Under the Influence

Radio Is Dead. Long Live Radio.

This week on Under The Influence, an encore performance of "Radio Is Dead: Long Live Radio" where we look at the incredible creativity happening in radio advertising around the world today. Many advertisers think radio is yesterday's medium, but judging by the work being done today, the opposite is true. We'll tell the story of a German music school...

This week on Under The Influence, an encore performance of "Radio Is Dead: Long Live Radio" where we look at the incredible creativity happening in radio advertising around the world today. 

Many advertisers think radio is yesterday's medium, but judging by the work being done today, the opposite is true. We'll tell the story of a German music school that used radio to recruit top music students by making their email address invisible to all but those with perfect pitch, how an entire country's radio stations switched formats one morning to sell a chocolate bar and how the country of Colombia used radio to send a coded message of hope out to kidnapped soldiers.

Radio isn't dead, it's hotter than ever. 

Because I co-founded a company based on radio advertising, and because I host a national radio show that explores the advertising industry, I am often asked the same question over and over again:

What's going to happen to radio?

I'm always amused by that question, because the subtext is that radio is in trouble.

To that I say - radio is the ultimate survivor.

It was the first-ever broadcast medium, and it went on the air way back in the 1920s, both in Canada and the United States. 

Warren Harding was the first American President to speak on public radio in 1922, and Prime Minister Mackenzie King was the first Canadian leader to be broadcast in 1927.

Radio seemed like a miracle - because it the first time an entire country could hear a live sound at exactly the same time.

Since then, radio has survived the competition of motion pictures, television, VCRs, PVRs and now, the internet.

If I had to put my finger on why radio has survived, I would have to say because it is such a "personal" medium.

Radio is a voice in your ear. It is a highly personal activity. People rarely listen to radio in groups, the way an entire family might sit in front of the television, or go to a theatre to see a movie.

Radio is local. It broadcasts news and programming that is mostly local in nature. And through all the technological changes happening around radio, and in radio - be it AM moving to FM moving to satellite radio and internet radio, basic terrestrial radio survives into another day.

And in the world of advertising and marketing, radio continues to be incredibly innovative. 

There is a music school in Frankfurt, Germany called the University of Hannover Academy of Music.

It is an elite school for musicians.

Hannover wanted to recruit specific people: Those with "perfect pitch."

If you have perfect pitch, it means you can identify a specific musical note without any other external assistance or context.

If you think that's easy, try it now: Sing an "A" off the top of your head.

Only one in 10,000 of us can do that.

In Europe and North America, some studies suggest that less than 3% of the population can do it. Yet, 98% have absolute colour recognition.

That's how rare Perfect Pitch is.

So the University of Hannover's Music Department wanted to recruit people with perfect pitch. 

But how could they do that on radio?

By doing this:


The Hanover School of Music uses radio creativity to attract top music students.
Source: YouTube

Because people with Perfect Pitch can identify every note on the musical scale, the Hannover School of music communicated to them in a way only they would understand.

The music notes spell out the school's email address.

It was an ingenious use of radio because it did two things:

One: It gave the school heightened awareness and spoke to the creativity of the school. And two: This commercial became the first entrance exam.

Only those with perfect pitch would pass the test by emailing the school.

It was a huge success for the university. Allowing them first crack at the most talented crop of new students.

All done with the innovative use of radio.

Sometimes a great television advertising idea has trouble jumping to another medium.

Take the popular television campaign for Snickers, with the theme line, "You're Not You When You're Hungry."


Betty White - You're not you when you're hungry.
Source: YouTube

This has been a big selling idea for Snickers, and has propelled the candy bar from the #3 position in confectionary brands to #1, surpassing M&Ms and chewing gum Trident.

The campaign idea has worked extremely well on television, using celebrities like Joe Pesci, Richard Lewis, Liza Minnelli and Roseanne Barr.

But transferring this idea to radio could be tricky. Yet, in Puerto Rico, they found an ingenious way to do just that.

In an idea called "The Day Hunger Took Over Radio," 37 different stations across the island all did something they had never done before.

They started playing music they would normally never play.

So the Rock station, for example, suddenly started playing Salsa, the Salsa station started playing Heavy Metal, the Hip Hop station started playing opera, the Latin station started playing Japanese music and the Techno station started playing country:


37 different radio stations switch formats to promote Snickers.
Source: YouTube

Each station created chaos, and 3.2 million radio listeners were totally confused - until that is, Snickers cleared up the confusion by airing a personal message that said:

"We apologize for the inconvenience, the DJ is not himself when he's hungry. When he finishes eating his Snickers, we will be back with our regular programming."

It was an outrageous way to get the Snickers brand, and its "You're Not You When You're Hungry" message out to over 3.2 million listeners.

But they did it, and got worldwide press while utilizing nothing but the creative power of radio.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month occurs in October around the world.

In Israel, radio stations got together with the Israel Cancer Association and did something highly creative.

8am is the highest peak of listenership on morning radio. More people tune in at that hour than at any other hour of the day. And as a result, advertisers pay the highest rates in that time period.

On October 30th, at 8:05am, radio stations in Israel did something they had never done before.

All morning shows broadcasted out of the right speaker only.

They did that to convey the idea of what it is like to lose one breast, to lose one part of a whole. 

And to achieve maximum reach of that message, every radio station in the entire country silenced their left speaker simultaneously at 8:05am:


All radio stations in Israel switch their left speakers off to raise awareness for breast cancer.
Source: YouTube

Every station assured their listeners they weren't hearing a malfunction, that the one-channel broadcast was intentional to bring awareness to breast cancer, and every station urged women to get tested.

The project was called "The Day Radio Went Mono." It generated tremendous awareness, and press in all other mediums wrote hundreds of stories about it.

But here's the important part: The amount of help-line calls increased by 98%. And mammography testing increased by 24%.

Extraordinary results - generated by the creative use of radio.

Meanwhile, over in Malaysia, a radio station was tackling the topic of breast cancer in a different way.

BFM 89.9 is a radio station in the city of Petaling Jaya that focuses on business news - hence its slogan, "The Business Station."

Working with the Breast Cancer Society of Malaysia, BFM 89.9 wanted to reach their listeners in a unique way during Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.

The radio station has a highly educated, successful business audience, but research showed that same audience ignores basic cancer awareness messages. 

So BFM 89.9 chose to break the rules of radio.

They interrupted their regular business news with breast cancer awareness messages - but did it by incorporating those messages seamlessly into their news reports, delivered by the newscasters themselves. 

Read in exactly the same style:


All business radio station BFM 89.9 uses bold creativity to promote breast cancer prevention.
Source: YouTube

To BFM's listeners, it must have come as a shock to be listening intently to business news then suddenly hear that rolling nipples between the thumb and index finger is a way to check for lumps and indications of pain.

It was that last line you just heard that makes this campaign so effective. Not only does it give men and women direction on how to check for breast cancer, it highlighted one of the most important aspects of breast cancer:

That it can come when you least expect it.

It was a brave and incredibly creative way to communicate to an audience that ignores the usual breast cancer messages. And the degree of difficulty was high, because the format of an all-business station makes it difficult to do something fresh and compelling.

It was simply a radio idea that was impossible to ignore.

The number of kidnappings in the country of Colombia have always been high.

By 2000, it was estimated that 3,752 people had been kidnapped in the in South American country. While numbers have dropped dramatically over the last 10 years, the rate of kidnappings in Colombia is still one of the highest in the world. And that number includes hundreds of missing policemen and military personnel.

The government of Colombia wanted to try to communicate to its kidnapped soldiers. They wanted to boost their morale, and let them know they are not forgotten.

The government also wanted these kidnapped soldiers to know the government is coming for them.

But how they chose to do this was remarkable.

Because radios are commonly played in the jungle camps of the kidnappers, the government, along with advertising agency DDB, devised a way to talk to the kidnapped soldiers via radio - without the kidnappers knowing.

Essentially, they used a code.

First, a song was written. The song was titled "Better Days" and the message of the lyrics said that - even though you feel forgotten and alone - better days are coming and we will see each other again soon. 

While the lyrics were meant to be uplifting, they alone wouldn't have got the attention of the kidnapped soldiers.

Something else would do that.

Morse code. Something all kidnapped military personnel were trained to understand.

A message in Morse code was created, that said:

"19 people rescued, you're next, don't lose hope."

The Morse Code was then re-composed as music inside the song. While the lyric sent out one message, the Morse Code sent out the real one:


The government of Columbia uses Morse Code to secretly communicate with their kidnapped soldiers.
Source: YouTube

It was an extraordinary solution, because for the first time in a decade, the voices of the Military Forces of Colombia broke through enemy lines and reached their men with a message of strength and hope.

And they did it by taking radio's biggest strength - its extraordinary ability to reach into the jungle - and sampled it with 21st century thinking.

In Germany, 342 people died last year as the result of drinking and driving.

A voluntary humanitarian organization wanted to do something about this growing problem. They wanted to raise awareness of the issue in a way that couldn't be ignored.

So they did it by creating a "radio ghost."

The city of Hamburg, known for its "red light" district, has one of the highest rates of drinking and driving. The urgent need was to talk to young drivers who often went nightclubbing then drove home drunk.

The organization came up with a bold idea: To let the people who died speak to the drivers at the place of their death.

Special "death crosses" were built, not unlike what we all see on streets and highways where someone has been killed in a driving accident.

Then they took an FM transmitter and an MP3 player, and used the cross as an antennae to bypass radio frequencies.

The crosses were then placed in locations where people had been killed.

So, when a car stopped at a traffic light where a death cross was positioned, for example, the following message was transmitted to the car and ACTUALLY OVERRODE any radio station the driver was listening to. Instead, they heard a message from the dead person - a "radio ghost."


Drunk drivers are targeted using exceptional radio creativity.
Source: London International Advertising Awards

"Radio Ghosts" were messages aimed directly at young drivers, delivered in an innovative technical way, and the drinking & driving message was packaged in a completely new and compelling way.

Myself and the other four radio judges had never heard anything like that before. And we awarded it the Grand Trophy.

Because it elevated the medium of radio.

So much innovative work being done in the world's oldest broadcast medium.

When we judged that award show, we were blown away by the degree of innovation in this category.

There was an enormous freedom apparent in the thinking. None of these radio ideas were held back by typical radio conventions, and the creators didn't respect any boundaries.

And while recent technology may have made the "Radio Ghosts" campaign possible, almost all of the other ideas had nothing to do with digital technology - they were just big ideas.

But that is the glory of radio.

A remarkable medium of possibilities. 

So when people ask me what's going to happen to radio, I just say I can't wait to find out... 

...when you're under the influence.