Was Ofcom right to allow brand integration?
As 2010 closed, OFCOM confirmed the unthinkable. The suits at Southwark Bridge cracked open another bottle of branded sparkling water to celebrate the sweeping away of decades of wordy advertising rules. Brand integration was to be legitimate from February 2011, even though the regulator did not call it that.
No longer did we have to engineer elaborate features and contests as vehicles for sponsorship ‘taglines’ which either the client didn’t really want; or sought to change seventeen times an hour. We could simply seize the halo of the client brand territory and establish how to integrate it powerfully into content which listeners found engaging. A win for the listener and a win for the client.
It’s fascinating ten years on to hear media journalists suggest that podcasters started all this. With respect, no. Great radio stations started doing it as soon as it was legal. Absolute have produced some quality work over the years with Wickes, and, of course Virgin Radio are now sucking in the essence of the Sky brand. And let's not forget the work by Quaker Oats heard across Europe in the 1930s
On my former stations some years ago now, it was great to hear people like Foxy & Giuliano relate an entertaining incidental anecdote about a visit to the sponsors of their ‘Thousand Pound Minute'; or Sam & Amy bickering naturally with a client theme as they recapped a commercial message on the giant Gem 106. Jo & Sparky always reached out personally and made it their business to know about their sponsor’s business; and David Francis, then on Free Radio in Worcester, delivered a sponsor mention as a piece of news he’s just reminding me about.
One of the skills increasingly required of a radio and podcast presenter is the ability to deliver commercial material to an engaging and entertaining standard with conviction. Making that client brand really live. Only idiotic presenters deem it clever to sound like a truculent child when delivering sponsor material. When that reluctance shines through on-air, they do their programme no favours. Compare with the great podcasters who make it their business to do justice to their funders.
Similarly, I hope ad agencies are canny enough to realise that compelling content need not always be a wacky idea or complex contest that I need to 'go online to enter' - but maybe one which uses radio's greatest asset - storytelling.
Radio enjoys an incomparable relationship with its audience. When we sell deep brand integration, we are, in a sense, allowing the client to borrow that friendship. How much more powerful when the presenter delivers a message, rather than yet another disembodied voice. We are all sufficiently proud of our radio brands, however, to make sure not any Tom, Dick or Harry is allowed in.
It's something I envisage we are going to need to spend more time on. If commercial radio launched today, it would not carry fourteen minutes of ads an hour plus sponsor lines and other mentions. There are just too many competitors these days. Heritage audiences may tolerate heavy loadings – but I’m not sure that loyalty will always exist. I accept, of course, the reality of the early pain associated with reducing ad loadings. Some of us lament the day when the regulator allowed radio ad minutage freedoms in 1990.
Ad spots will always play a key role for advertisers on commercial radio. When well-made and scheduled well, they are powerful - and the evidence confirms their influence. If the breaks they are in carried fewer messages, they'd be more powerful still.
Ten years on from radio's liberalisation, and with TV becoming ever more inventive in how it brings client brands to life, even with more demanding regulation - and with digital advertising growing like frenzy, there's never been a better time to make sure we are making full use of all of radio's unique gifts when preparing client solutions.
Radio Secrets is a comprehensive guide to contemporary presentation and production techniques in all formats, from writing to delivery, across radio and podcasting.
Read this book and gain insights into:
Tight contemporary music presentation-
Generating engaging talk content-
Developing authenticity and likeability-
Handling double-acts, callers and contests-
Understanding the audience and keeping them listening.
Whether you are a newcomer or a seasoned performer, Radio Secrets is essential reading.