POP POWER! Exploiting radio’s populism isn’t a sell-out…but it will help things sell out!

For reasons that aren’t worth explaining here, from time to time I find myself seeking out songs about radio. And on every occasion I am reminded that for every song extolling radio’s virtues, there is another with a slightly more tarnished or cynical view of the medium.

Maybe this is partly a generational issue. For example, both ‘Radio Radio’ by Elvis Costello and the Attractions and ‘Capital Radio One’ by The Clash attacked the music policy of contemporary radio stations which predominantly played mainstream chart hits but little, or no, punk music. The Ramones ploughed a similar furrow in ‘(Do you remember) Rock n Roll Radio?’ with the lyrics “We need change; we need it fast…’Cause lately it all sounds the same to me”.

But such observations on radio’s populist approach to playlist construction aren’t just restricted to punk bands. Beyond its nostalgic yearning for the radio of their youth, the Queen anthem ‘Radio Ga Ga’ also criticises the decrease in variety of both programming and type of music being played. And, more recently, even Robbie Williams got in on the act with the chorus of ‘Radio’ proclaiming “Listen to the radio, and you will hear the songs you know…there are no surprises…”

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with fair criticism, but it all feels a little hypocritical for musicians to disparage radio on the basis of its democratic approach to deciding the music that receives airplay. Radio’s popularity – driven to a large degree by its populist approach to music – has helped these artists and many others reach a wider audience, sell more music, and significantly enhance their bank balance.

For aspiring music artists it’s also worth noting that, despite all the competition from new devices and platforms, radio remains the dominant provider of audio entertainment for all ages. This is reinforced by recent research from Nielsen that demonstrates how radio is still the most frequent source of new music discovery. By comparison, ‘friends and relatives’ come a distant second, with around 80% fewer respondents choosing this option.

You can only conclude that musicians who deride radio are unknowingly guilty of biting the hand that feeds…

Back in the world of advertising it’s also not unheard of for some media planners and brand managers to be disparaging about the mainstream nature of many radio stations. Perhaps they believe the environment isn’t suitably rarefied or the targeting opportunities precise enough to meet the needs of their brands.

Whatever the reason, new exploration of the IPA Databank – ‘The Long and Short of It’ by Les Binet and Peter Field – suggests it’s time they reconsider.

The analysis demonstrates that reaching a mass audience is the most effective strategy for brand success. Targeting new customers generates more large business effects than attempting to build deep, loyal relationships with existing customers. Put simply, mass advertising reach is vital for long-term brand success.

To attain mass reach you need to use popular media. With around 90% of the adult population tuning in each week, of which over 33 million tune in to commercial stations, radio remains hugely popular with audiences precisely because programme directors truly understand what listeners like and want to hear.

By not exploiting the positive environment offered by radio on the basis that it’s too mainstream, are brands behaving like those derisive musicians and letting personal preference get in the way of business sense?