Malcolm Cox wants twentysomethings in northern England to piss on
David Beckham and stub out their cigarettes on Noel Gallagher’s
But Cox, Emap Radio’s marketing director, sweetly insists he isn’t
courting controversy for the sake of it. Oh no.
This celebrity-bashing is part of a bold new integrated advertising
campaign: to rebrand Emap’s eight northern FM stations under the Big
City banner, the third station identity in Emap’s radio portfolio
alongside Kiss and Magic.
Those stations, including Key 103 in Manchester, Radio City in
Liverpool, 97.4 Rock FM in Preston and Radio Aire in Leeds, are heritage
brands. Some have existed for more than two decades. But as Cox
explains, seriously increased competition has forced Emap to define
their personalities ’more clearly’.
Cox, 37, who started in the business in the early 80s as a junior in
Capital Radio’s marketing department, clearly adores the medium. After a
brief foray into TV, he joined Kiss FM in 1990 - the year of its launch
- and steadily moved up the ranks. He was recently spotted DJing at an
The campaign, masterminded by the creative hotshop, Mother, and the
media specialist, Rocket, is fully integrated, encompassing 48- and
96-sheet posters as well as a colourful and, at times, downright cheeky
array of ambient media. ’This campaign is about putting the local back
into independent radio,’ explains the boyish Cox.
’We are inviting a dialogue with listeners. We are looking to
demonstrate that we have a point of view about subjects that matter. And
the three most important things in our listeners’ lives are music,
football and sex.’
Cox’s dialogue with the listeners kicked off last month with an
interactive poster campaign, poking fun at celebrities from the worlds
of pop music, football and TV. One poster, showing pictures of Ginger
Spice and Mick Hucknell superimposed onto biscuits, asked listeners to
phone in with an answer to the question: ’Which ginger needs dunking?’
Two weeks later, the same poster site revealed the results, region by
The most newsworthy part of the campaign, however, is its fearless use
of ambient media - a combination of advans, ashtrays, postcards, toilet
paper and urinals (yes, really). Thus, listeners have been invited to
chuck rotten vegetables at celebrities featured on mobile poster vans,
stub out cigarettes on the faces of pop stars and send off responses to
questions printed on the postcards. Posers such as ’how long can Robbie
entertain you?’ (answers range from ’oh my God’ to ’is that it?’); or
’who killed Britpop?’ (a range of likely candidates are provided).
Lucky winners receive CDs and concert tickets.
But what, you might ask, about the urinals? Well, for the last few
weeks, posters have appeared in urinals at pubs and clubs carrying
messages such as ’show your appreciation to Manchester’s favourite sons’
or ’give Beckham a warm welcome’. An arrow on the posters points
downwards towards black, heat-sensitive stickers, explains Cox, which
provide a target for have-a-go piss-artists. Wee on the sticker and lo,
a celebrity’s face is revealed.
Stef Calcraft, account director at Mother, is delighted to have
generated valuable editorial.
Already, the Beckham sticker has generated outrage in the Daily Mirror
(although the headline, ’Wee are not amused’, seems hard to take at face
value). And DJs on the radio stations have discussed reactions to the
ads and results of the polls on their shows.
Calcraft says: ’The point in using ambient media is that it’s
wonderfully personal. It allows you to have interesting conversations
with people. You want to reward people when they bump into the stations.
Traditional radio advertising is personality led, around DJs. But DJs
move on. We are building brands, not personalities.’
And, of course, the stations get to build up a vital database of all
those listeners who respond, by phone or post, which they plan to use
for future communications.
Cox, delighted with the campaign, is regarded by his agencies as a
no-nonsense client, always prepared to push back boundaries. As Calcraft
says: ’He’s very demanding, really smart and takes risks. He’s kind of
edgy, very entertaining and very direct’.
So how does Cox get the best out of his agencies? ’I don’t think in
terms of traditional and non-traditional media,’ he reveals. ’I don’t
set out to say something different. We have creative and media sitting
around the same table and working on the same objectives. It’s a purer
way of working. The only thing I don’t like is too many account people
around. It’s their role to be polite. I like it when it gets a bit