CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/DIGITAL RADIO - The DRDB has set its sights on broad take-up for digital radio, Camilla Palmer says

How many advertising and marketing research sessions finish with

the participants falling over themselves to take the product home with

them? Probably not all that many.

However, according to Mike Spencer, the marketing director of the

Digital Radio Development Bureau, when the DRDB held research sessions

at its new studio in London's Shaftesbury Avenue, people were whipping

out their cheque books and asking to buy the kit used to demonstrate the

sound of digital radio.

Spencer is hoping that a new advertising drive will have a similar

effect on the UK public. The DRDB, backed by both commercial radio

stations and the BBC, was set up in October 2000 to promote digital

radio to the industry and to the public. But while digital TV has a

healthy profile among consumers, its radio equivalent is struggling to

find a footing. Hence Spencer's hiring of Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters

and Unity last week to launch a generic digital radio brand.

"Digital radio has been around for more than four years, but now the

sector is really beginning to kick in," Spencer says. The task of the

agencies is to tell consumers what Spencer has known for ages - that

digital sounds better.

The agencies are now working on the strategic issues that surround their

rather daunting task. The DRDB needs a generic campaign aimed at a wide

range of consumers. It needs a recognisable brand symbol, in the style

of Dolby or Woolmark, that manufacturers can use to indicate the quality

of the hardware and sound. Finally, it needs to strike a chord with the

radio industry itself and to expand the role of digital within the


All this for a product that costs a considerable amount of money -

buying a digital radio set-up costs around £300. Persuading enough

consumers to buy one, and thus build up some momentum in sales, is a


Spencer, however, says that "price is not necessarily a barrier", and

points to the slow take-up of any new technology outside groups of core


He admits, though, that falling prices would give a much- needed boost

to mainstream take-up. A model priced at less than £100 is in the

pipeline, but it is unlikely to be launched this year.

Spencer wants the campaign to emphasise the sound quality offered by

digital radio, as well as the variety of channels available. He claims

that there will be 112 digital radio stations on the air by the end of

this year.

Although creative strategies are still being hatched by the two

agencies, Spencer says that plans include event marketing as well as

radio and press.

It is likely, however, that the campaign will concentrate on radio


"The sound quality can't be conveyed in a better way than by allowing

consumers to hear it," he says.

Spend is a grey area - the DRDB is reliant on its shareholders for the

financial backing for the advertising drive. "As awareness is one of the

most important things we need to build upon, we will be looking to get

the most for the resources we have," Spencer says.