There's been a lot of talk in media circles in recent weeks about "The Oprah Effect." This is where Oprah provides marketing's "Holy Grail" - an unabashed endorsement of a product that she believes in. It's one thing to read a J.D. Power report for a car or to analyze online reviews of a product. Oprah's stamp of approval is in a whole different universe. It sells products - books, clothing, or anything she endorses. This is where NBC is headed with Jay Leno's new show, and we can look for even more product engagement and integration with television talent. Marketers want more than commercials - they crave an honest-sounding endorsement of their product by a trusted celebrity.
So how does radio fit into this equation? If you think about it, Oprah cribbed this from some of radio's original superstars (long before format radio). Arthur Godfrey, Don McNeil, and many others perfected the craft, back when their entire shows were underwritten by sponsors that demanded RESULTS for their products. That was ROI in the 1940s, and getting the endorsement from a major host in those days was every bit as powerful as what Oprah provides now.
So, let's fast-forward to radio here in 2009. Yes, live spots have become more common, and for reasons that are still a puzzle to me, advertisers place higher value on a jock reading a piece of copy than they do an obviously produced commercial.
But they're missing the boat. The way in which Johnny Carson played with Mrs. Grass' Soup or how Howard Stern had fun with Snapple is the type of humor and engagement they ought to be seeking. Instead, live commercials on the radio often don't pull down rates much higher than the run-of-the-mill produced commercial because they are devalued, unemotional, non-genuine, and too commonplace.
Radio is leaving money - and relationships - on the table. The interaction between the advertiser and the sales rep, and the sales rep and talent, and talent and the audience is all pretty clunky. The jock is told to do a live read (for which he may or may not get some extra cash), and that's what passes for engagement.
But it's not. This is why I've long admired what Jim Harper has put together first at WNIC, and now at WMGC here in Detroit. Jim has an exclusive group of advertisers ("The Platinum Club") that pays for the privilege of him not just reading their commercials, but committing to their product, store, or service in a highly personal way. Jim personally screens these clients, ensures they're a good fit, and then makes them a part of his advertiser posse. Here's an example of Jim's work:
Jim Harper and On-Star
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And ask any of them - Jim's relationship with their companies is gold - or platinum - and well worth the additional cost. In the process, Jim has unknowingly sold them on personality radio as an advertising and marketing medium. Instead of being one of six different undifferentiated advertisers in a spot cluster or even being part of a dry, pedestrian live read, Jim's "Platinum" advertisers get what they pay for - his seal of approval. I have seen the focus groups that underscore this premise, and his Platinum Club clients have, too.
The handful of radio stations and their personalities that have nurtured these types of relationships is too few and far between. There is great potential here for many stations to create their own "Oprah Effect," but it requires a strategic marketing effort between advertisers, the station, and the iconic personality.
As Jim told me, "Live 'partnerships' with advertisers are part of radio's equity. And even in a struggling economy, it's something we still do better than any other form of media."
Radio has gone to the trouble and expense of discovering, nurturing, and growing talent. And many hard-working jocks and personalities have established valuable relationships with listeners and advertisers.
What's missing in this equation is a plan to create a program that nurtures talent/station/client relationships in partnerships that get results. Oprah gets it, Jim Harper gets it, and many of you could, too.