Saturday, February 02, 2013

Why Clever Ad Campaigns work on radio

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a radio programme called Under The Influence. In last week's edition they took a look at some rather innovative radio advertising campaigns. The programme is written and presented by Terry O'Reilly who has built a career in radio advertising.

I was alerted to the January 26th edition because it contains seven rather interesting examples of unusual radio campaigns. Interestingly, none of the examples come from the UK or USA. Several of the examples, make use of a surprise factor. You expect something like a news bulletin from your radio - and you notice when it does something unexpected. Did something similar on Dutch radio a while back, when we organised a series of commercials in English aiming at Dutch with global ambitions. The first (unconscious) filter people use on radio is to select something they can understand. So when the radio suddenly switches language you sit up.

Let me excerpt the examples Terry gave from his radio show. I think they're worth repeating:

There is a music school at the University of Hannover Academy of Music in Germany. It is an elite school for musicians and they wanted to recruit very specific people: Those with "perfect pitch". If you are born with perfect pitch, it means you can identify a specific musical note without any other external assistance or context. If you think that's easy, try it now: Sing an "A" off the top of your head.

Only one in 10,000 of us can do that accurately.

In Europe and North America, some studies suggest that less than 3% of the population can do it. Yet, 98% have absolute colour recognition. That's how rare Perfect Pitch is. So the University of Hannover's Music Department wanted to recruit people with perfect pitch. They did it with this campaign (translated for the benefit of foreign listeners).

Source: YouTube

Because people with Perfect Pitch can identify every note on the musical scale, the Hannover School of music communicated to them in a way only they would understand. It was an ingenious use of radio because it did two things:

One: It gave the school heightened awareness and spoke to the creativity of the school. 

And two: This commercial became the first entrance exam. It was a perfect filter. It was a huge PR success for the university.

Sometimes a great television advertising idea has trouble jumping to another medium.

Take the popular television campaign for Snickers, with the theme line, "You're Not You When You're Hungry."

Source: YouTube

This has been a big selling idea for Snickers, and has propelled the candy bar from the #3 position in confectionary brands in the US to #1, surpassing M&Ms and chewing gum Trident.

The campaign idea has worked extremely well on television, using celebrities like Joe Pesci, Richard Lewis, Liza Minnelli and Roseanne Barr. But transferring this idea to radio could be tricky. Yet, in Puerto Rico, they found an ingenious way to do just that. In an idea called "The Day Hunger Took Over Radio," 37 different stations across the island all did something they had never done before.

They started playing music they would normally never play.

So the Rock station, for example, suddenly started playing Salsa, the Salsa station started playing Heavy Metal, the Hip Hop station started playing opera, the Latin station started playing Japanese music and the Techno station started playing country:

Source: YouTube

Each station created chaos, and 3.2 million radio listeners were totally confused - until that is, Snickers cleared up the confusion by airing a personal message that said:

"We apologize for the inconvenience, the DJ is not himself when he's hungry. When he finishes eating his Snickers, we will be back with our regular programming."

It was an outrageous way to get the Snickers brand, and its "You're Not You When You're Hungry" message out to over 3.2 million listeners.

But they did it, and got worldwide press.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month occurs in October around the world.

In Israel, radio stations got together with the Israel Cancer Association and did something highly creative.

8am is the highest peak of listenership on morning radio. More people tune in at that hour than at any other hour of the day. And as a result, advertisers pay the highest rates in that time period.

On October 30th 2012, at 8:05am, radio stations in Israel did something they had never done before.

All morning shows broadcast out of the right speaker only. switching off the left speaker. They did that to convey the idea of what it is like to lose one breast, to lose one part of a whole. And to achieve maximum reach of that message, every radio station in the entire country silenced their left speaker simultaneously at 8:05am:

Source: YouTube

Every station assured their listeners they weren't hearing a malfunction, that the one-channel broadcast was intentional to bring awareness to breast cancer, and every station urged women to get tested.

The project was called "The Day Radio Went Mono." It generated tremendous awareness, and press in all other mediums wrote hundreds of stories about it.

But here's the important part: The amount of help-line calls increased by 98%. And mammography testing increased by 24%.

Extraordinary results - generated by the creative use of radio.

Meanwhile, over in Malaysia, a radio station was tackling the topic of breast cancer in a different way.

BFM 89.9 is a radio station in the city of Petaling Jaya that focuses on business news - hence its slogan, "The Business Station.". Working with the Breast Cancer Society of Malaysia, BFM 89.9 wanted to reach their listeners in a unique way during Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.

The radio station has a highly educated, successful business audience, but research showed that same audience ignores basic cancer awareness messages. 

So BFM 89.9 chose to break the rules of radio.

They interrupted their regular business news with breast cancer awareness messages - but did it by incorporating those messages seamlessly into their news reports, delivered by the newscasters themselves. 

Read in exactly the same style:

Source: YouTube

To BFM's listeners, it must have come as a shock to be listening intently to business news then suddenly hear that rolling nipples between the thumb and index finger is a way to check for lumps and indications of pain.

It was that last line you just heard that makes this campaign so effective. Not only does it give men and women direction on how to check for breast cancer, it highlighted one of the most important aspects of breast cancer:

That it can come when you least expect it.

It was a brave and incredibly creative way to communicate to an audience that ignores the usual breast cancer messages. And the degree of difficulty was high, because the format of an all-business station makes it difficult to do something fresh and compelling.

It was simply a radio idea that was impossible to ignore.

The number of kidnappings in the country of Colombia have always been high.

By 2000, it was estimated that 3,752 people had been kidnapped in the in South American country. While numbers have dropped dramatically over the last 10 years, the rate of kidnappings in Colombia is still one of the highest in the world. And that number includes hundreds of missing policemen and military personnel.

The government of Colombia wanted to try to communicate to its kidnapped soldiers. They wanted to boost their morale, and let them know they are not forgotten.

The government also wanted these kidnapped soldiers to know the government is coming for them.

But how they chose to do this was remarkable.

Because radios are commonly played in the jungle camps of the kidnappers, the government, along with advertising agency DDB, devised a way to talk to the kidnapped soldiers via radio - without the kidnappers knowing.

Essentially, they used code.

First, a song was written. The song was titled "Better Days" and the message of the lyrics said that - even though you feel forgotten and alone - better days are coming and we will see each other again soon. While the lyrics were meant to be uplifting, they alone wouldn't have got the attention of the kidnapped soldiers.

Something else would do that.

Morse code. Something all kidnapped military personnel were trained to understand.

A message in Morse code was created, that said:

"19 people rescued, you're next, don't lose hope."

The Morse Code was then re-composed as music inside the song. While the lyric sent out one message, the Morse Code sent out the real one:

Source: YouTube

It was an extraordinary solution, because for the first time in a decade, the voices of the Military Forces of Colombia broke through enemy lines and reached their men with a message of strength and hope.

And they did it by taking radio's biggest strength - its extraordinary ability to reach into the jungle - and sampled it with 21st century thinking.

In Germany, 342 people died last year as the result of drinking and driving.

A voluntary humanitarian organization wanted to do something about this growing problem. They wanted to raise awareness of the issue in a way that couldn't be ignored.

So they did it by creating a "radio ghost."

The city of Hamburg, known for its "red light" district, has one of the highest rates of drinking and driving. The urgent need was to talk to young drivers who often went nightclubbing then drove home drunk.

The organization came up with a bold idea: To let the people who died speak to the drivers at the place of their death.

Special "death crosses" were built, not unlike what we all see on streets and highways where someone has been killed in a driving accident.

Then they took a low power FM transmitter and an MP3 player, and used the cross as an antennae to broadcast on the same radio frequencies as popular stations targeting young people.

The crosses were then placed in locations where people had been killed.

So, when a car stopped at a traffic light where a death cross was positioned, for example, the following message was transmitted to the car and ACTUALLY OVERRODE the radio station the driver was listening to. Instead, they heard a message from the dead person - a "radio ghost."

Source: London International Advertising Awards

"Radio Ghosts" were messages aimed directly at young drivers, delivered in an innovative technical way, and the drinking & driving message was packaged in a completely new and compelling way.

Reminds me of the Angel Radio project in the 1990's here in Holland, which was a special event station that was set up on the bridge over the dike between Enkhuizen and Lelystad. If you tuned to the FM frequency, you heard choirs of angels singing a specially composed piece of music. Especially eery if there was fog on the road.

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