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What’s wrong with the new campaign for HD radio

From Radio Ink:

The HD Digital Radio Alliance, a joint initiative of radio broadcasters to accelerate the rollout of HD digital radio, has detailed its marketing strategy. Marked by the launch of “Discover It!” a new creative and branding initiative, the strategy includes the rollout of a new brand identity and tagline, new advertising creative, online marketing elements and the involvement of new agency and retail partners. The initiative is a part of the HD Digital Radio Alliance’s $200 million dollar advertising campaign, which was announced in December. The “Discover It!” campaign invites consumers to discover new, free, digital quality radio programming and new “stations between the stations” available with HD digital radio. The campaign launches in 22 new markets and 28 existing HD radio markets for a total of 50, and can be heard in 43 of the Top 50 markets on every radio station that is part of the HD Digital Radio Alliance.

Yesterday I noted that I like and respect the magnitude of this effort. Today I want to voice some of my concerns about this program and the direction it’s taking. These are all constructive concerns, not criticisms per se. As a result I’ve included some remedies.

After reviewing the news releases and the content online (all of it well executed), here are what I see as the flaws:

1. The goal is obviously awareness. But awareness is absolutely the wrong goal. The very terminology of the tagline “discover it” embodies this without ambiguity. The premise is that once you discover it, you will love it, but this is dead wrong. Once you SAMPLE it you might love it. But once you discover it it means nothing to you. This is not a product where the benefits are intuitively obvious. It must presumably be heard to be appreciated and the campaign on the whole misses that critical point entirely.

2. If the goal were to generate SAMPLING then these spots would be completely different. It would be less about vague references to “hidden radio stations” and more about specific and unique stations you can hear if you go to the following location at the following time to see, hear, and touch the actual radio – and, oh by the way, we will be handing out free radios to the first 100 folks attending. THAT is what marketing is all about.

3. Is there a target, an intended buyer, represented in these spots? Because no such thing is evident in the samples here. This is a campagn directed towards everybody with a pitch not nearly everybody will be responsive to.

4. The spots for the existing HD radios confuse the benefits of HD with the not altogether compatible benefits of the branded radios themselves. For example, the Polk radio plays mp3’s and CD’s along with HD, all in “amazing 360-degree i-Sonic sound.” Wait. Is it the radio that makes the amazing sound or the HD? Mixing our messages will not foster comprehension, let alone a surge of buyers at retail.

5. As I have often argued, the benefit to hearing “hidden radio stations” only exists if listeners are not currently satisfied with what’s on the radio now. And the vast majority of listeners ARE satisfied with radio (isn’t that what your ratings tell you?). As for that smallish fraction that IS unhappy? These are the iPod owners, my friends. They can skip YOUR music mix and program their own.

6. The pitch for sound quality will likewise fall on deaf ears. In general folks think the best sound quality can be found on satellite radio or mp3 players. FM can rise to that level and then some. Sound quality is for audiophiles, not the masses.

7. Some of the spots characteristically place “creative execution” over communication. For example, the sound of faux dogs whining is compared with the hidden stations in HD. Yes, I know the message really is that there’s a sound you can’t hear but your dog can, but to the casual listener it sounds like HD radio is for the dogs.

8. But what ARE these “hidden stations”? And how do I, the consumer, know if I’ll like them enough to buy a radio? We talk about the content of HD driving the technology, then we create a ream of spots that ignore content altogether. Yes, it is different from market to market. Makes it hard to market, doesn’t it?

9. The emphasis on “no monthly fees” positions HD directly against satellite in the minds of the audience. This is a mistake. Satellite has 10-15 million subscribers. Is THAT the point of comparison? Or is it the radio you and I use right now in our car, at work, and at home, and the 800 million ones like it in the U.S. alone? Is our goal to UN-sell satellite or to sell HD radio?

Now I know it could certainly be argued that the campaign laid out here is only PART of the effort. Fair enough. But when, at the end of the day, the gain from the much proclaimed “200 million dollar” investment is assessed, how well will we have spent that sum? And what will we have to show for it?

There are strategies which can drive HD radio.

But I think this latest effort misses the mark by a wide margin despite some terrific production value, a strong web effort, and some hard work on the part of some very talented Alliance leaders.

The good news: It ain’t over ’til it’s over. And there are more chapters to come.

The bad news: I don’t think this chapter moves the story forward nearly as much as it should.

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