vintage radio
Marketing Content Strategy

Video Killed the Radio Star; Content Marketing Revived It

6 Minute Read

I helped my family clean out my grandfather’s home once when I was about 15 years old. To escape the boredom of boxing up kitchenware and closets of old clothes, I snuck away to my grandfather’s basement workshop. At the bottom of a narrow, creaking flight of stairs was a technological graveyard. A retired electrician, my grandfather had saved bins of scrapped capacitors and potentiometers and teetering stacks of yellowed electronics boxes. Underfoot, a thin layer of stripped wire insulation muffled my steps.

At the far edge of the room, a workbench lay tucked into the corner, framed by bookshelves filled with radio sets in various stages of disrepair—remnants of a lifelong fascination with the airwaves. But on the bench itself sat an oddly modern sight in this antique graveyard: a small JVC television, partially disassembled, each part laid out with meticulous care. It was jarring to see radio and TV beside each other in this state, bringing to mind the lyrics of the Buggles’ classic, “Video killed the radio star . . .”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of considering technology as chronology, each new step replacing the last. In marketing specifically, we see this year in and year out as articles encourage us to ditch one channel or another to adopt a new stream of communication. But the reality is that once a channel of communication garners enough of an audience, it becomes an enduring part of a larger technological ecosystem that isn’t quick to disappear.

And as my grandfather would have been excited to see, far from being dead, radio is seeing a resurgence as it evolves alongside content marketing.

A bookshelf full of old radios

Image attribution: Skitter Photo

Airwaves and Marketing Landscapes

You might assume in our web-saturated age that radio has gone the way of the dinosaurs, but the reality is actually quite surprising. In a recent Nielsen study, 93 percent of Americans were found to interact with radio broadcasting on a weekly basis. This radio-listening audience beat out TV viewers by 12 million people, smartphone devotees by 24.5 million, and the streaming music market by a whopping 160.9 million listeners.

Further, while it should be apparent simply by the scope of its reach, radio continues to play strongly with digital natives and tech-thirsty millennials. A 2014 study by the same group at Nielsen found that around 90 percent of millennials were still interacting with radio content on a weekly basis. But how can this be?

As a marketing analyst, I’d be remiss not to note how some of Nielsen’s definitions impact these figures. For instance, while Nielsen segments out streaming music listeners and streaming podcast listeners, they lump together traditional broadcast, satellite radio, and the relatively new phenomenon of streaming radio. Reports from the Radio Advertising Bureau also mimic Nielsen’s figures in a more traditional setting, however, suggesting that radio as we think of it continues to be an effective answer for reaching customers. Technologically, radio has evolved to keep up with the times, and that’s allowed its listenership to remain strong. But changes to the format of radio shows have also had a big effect.

A Voice Meant for Radio . . . and Content Marketing

Traditionally, radio has been perhaps one of the most infuriating examples of interrupt advertising. Six to nine minutes of music broken up with ten-minute blocks of used-car-dealership ads, talk shows hijacked by advertisements for injury law firms, weather reports that dump into campy scripts promoting back-to-school sales for your kids—and all of this going on as you try to navigate traffic and forget the very apparent fact that you are literally a captive audience in your car.

As consumers continue to signal their distaste for interrupt advertising by downloading ad-blockers and cutting the cord with their cable providers, radio has had to address the fact that listeners aren’t looking to be advertised to. In response, many shows have taken a path that is part-and-parcel of content marketing.

There are essentially two formats that content-oriented radio shows take. The first, and perhaps simplest, is a sponsorship format. In a sponsored radio show, rather than cutting away from content to interject ads, the brand lends something to the show itself to improve the experience for listeners. This gives brands a creative way to bolster the quality of content in a show that is relevant to their audience. An important caveat, however, is that it should not take the form of product placement. Lending expertise or access is different than inserting your product into a show unnaturally.

A great example comes from the pet food brand Pedigree, which made a solid day’s worth of content for house pets to listen to while their owners were out of the house. While the content campaign itself was later used as an advertising ploy, the radio station did run live and attract a lively audience that even called in more than 1,000 times over the course of the day.

The other form of content marketing we see in this space is when a show itself serves as a marketing vehicle for a larger brand, similar in style to the way a blog might offer free content to encourage a user to engage and purchase from the hosting brand. Perhaps the longest running example of this format is Dave Ramsey, a personal-finance radio host. On his show, Dave takes calls from various people with questions about paying debt, saving money, and planning for the future, all of which he answers for free and on-air so others can learn as well. His answers, however, are all tied back to a large library of books, conferences, and seminars that he has been building up over the 25 years he’s been on the air. While at times this can get a little product placement-y, overall it’s a great example of how to reach customers with content that is timely and relevant and that encourages them to engage with a brand in a deeper way after the first few interactions.

A girl with her foot propped up on a radio, listening to music

Image attribution: Eric Nopanen

A Format for the Future

Is radio right for your brand? That’s a question that only your content team can definitively answer. To help, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to get headed in the right direction:

  • Does your brand have any content, expertise, or insight that could authentically improve an existing show or carry a show of its own?
  • Do you have localized audiences or audience segments that you’re trying to reach with a specific message?
  • Do you have the capacity to translate radio content into YouTube or podcasts, or vice versa, to make your content production even more efficient?

As long as you can understand the specific needs and expectations of your listening audience, offer them something genuine, and maximize that content into other formats, radio may be a useful channel in your overall content marketing strategy. But this requires that your team understands that radio isn’t dead—it remains a lively and surprisingly targeted channel of communication that has continued to evolve with the times.

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Featured image attribution: Csongor Schmutc

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Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?

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