we call Radio 2020 — a nod to radio’s centennial year and our clear vision for the future.”

So it turns out that the name is “a nod” to 1920. Radio will be 100 years old in 2020. It is hard to imagine that many people see its 100-year product life span as a positive attribute. Does longevity breed loyalty? Walkman vs. iPod, VHS vs. DVD, incandescent vs. compact fluorescent, broadband vs. dial-up.

Would you rather be the old or new product? Do we really want to point out that radio is 100 years old?

Admittedly, the name of a marketing campaign is not all that important as long as the heart and spirit of the campaign is on target, but it turns out that the heart of the campaign is just as misguided as the name.

The NAB press release states, “Our research shows that 92 percent of Americans believe radio is important in their daily lives. But while it is valued, radio is also taken for granted. Because it is so pervasive, radio is sometimes overlooked, just like water or electricity.”

The people behind the campaign apparently believe that radio’s problems are caused by people taking radio for granted, so the campaign’s goal is to convince media buyers and listeners that radio shouldn’t be taken for granted.

But later in the press release we find this: “Based on what we heard from our consumers, radio’s intrinsic value lies in the fact that it’s accessible. It’s a medium where everyone can freely and easily connect to a diverse world of entertainment and information, anywhere, anytime and everywhere.”

So it’s bad that people take radio for granted (like water and electricity), but good that radio is so accessible anywhere, anytime and everywhere. Do the creators of the campaign think that our accessibility is good or bad? Apparently both.

This kind of undercooked fuzzy thinking pervades the campaign. Here’s how Kelly O’Keefe, creator of the campaign, recently described the goals of the marketing campaign:

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  • Encourage users to fully explore the variety of content
  • Stimulate usage in new ways and places
  • Generate positive discussions about radio
  • Communicate progress in content, technology and education
  • Develop and support a growing community of radio evangelists

These are not goals. These are wishes. Goals are measurable and have deadlines. Apparently the deadline is 2020, but can we really measure these things? Not really. And the problems don’t end there.

Wrong message

Take a look at the campaign’s Web site.

The “Radio Heard Here” logo has a dated “retro” look. Retro can convey a cool and contemporary feeling if the look invokes the past without looking like it came from the past. The logo fails on this measure. It just looks old. And the accompanying pictures just reinforce the dated feeling of the campaign. A boom box with dual cassette players is not retro — it’s old.

There is a strong self-consciousness to the campaign. It is reminiscent of the uncool kid in school that worked so hard to look cool that he looked even more uncool.

To be honest, this is exactly where radio is today. We so desperately want to be cool that our self-conscious efforts to look cool just come off as trying to be something we are not.

O’Keefe has been quoted saying that the retro look tested well in the research. This should be a major alarm bell for the campaign. We know we have an image problem among young demos (the future of radio according to O’Keefe), but we let them pick the imagery that invokes radio. Of course they pick imagery from the 1980s and before because they think we are from the 1980s.

The elements of the campaign rolled out so far do not appear to address any of the goals the campaign sets out to do. And while it is still early in the campaign’s development, the signs so far suggest that they won’t get any better. Those behind the campaign do not appear to understand either radio’s strengths or the source of radio’s problems.

Harker Research talks to thousands of listeners each year and has done so for nearly three decades. Successful stations throughout North America rely on our research to program and market their stations. Our clients understand that the pervasiveness and availability of radio is neither a positive nor negative attribute of radio. It is just a reality.

But radio’s greatest strength comes from that pervasiveness and availability. The thousands of free over-the-air radio stations provide convenient choice. A person can listen to station A, B or C. Radio 2020 is doomed if its goal is to focus attention on radio’s breadth and reach. The campaign should be focused on radio’s intimacy and connectiveness.

The campaign claims that people “love” radio, but they don’t. They love radio stations, and that is a critical distinction for marketing radio. Listener passion is not directed at a single product, it is spread across over 13,000 diverse products. That’s why people say “my radio station.” The campaign completely ignores this, and yet it is one key reason radio is in trouble.

Consolidation has created the “McDonaldization” of radio. Out-of-market voice tracking, centralized programming, national contesting and all the other “efficiencies” that consolidation has brought us have diminished the community, the intimacy and the uniqueness of local radio. There’s less to love about local radio, and it has cost radio quarter-hours and dollars.

Unless the creators and sponsors of Radio 2020 begin to understand the reasons we find ourselves in this perceptual and financial hole, there is little chance that Radio 2020 will do anything to help radio.

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