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Niche work...if you can get it

By The Drum | Administrator

March 30, 2004 | 11 min read

With the latest RAJAR figures pointing to a brighter future for DAB digital radio – a reality that has been a long time coming – television’s once poor relation is fast losing its tag as the black sheep of the broadcast family. Like the effects on television brought about by satellite and cable, radio is going through big changes. First up, DAB digital was launched and then, most recently, the Radio Authority shut up shop, making way for Offcom. With these changes in place, and evidence of the inroads digital is making, radio is in a state of optimistic uncertainty. Listeners are on the verge, if not in the midst, of a world of choice – much like the world television viewers embraced not so long ago.

And so, with listener choice comes advertiser choice. With every marketeer attempting to both identify and target its market, the radio industry is in a perfect position to reap the rewards it has sown, by offering an easy and direct route to these markets.

Analogue does, however, still rule the industry roost and one station, which is effectively still in its infancy, is Saga Radio. Born out of the already well-established Saga brand, the station was successful in its bid for the West Midlands licence. It then successfully bid to broadcast to the East Midlands and is also about to launch a new station for Glasgow – a licence won against tough competition.

The station’s programming has proved to be a massive hit with listeners, and the likes of BBC Radio 2 and BBC West Midlands are thought to have lost out in the audience stakes, while the station has also drawn many Saga patrons to the medium. Throughout the station’s rise, sales director Ian Smith has helped advertisers to reach this lucrative market.

Commenting on the West Midlands licence, Smith says: \"When the Radio Authority issued us with the licence to broadcast, it was a competitive pitch that we won against 15 others. There were two reasons why they issued the licence – the first one was to extend listener choice, the second was to extend advertiser choice. What they wanted to do was to bring new advertisers to radio.\"

When quizzed by Adline over how Saga defines its market, Smith is quick to point out that the station’s audience is no more a niche group than any other station’s audience. \"Nowadays, there are fewer people being born and, at the same time, people are living longer because of better healthcare and better quality of life. This follows the baby boom immediately after the Second World War,\" Smith adds. \"Therefore, the 50–69 age group is no longer a minority – people 45 and over make up a massive 48 per cent of the population, so it’s hardly a niche.\"

It’s a strong selling point, and one that Smith can easily back up with evidence. \"There is an increasing awareness now of this age group, and also of how important this age group is commercially – largely because it’s where the money is. People aged 50 and over control 80 per cent of the nation’s wealth and 60 per cent of the nation’s savings.\"

So what type of companies have caught on to the Saga offering? Smith cites the likes of furniture companies, retail, pharmaceutical firms and the arts and leisure as some of the big spenders with the station. He adds: \"People aged 50 and over fall into the empty-nest syndrome – their kids have left home and they’ve paid off the mortgage, so the money they are deriving isn’t spent on these things. Therefore, they have more dispensable income than other age groups. They’ve grown up through the rock and pop revolution and have a very liberal attitude to life and have a very hedonistic approach to pleasure; 80 per cent of top of the range cars, for example, are bought by people aged 50 and over.\"

Similarly positioned to capitalise on a commonly overlooked demographic is a collaboration between one of the UK’s leading radio companies, Capital Radio, and arguably the world’s most famous brand, Disney. The resulting station, Capital Disney, is broadcast on DAB digital, Sky Digital television and the internet and is aimed squarely at 8- to 15-year-olds.

Since its birth last year, Capital Disney has become a favourite with youngsters. Commercial marketing director Gavin Miller is excited about the new station. \"Here we have two leading media and entertainment companies coming together to commit to targeting and connecting with kids,\" he comments.

While the feedback for the station’s programming had been very positive, Miller and the Capital Disney team had been unable to sell the merits of the station to potential advertisers. He explains: \"We’ve just had our first RAJAR figures back and we have about 190,000 listeners. It’s the first official figure we’ve had, now gives us a platform to speak to advertisers.

\"Pre-RAJAR, we found it difficult to talk to advertisers, but now we have the facts to back up our offer. We’ve already got 20th Century Fox involved to promote its ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ film.\"

Three months into speaking \"with intent\" to advertisers, Miller is confident about the future of Capital Disney. At the backbone of this music-orientated station is the heritage of the Disney brand and Miller knows the weight on the team’s shoulders. \"Both Capital and Disney have a massive heritage, and the key behind the advertising content is definitely to approach it in a safe and responsible way. It’s not just what we say, it’s the way we say it.\"

He continues: \"Kids are increasingly savvy and we are very much aware that patronising our audience is a potential switch-off. So we communicate with our listeners in their language, but without talking down to them.\"

However, unlike the patient Saga listener, kids are notoriously difficult to communicate with, and have far less disposable income. So how can advertisers use Capital Disney to shift product? Miller comments: \"We’re trying to be very creative when it comes to advertising. We have Capital Ideas, a production department, and the Capital Disney team all of whom are working to approach advertising in a slightly different way. We want to encourage interaction with our listeners using e-mail, SMS and the website – www.capitaldisney.co.uk. Another way is that there is understood to be a number of parents who will listen to Capital Disney with their children, and the station offers the opportunity to reach them.\"

Summarising the Capital Disney offer, Miller says: \"We’re certainly up there with the rest of the marketplace and with TV channels like Nickelodeon. Plus, we’re much more cost effective than TV in terms of the consumers you are reaching.

When it comes to communicating with a specific demographic, the creative approach will inevitably be different from group to group. Much in the way that Capital Disney must maintain a responsibility with all station output, including advertising, Saga is similarly guarded over what it chooses to broadcast. As Smith explains: \"We felt that if we served up the advertising in the traditional commercial radio way, in other words lots of ads in an ad break with short advertising messages broadcast in quite an aggressive way, then we wouldn’t keep our audience.

\"We were quite keen when we launched this station to make the advertisements an integral part of the entertainment package. We wanted to create a seamless environment where the adverts just melted into the overall programming background.\"

Smith et al have a careful strategy for managing the style of commercials that are broadcast. He comments: \"Rather than being dogmatic and saying, ‘that advert is not going to appear on our station’, we much prefer to sit down with the agency or the client and discuss the reasons we don’t think it’ll be as effective as it should be. I think the biggest difficulty is that the key decision makers and creatives often fall outside the target audience – something like 80 per cent of people who work in agencies are under 30, so it’s understandably very difficult for them to have a mindset that enables them to write for a 50- or 60-year-old.\"

On the creative side, Christian Allen, production director at Birmingham-based Cube Productions, has worked on commercials that have aired on Saga and knows how the station approaches adverts. He says: \"Saga does have strong guidelines for what is played on its station, so sometimes you do have to discuss the commercials with the station and they’ll want things changing, which is understandable as it needs to suit its programming.\"

He adds: \"We do have to be careful with things like music and script when approaching ads that are being used on stations that are targeted towards a specific demographic. It’s important to create them in line with the station’s style of programming.\"

Also batting for the creative side is Julian Williams of Radiowriter.com, who is quick to knock terms like the \"grey market\" out for six. \"Saga may cater for the over-50s but it’s not all Stannah Stairlifts and the little old lady who buys her one slice of ham on a Saturday morning when you’re trying to do your family shop because it’s your only time off!

\"The over-50s are energetic, fit and healthy – they have the time and money to enjoy a wide range of products and services.\"

Williams has his own ideas on how to write commercials that both sit into a station’s output and strike a chord with the potential consumer of a product or service. He argues: \"If it’s over-50s, does it have to be all old-people products? No. If it’s children, does it need to be simple and stupid? No. I think when we meet people we often put them into categories and writing for specific demographics requires you to avoid these stereotypes.

\"People also have a tendency to judge everything through their own eyes and I think , in order to successfully market to a specific group, you have to try and go in with a blank mind and view it through the audience’s perspective. You also have to broaden your mind too.\"

Depending on how much faith you place in RAJAR, the latest figures will come as very good news to the DAB digital radio industry – for the first instance in a long time this new twist to the wireless medium can seriously be considered for big marketing spend. And, while it’s going to take many years to replace the analogue radios that sit in our cars, homes and offices, eventually DAB digital is expected to take over. Commenting on how this will affect the medium’s offer of marketing to niche groups and specific demographics, Williams says: \"The digital revolution is enabling these niche stations to evolve and is giving listeners the opportunity to cherry-pick their listening. It’s developing much in the same way that television did with the satellite revolution. However, I think, rather than stations following the normal formula, it would be good to see stations approaching radio with a view to including a wider choice of listening on one station – why not drop a sponsored 15-minute drama into programming? Hopefully, DAB digital will create this kind of programming.\"

Whether or not Williams’ ideas are heeded, DAB will almost certainly give broadcasters the opportunity to do on digital what Saga and others have achieved on analogue – to create a route by which advertisers can get to an audience that is perfectly tuned in to the product or service they are selling. N

From left to right: Julian Williams, of Radiowriter.com; Gavin Miller at Capital Disney; and Christian Allen of Cube.

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