Monday, October 31, 2011

The Hardest Advertising There Is

Check out Stuart Elliott’s column today for a look at an interesting approach to a classic advertising problem--advertising a media vehicle.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that advertising a media vehicle such as a TV channel, magazine, newspaper or, in this case, a radio station, ranks as the hardest challenge in advertising.

Let’s take a look at the campaign described in the paper, for WQXR, New York’s classical music station.  Hope you weren’t expecting anything too sedate:

(Disclosure: I like it.  It’s a “Clockwork Orange” thing)

Broadcast marketers use the term “tune-in” to describe this kind of campaign, and I’ll use that term here, even when referring to print media.  A tune-in campaign generally works by one of two ways.  It either shows something that consumers want more of (Shark Week, for example) or it surprises you about something you may already know, as in this case.

Either way, these campaigns generally succeed or fail based on a simple measurement--how many people tune in as measured by Nielsen ratings, web streams, circulation or other simple readership/viewership measure.

That’s not the hard part.

Broadcasters and publishers have loads of ways to hook viewers, as those thrashing sharks on cable TV might suggest.  Old standbys like pretty girls, puppies, violence and gossip will always work in getting someone to watch a TV program or crack open a magazine...once.  But what happens when “Australia’s Deadliest Beaches” gets replaced by “Animal Cops Houston?”

The hard part comes in the role that tune-in advertising plays in sustaining that one-time audience.  Traditional marketers may disagree with this idea, since they may view the role of tune-in as exactly that, to get consumers to tune-in.  However, tune-in can, I think, have implications beyond that first exposure.

For instance, in the WQXR example above, the ad promises Beethoven, not exactly new news for a classical station.  However, by co-opting the OBEY GIANT street art of the 90s, WQXR promises something new--that classical music has relevance to their contemporary lives.  This approach tells the audience not merely to expect Beethoven on WQXR, but perhaps a more modern and less reverential approach to the music.

This approach would fail if the station persisted in using stuffy, middle-aged white guys as hosts, but a quick look at their website includes headlines such as “Memphis Opera Singer Performs After Being Shot” and “Top Five Classical Halloween Costumes.”  A quick listen today (31st October) promised Halloween-themed classical music.  So the programming makes good on the advertising.

In other words, the WQXR has succeeded in making its advertising translinear, taking the audience from one channel (advertising) to others (radio station and website).

Now, play me some more of that Beethoven; I have some ultra-violence in mind.

Happy Halloween, me droogies.

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