Marketing Matters: Hold the Eulogies

The sky is falling! The world is ending! Everybody grab a life preserver and bail out now!

These are the kind of sentiments being tossed around to describe the current marketing environment and how it relates to the tried-and-true advertising mediums of radio and television.

The thought behind these sentiments is that the rapid development and proliferation of new media had driven a stake through the heart of “old” media. Marketers, it’s been said, had best reduce dependency on them as soon as possible and flock to the Internet, cell phones and other mobile devices or risk losing all. The standard advice has been to revamp your media schedule.

Well, guess what? Even though those new media are alive and well, it turns out that there is still a lot of life left in the “old” media to forestall all those who were lining up for the funeral. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “The reports of the death of television and radio are greatly exaggerated.” Radio, Radio

As it turns out, traditional radio is indeed still alive and kicking, and satellite radio is not necessarily living up to expectations.

This observation comes from the recent report that Howard Stern’s advertising rates on Sirius Satellite Radio are between $5,000 and $6,000. Live reads, which is when on-air talent promotes the product, are going for $10,000. Sirius was quoting about $20,000 for a live read before Stern’s show first aired. Compare this to Stern’s former live read cost of $30,000 on traditional radio.

How big is Stern’s actual audience? It’s impossible to draw an exact comparison with his former show because Sirius does not report advertising data per show, as traditional radio does via Arbitron. Nevertheless, it is estimated that Sirius has about 4.7 million subscribers. On his old show, Stern was averaging about 7 million listeners.

But in the absence of hard data, it seems almost certain to conclude from these ad numbers that Stern’s audience is not the gigantic, all-encompassing beast that it was imagined and that satellite radio has not wiped traditional radio off the map. The reports of traditional radio’s death were a tad premature.

The surprising recent report by Arbitron further bolsters this view, finding that, despite the common perception, radio commercials do not cause listeners to change the station. The study found, on average, that radio commercials retain a staggering 92% of their lead-in audience.

The study broke down retention levels according to time of day and length of commercials played, but the real message here is the obvious—traditional, commercial radio is alive and kicking. With such new concepts in development as blinks (one-second commercial shots), traditional radio seems to be ignoring all the “experts” who said it was dead.

All You Zombies

Another “traditional” media that seems to be rising from the grave is that good old reliable advertising medium: television.

According to a recent study by Nielsen Media Research, average American television viewing continues to increase despite increasing competition from new media platforms and devices such as video iPods, cell phones and streaming video.

The study found that the total average time a household watched television during the 2005–2006 television year was eight hours and 14 minutes per day—a three-minute increase from the 2004–2005 season. That total was a record high, as was the average amount of television watched by an individual viewer (four hours and 35 minutes, an increase of three minutes per day). During primetime, households tuned to an average of one hour and 54 minutes of primetime television per night, up one minute.

The study went on to break down viewing habits by age and ethnicity, but the big story is that despite being buffeted by more viewing choices, television viewers are remaining true to old habits. All of these new choices seem to just increase people’s appetite for traditional TV. Why? That’s hard to say for certain. But perhaps some of the answer can be found in what NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker recently noted. He pointed out that iPods, cell phones and the like were merely delivery systems for providing television content to people. In television, it’s not about the platform—it’s about the content. And traditional broadcast networks still have the content, so it’s a bit too soon to start counting TV out.

Good point. Until an Internet entity starts producing its own show, television equivalent Web sites will be dependent upon the traditional television broadcast networks for content.

And Finally…

So what’s the bottom line? What’s to be gained from all this? Jump or not?

The answer is that savvy marketers cannot, must not and should not put all their eggs into one basket. As I stressed during my HBA presentation in September in New York, an integrated marketing approach works best. Certainly, marketers should investigate and employ new techniques, but don’t fall in love with them at the expense of the old faithfuls.

Otherwise, it could be your funeral.

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