Radio Mirchi has it, Red FM has it, so too Big FM, and now Radio City has gone and got itself one too.

We are talking about radio activation units- the latest buzz word in radio. Although new to Indian airwaves, activation units in media have been a global trend. does a quick check to see how 'active' is radio?

According to radio studies conducted internationally, in most markets, radio manages to garner around 4-5 per cent of the mass media spend. Compare that to the latest TAM AdEx study (total media ad market 2006) where radio clocked in at 3 per cent. It‘s important to note that, private radio in India came into being with Radio City in July 2001. That‘s only about six years into its existence and private FM players are already looking at a 58 per cent ad revenue growth across media. (Figures: 2006 versus 2005)

So what makes radio an attractive option for advertisers?

Given that Radio is perceived as a personal medium, radio can bring brands closer and speak to the consumer at their level. Radio has a culture of response where listeners frequently interact with their station which they see as accessible. Couple that with the fact that a below the line event would promote both the client‘s brand and the radio station connect with its audience and you have a win-win situation. No wonder then that radio stations are adapting to the expanding market by providing add on services to their advertisers in the form of ‘activations‘ or non traditional revenue (NTR).

‘Experiencing a product via radio‘

While print and television still attract the advertiser, the emphasis is shifting towards activation and non-traditional media, since the clutter level in the television space is very high. Also ad avoidance by listeners in radio is almost nil in comparison with 68 per cent in newspaper and 44 per cent in TV, and local reach makes radio a very effective medium of advertisement.

Besides, radio offers far tighter targeting which means reducing wastage or spill over. Radio brings brands closer, as listeners identify with their radio station and see it as aimed at people like them; radio is better able to communicate the tone or character of a brand.

Radio also offers tighter timing - within a particular time band, day of week or even week of month. This time specific character of radio is helpful since listening is highest when shops are open. So one can target a Pizza Hut ad in the afternoon and follow it up with a below the line creative activity around the product and have the consumer reaching over for a pizza takeaway immediately.

Talking about the trend of setting up activation units by radio stations, Mirchi Activations, head Gautam Shahane says, "Activation units offer a synergy between below the line and above the line advertising. It allows access to multiple touch points through multiple creatives in a focused area. It allows immediacy, and so promoting an event can be in real time. More importantly radio can monitor responses to a particular activity almost instantly and fix it whether it‘s the lack of footfalls at an event or a change in the pitch, creative or running a contest."

Mirchi Activations set up as a separate unit in 2005 although the FM station had been providing BTL (below the line) services even prior to this.

Perhaps the greatest strength of a below the line activity created by radio is its understanding and relationship with a geographical area, its people and its culture.

He says, "We see that Pune is a booming real estate sector, so we approach clients like real estate developers or builders. We would do that in Kolkatta as well as we see a demand there. But in a Bangalore we would target the BPO or IT sector since that‘s where our client and audience both connect. Similarly, we have properties that showcase different cities in a month long cultural extravaganza."

ATL advertsising is more strategic and planned while BTL can be more tactical and with the kind of reach we have within the A and B category towns, our activation can be converted to a pan India initiative."

Most radio advertisers include FMCG, durables, auto, telecom, retail, BFI‘s (insurance, tax planning etc.)

"This quarter will see a lot of BFI‘s clamoring for BTL activities as fiscal year end approaches," explains Shahane.

Red FM activation unit is an in house team called Red Active. Red FM COO Abraham Thomas explains, "We approach activations in two ways. There is activation solutions for multiple brands through a single event as long as they are non competing brands. The other approach is the single- client driven ground activation. So we will have the RED FM drive where we partner with several brands. At the same time we have a auto client like Ford who approaches us and we put a spin on that campaign through car displays at a shopping mall and integrated programming around it."

Why would an advertiser approach a radio station and not an event management firm for activation?

The answer is unanimous within radio circles. Most agencies or event management companies only form part of the implementation or execution part of the campaign. An activation programme by a radio station would mean being involved in every stage of the campaign right down to monitoring the footfalls and response for the client.

Shahane insists that radio stations claim "ownership" for the entire campaign and that is why they are attractive to advertisers.

Also radio stations own certain unique properties that can be aligned to a brand and maximize opportunities for the client. "We partner with them on each event. It is also an opportunity to showcase our brand, and we are very sensitive to this fact. We know best how to use radio to promote events, and supplement it with other media on a case to case basis. But the strengths of radio are utilized to the optimum to promote events."

Mirchi Activations works with a tagline that reads ‘Not Just Radio‘. With the mammoth Times Group network behind it, it isn‘t just a tall claim. But do established networks necessarily convert to more successful activities?

Not so says Thomas. "Although we do offer 360 degree solutions to a client and will use multimedia campaigns to promote his product, we are an independent station. Besides, every media utilized by the client would cost him a separate amount. So it would depend on how cost effective we decide to make the event."

‘Big Reach‘ for Big FM

Big FM marketing head Anand Chakravarthy adds, "With television the reach is usually national. Our clients often complain about a spillover on television advertising. So if Surf excel is looking at targeting women in Rajkot - on television they may not find their right target audience mix. But radio can easily manage that."

Radio City became the latest FM channel to add ‘activation‘ to its range of brand value services after Red FM‘s Red Activ and Radio Mirchi‘s Mirchi Activation. While Red and Mirchi ‘activations‘ are in house, Radio City has announced its strategic alliance with Vibgyor Brand Services.

Radio City marketing head Rana Barua says, "Vibgyor has a senior representative on our team and the client meetings and briefs are discussed together. So we offer a one stop solution to the client. Since we act as a one stop window to our client we offer both productivity and speed."

Interestingly, ad spends by print houses and television networks are also seeing an increase on radio.

As stations become more targeted they would also evolve into strong and distinctive brands, and they would deliberately cultivate their brand values in all their on-air and off-air activities - events, contests, helplines, etc. Once the brand values are established, advertisers could leverage them to give a positive effect to their own messages.

Big FM has lined up an advertising and marketing budget of Rs 450 million across the country until March 2007. The money will be distributed across the various Big FM stations according to their revenue generations. The FM station also plans to use all traditional media, below-the-line activities as well as have used cable and cinema spots.

Thomas says, "Red Active is a single point contact for the advertiser. Earlier, you‘d have an event taking place in Calcutta and the sales and marketing guys in Mumbai trying to figure out the response or check if the creative was being executed according to the brief. With a Red Active in place we take over the entire process from discussing brief, to providing creative solutions to implementation to measuring response. The aim is to provide an extra bang for the client‘s buck."

Chakravarthy says "In Mumbai, we had taken over the entire Inorbit Mall for a month for our client Coke and had a New Year‘s carnival. Our advantage is that we have a very large network of 11 stations." He also informs us that it is the smaller markets that now look at activations.

Not all activations are related to advertising alone or so say radio heads. Big FM organized a New Year‘s party for the Indian army and Red FM also ties up with the Tata Cancer Research institute for spreading awareness of breast cancer.

Then you have a few exceptions to the rule as well.

Fever FM operating in Delhi and Mumbai used artiste management company ‘Only Much Louder‘ for activations during its own launch but has no plans to set up a separate unit so far.

Only Much Louder, co founder, Vijay Nair details the kind of campaign they mounted for Fever FM. "Since the idea was ‘less talk, more music‘ we had people donning chef costumes or dressed up as clowns lining the streets in various parts of the city with their mouths sealed shut and placards that read ‘No recipes, only music‘ or ‘No silly jokes, only music‘."

Fever FM station director Mumbai Sajjad Chunawala says, "We are a very small team in marketing right now and have no plans to set up a separate activations unit. But as our clients approach us, we may take on the job or outsource it depending on the client needs.

Judging by latest trends a lot of traditional advertisers are also ready to take the risk and try the medium.

HLL was a predominant print and television advertiser but has now included radio in its media mix. Chakravarthy tells us that HLL‘s ad spend is now divided at a 50/ 50 mix with radio playing a huge role.

HLL advertises almost 60 percent of its brands on radio with about 2 to 3 percent dedicated to radio advertising. Mindshare Fulcrum‘s national activations head Himanshu Shekhar opines, "We use media for kinds of effects - Incremental or Impact. Radio is still seen as a ‘impact medium‘.

Activations help radio stations connect their brands with the audience as well.

So Radio Mirchi benefits not only in terms of revenues but also in terms of on ground presence, visibility and an opportunity to be at a consumer touch point. Activations have truly demonstrated the power of radio in driving response or footfalls.

Last word

Radio offers tremendous opportunities for advertisers and media planners need to explore various options by which they can effectively use radio in their media mix. Conversely, broadcasters need to develop the market by being more responsive to the advertiser‘s needs. This will provide an opportunity for the market to arrive at the final verdict on the effectiveness of the medium.

Chakravarthy says, "In a country size like India, it is not necessary to touch every market but everybody in a certain market. What radio activation manages to do is amplify the effect of advertising. The advantage of radio is that any ground level activity or below the line marketing becomes amplified."

Thomas says, "Red Active is a single point contact for the advertiser. Earlier, you‘d have an event taking place in Calcutta and the sales and marketing guys in Mumbai trying to figure out the response or check if the creative was being executed according to the brief. With a Red Active in place we take over the entire process from discussing brief, to providing creative solutions to implementation to measuring response. The aim is to provide an extra bang for the client‘s buck."

Barua concurs, "Advertisers no longer want just plain vanilla advertising. It‘s important that the consumer is able to feel and touch the product. Activation allows for that experiential marketing." Although declining to discuss specific clients Barua says that briefs have been discussed and the newest player in the activation field will soon launch events and properties associated with its station.

Shekhar brings in the planning perspective when he says, "If we had to divide the HLL radio advertising spend according to ATL and BTL advertising it would have to be 3/7. The trend is to allow for more integrated programming and content led advertising rather than just plain vanilla advertising. The Surf excel campaign which we conducted across all stations was one of the single biggest campaigns where each radio station adapted it with a different creative. In that sense, it was unique. The power of the medium to cut across all target groups and appeal to both emotions and humour is immense and this is where its strength lies."

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