HD Radio: Is it “time to upgrade”?

Well you can’t say the HD Radio folks aren’t persistent.

Today they announced their new marketing theme, replacing “discover it” with “it’s time to upgrade.”

Let’s leave aside the perspective that awareness has been achieved, so now it’s time to shift gears to market penetration, since this perspective implies that getting radios in the hands of consumers was not the goal until now.

The new theme arose in part from a brainstorm session they had with partners and consultants earlier this month in Orlando. The HD Alliance folks were kind enough to invite me to that session. Although I wasn’t able to attend, I certainly appreciate the invitation, which they obviously didn’t need to extend.

It’s tough to be critical of this marketing campaign because, frankly, there is no marketing campaign that can address the core difficulties of HD, which have to do with all those issues I spelled out years ago and today looks downright prescient.

The only point I’ll make here is that big screen HD TV’s aren’t selling because “it’s time to upgrade.” The latest iPod isn’t selling because “it’s time to upgrade.” These things are selling because their benefits are obvious and compelling.

Further, “upgrade” implies the need to buy something new, when (as I have argued before) the best way for HD to enter the lives of consumers is invisibly and “for free” through the cars and clock radios they are already buying. Do a reality check, and you’ll see that satellite radio is coming to this same conclusion, albeit kicking and screaming.

Finally, HD is certainly an “upgrade” from the perspective of the broadcaster and the engineer. But is it an “upgrade” from the perspective of the consumer, who already has more choices than they know what to do with – even if they’re not choices which are not under the control of the radio industry? After all, when the Internet is in my car, isn’t HD Radio actually a downgrade?

So in a sense the folks who advertise HD have to say something. And yet there is virtually nothing they can say that will matter.

An unenviable predicament.

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