Radio advertising is easy to put into a box. The received wisdom tells us that it sits very comfortably in a world of sales response, tactical announcement and campaign extension. This is, in part, no doubt due to the canon of effectiveness studies from the radio stations and their representative, the Radio Advertising Bureau. Radio lifts sales, radio stimulates conversation, radio taps into the theatre of the mind. The counterplay to this wisdom is that radio makes a rather uncomfortable bedfellow with the big boys of brand building and repositioning.
This is a simplistic view of the media planning process and an overly distilled view of what radio advertising can do. Neuroscience is beginning to help us understand media in a much deeper way and recent learnings offer a broader, richer view of what radio can contribute to an advertising campaign. PHD has conducted the first neuroscientific study into the cognitive effects of different media. The study investigated the levels of stimulation in five neural zones caused by different media formats.
In two areas, radio performed better than might be anticipated. We studied the hippocampus, the place where brands live and are nurtured by advertising, and radio performed strongly. In marketing terms, this means that radio effectively gets to the brand-building bit. Radio also stimulated the dorsolateral cortex, the bit of the brain that deals with appraisal and reappraisal. For a marketer, that means radio is an effective medium for repositioning campaigns.
Our findings suggest that while radio does not outperform all other media, it can do the big campaigns.
Away from the world of fMRI scanners and white coats, there is a more qualitative understanding of radio that widens its role beyond the tactical sales pitch. In an age of integrated communications, radio has a glue-like role; modally, tonally and experientially. Radio has the ability to carry campaigns into places other media struggle to reach (the journey to work, the online shopping experience), to give a brand a distinctive voice (sometimes literally - think of The Guardian's Guide) and to create effortless interaction with the most varied S&P palette of any medium.
Radio can - and should - look beyond its existing role as a support medium.
Brand "glue" should not come unstuck at the hands of "crap creative", "TV for stature" and "integration is about sandwich bags".
- Justin Gibbons is the former director of strategic services at PHD. He recently set up an integrated research company, Work.