Have the RAB really lost it?

by Suw on July 20, 2004

I was listening to the rather wonderful XFM today when I was suddenly arrested by the aural equivalent of a wet haddock in the face.
The Radio Advertising Bureau do a lot of advertising on XFM for some reason. They have a series of adverts which are amusing the first time you hear them and then rapidly become irritating, but they have a new one that really stands out. In it, the Clueless Interviewer, a character who features in every ad, talks to Some Bloke about why radio advertising is good.
Now, there are several things I can believe about radio advertising. It's cheaper than tv. Maybe it's more effective than tv. Yeah, I'm not going to argue on that. Fair dos.
So I'm sitting here listening to the radio when I hear Some Bloke say something along the lines of 'Radio is a good medium for advertising because it's all about brand conversations'. What?
Ok, so where, precisely, is the conversational part of radio? Last time I checked, radio was all about broadcast, which is not quite the same as conversation. As I understand it, conversation requires at least two people and if we say that a radio ad is the equivalent to one person speaking, I still find myself not quite sure where the second person comes into it.
I couldn't quite believe my ears, so I popped along to the RAB website, (which really suckily requires registration to enter) to check it out and sure enough, there is it, a whole section under the title “Understanding radio, the brand conversation medium”.
Have they quite lost their marbles?
I have a feeling that maybe someone's been reading the Cluetrain Manifesto a few years too late, or maybe they have a gapingvoid acolyte on work experience who's heard a few choice phrases and decided that it'd be great to shoehorn this new 'marketing's a conversation' thing into the ads somehow. Obviously they haven't read McLuhan.
Here's the section Introduction for you, spelling, grammar and punctuation replicated as per the original:

Introduction by Derek Morris
Chief Strategic Officer, Publicis and Non-Executive Chairman of the RAB
“All right, let’s admit it – “brand conversation” is marketing speak. Even so, it’s a phrase that seems to be helpful, because there isn’t really anything else that expresses the same thought.
It’s about the way brands really interact with consumers. Advertising isn’t about one-way broadcasting any more. When brands speak (be it on TV, on radio or anywhere) there is a consumer response – sometimes enthusiasm, sometimes half-interest, sometimes cynicism. Sometimes the response is physical (texting, email etc) sometimes it’s just in the heads of the consumers. But these interactions go on and on, hopefully in a way that is positive for the brand.
The challenge for brands is to make sure they manage this positively.
Radio isn’t the only medium that offers the opportunity for brand conversations. But it does seem to be a rich territory: it’s under-used, and when it is used, it’s often in a non-conversational”hurry hurry hurry” manner whichbelies the real strengths of the medium.
The playing field seems to be wide open. This book seems a good place to start.”

(Book? What book? Did they lift this directly from somewhere else and not credit it?)
And a particularly juicy snippet from their Executive Summary page:

Social and cultural changes are forcing brand marketing to change and many writers, like John Grant, are characterising the new brand-customer processes as “dialogue” or “conversations”.
In these ongoing transactions, each time a brand communicates something, a consumer has an opportunity to respond, physically or mentally. This kind of “brand conversation” helps to reinforce brand ideas and develop stronger relationships with consumers.
At the same time, “conversation” neatly encapsulates what we have learned from research about the way radio communicates. Radio appears to be an intrinsically “conversational” medium.

Ok… so they think radio is an 'intrinsically “conversational” medium'? What planet are these people on? Sorry to break it to you, but radio is a broadcast medium. Blogs are a conversational medium. And you, my dear RAB, are toast if you keep spouting bollocks like this.
(PS I would deconstruct this in more detail, but I'm far too tired. Besides, you don't really need me to, do you?)

Anonymous July 21, 2004 at 7:36 am

Are blogs a conversational medium? Couldn't it be argued that a blog, taken in and of itself, is a monologue. The optional comments may provide dialogue, but again, it may be argued that the comments aren't part of the blog, they're effectively a forum tool that just happens to create topics in reference blog posts. What features do Blogs bring to social interaction on the internet (disregarding their other uses at this point) that aren't already provided by forums, bulletin boards, chatrooms, etc?

Anonymous July 21, 2004 at 8:25 am

I've heard the 'blogs are monologues' discussion before, and I am afraid that it doesn't cut ice with me. Firstly, all dialogue could be seen as a series of interleaved monologues. If we have a discussion, someone has to start off the conversation with a monologue. The first blog entry is the equivalent of that. And the comments/trackbacks form the opportunity for people to take part in a discussion by posting their own thoughts and comments thus creating a dialogue. Remember that 'dialogue' is, according to the OED, 'conversation in written form', so if you have two people taking part in a written discussion together, you have conversation. Thus blogs are a conversational medium.
You suggest that comments may not be part of a blog, but I think that depends on how you define blog. I think that a blog is defined not by the content but by the tool/format, and that because comments are an integral part of the blog tool/format that they are part of the blog. The blog entry is one thing, the blog as an entity is the entry plus the trackbacks plus the comments plus the links etc. If one hived off the comments into a disussion forum, as some blogs do, I guess one could argue that the comments weren't part of the blog, but I don't think the discussion or, the blog, would become any less conversational.
That's because blog conversations are wider reaching than the blog that they originate on. Look at the weblogs.com fiasco, when Dave Winer shut down 3000 weblogs that he was hosting. The discussions (and that's the polite term for it) ranged from blog to blog, both in blog posts and blog comments. Definitely there was more of the to-ing and fro-ing that is indicative of conversation, with people commenting on other people's comments, that you would get if people were just referencing the original post and leaving it at that. Conversation is about interaction on a personal level, and blogs do allow for that. Radio, quite definitely, does not.
(The fact that not all blogs attract people who wish to converse does not, in my mind, detract from the fact that the potential is there. Some blogs may be a one-sided conversation, but then, so are many spoken conversations.)
The original point I made that blogs are a conversational medium does not, of course, mean that there are no other conversational media, online or otherwise. But blogs are not the same as forums or bulletin boards. Forums/bbs are often 'unowned' or seemingly unowned public places whereas blogs are one person's space which is open to the public to a greater or lesser degree (some blogs are completely private, some open only to trusted friends, some completely open). Blogs are more permanent than chatrooms. So yes, I think blogs do bring something different to social interaction online, they are owned spaces for public/private interactions and expression. I may well go into this more in future.

Anonymous July 21, 2004 at 1:48 pm

I think your definition of Blog is broader than mine would be. For example, my Blog doesn't have trackbacks, as such there's no link back to any emerging network that might be generated from that topic. Equally, can you have a Blog without comments? I believe if they're offered as a feature you can usually turn them off. If comments and trackbacks are not mandatory for a Blog, then a Blog cannot be deemed any more interactive than a newspaper editorial where the writer can refer to other newspaper columns or the day's events and garner feedback in the form of reader letters. But, admittedly, we are just arguing semantics here.

Anonymous July 23, 2004 at 6:14 pm

Well, I don't know, radio is more conversational than TV or billboards, it could be argued, because it can change faster in response to the audience. It's very difficult and expensive to change a TV ad, or to localize it to a particular region. With radio, it's pretty expensive.
Now, is radio advertising in the UK really 'conversational' in character? Dunno, rarely listen to it myself when I'm in the UK. I doubt it. But it does have great potential.
The reality from the point of view of an advertising exec is that the web and SMS aren't really mass media that can access the majority of the population in the way the 'old' media can. Web and SMS are still 'concepts'; radio, TV and billboards are still where it all happens.
Antoin – http://www.eire.com/

Anonymous July 24, 2004 at 9:47 pm

First time here but as a (only moderately successful) marketer thought I'd pitch in with a serious answer:
TV, being relatively expensive and inflexible owing to its higher product costs per ad tends to have one or two (maybe three or more, for bigger budget campaigns) executions, each usually focusing on a single message.
Whereas I understand RAB's main arguments for radio as an advertising medium are that it's relatively inexpensive and flexible: so relatively easy to get a bunch of executions, each with a different message, cheaply and quickly.
Indeed the above comments touch on this.
But I agree with you that a bunch of different messages doesn't constitute a “conversation” (unless you use the analogy of a stranger initiating a one-way conversation at a crap party). It's meaningless terms like this which rightly earn marketers a bad name.
Not wanting to sign off anonymously (I just ain't registered), http://www.unluckyman.blogspot.com

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