Drive time is generally considered the best time to get your advert on air, with a large audience captive in their cars. But it’s also radio’s most expensive ‘real estate’. Advertisers should consider whether this is really the best time for their brand and, if so, how to cut through the clutter.
SABC general manager of radio sales Eugene Zwane says that all drive times are not created equal. “While there are established trends in terms of radio listening patterns, there are many instances where the trend is bucked, based on specific regional trends or activities,” says Zwane.
The rush hour in Johannesburg lasts longer than the rush hour in Bloemfontein, so a station like OFM would expect its listeners to be in their cars for less time and programme accordingly.
Zwane says that while breakfast generally attracts the most advertisers, with afternoons next, marketers should not overlook weekends, which are becoming popular because of a “growing incidence of weekend retail and commercial activity, coupled with large weekend radio audiences”.
At East Coast Radio, the morning drive show Breakfast Stack attracts the most listeners. “The audience figures build up from the start of the Breakfast at 6am culminating in the highest quarter-hour audience at 7.15am with 267 000 listeners,” says Cheryl Wheeler, general manager of sales at East Coast Radio, the country’s largest independent station.
However, drive time might not necessarily be the best time to advertise. The entire day offers value, says Wheeler, depending on the client. Drive time advertising is expensive, so if you can reach your target market at another time, drive time may not be the best choice.
5FM, as a personality-based station, sells “on environments versus numbers”, says the national youth station’s portfolio sales manager Misha Dhupelia. “We appreciate the audiences that our drive shows offer. However, based on the objectives of the brand seeking to advertise, we would recommend an environment that could best meet that. This could be across any of 5FM’s shifts.”
If advertisers decide that drive time is for them, they should make their ads punchy, relevant and creative. This should be the case at all times, but at peak hours it becomes even more important as so many other ads are broadcast at these times.
For radio guru Stan Katz, this is the hardest medium to write good ad copy for, partly because radio appeals to just one of the senses: there are no flashing images to distract the listener from terrible copy. Katz says the current standard of creativity is shockingly low. FNB’s ‘Hello Steve’ campaign – hated and lauded by radio listeners in equal measure – was the last one that really stood out for him. It has got a bit fatigued, though,” he adds. “Humour can be effective, but it has a shorter shelf life than milk.” Dialogue ads are his bête noir. “They irritate me. People just don’t speak like that!”
Katz believes that the juniorisation of the advertising industry may be to blame for the current dearth of memorable campaigns. It also may be that copywriters aren’t briefed properly, he adds. Katz recommends taking copywriters to meet clients whenever possible so that they can be briefed directly.
Most listeners do not seem to be annoyed by the plethora of advertising at drive time. Says Zwane, “Research has confirmed that listeners find radio ads entertaining and educational. Avoidance is very low. And on radio, advertising is regulated so radio stations will not play more ads than the law allows.”
Dhupelia says 5FM listeners find the ads as entertaining as the other content. “5FM employs some of the best DJs in the country, many of whom are award-winning. They are equipped with a unique skill set and keep people listening for longer. Our ad breaks serve to enhance the listening experience, not detract from it.”
So what exactly makes for a good drive time ad? Since radio is increasingly becoming a two-way conversation, a good ad speaks to the audience like a friend. Says Dhupelia: “Radio is a subjective medium, so you’re never going to make everyone happy at the same time. The key is to identify who your unique audience is. Understand how they like to be spoken to and when they are most likely to be receptive to your message.”
“Once you’ve done that, try having a conversation – as you would with a friend at a brunch – versus a hard sell. Ads that demonstrate emotion or reliability often have stronger resonance,” she says.
Zwane adds, “Ads that are well received are ads that use real-life situations, real-life emotions and real-life exaggerations. Ads must be creative enough to enable the listener to create their own pictures in their minds.”
But keep it simple, says Wheeler. “Ideally, an ad that delivers on a single-minded message [is the most effective]. This can vary in duration from five to 60 seconds. Sometimes ads lose their impact if the creative concept has taken over and is disconnected from the communication that is required to be delivered.”
Dhupelia gives the example of pizza chain Panarotti’s, which has a long-standing relationship with afternoon drive show Fresh Drive. “They’ve been the sponsor of our ‘Cheese of the Day’ feature [where listeners vote for their favourite cheesy songs], and over the years, have created messaging that has made their brand synonymous with the feature. They have also extended the feature offering by involving their various franchises, extending it on to their social media platforms and enhancing the listener experience via giveaways and authentic engagement.”
Advertisements do not have to be the standard 30-second spot. There are many other options, including competitions, promotions and live reads. Live reads – when the presenter reads out advertising during their show (personified in the cry of Talk Radio 702’s John Robbie ‘Tell them I sent you!’) – are a way of leveraging the popularity of a radio presenter to lend credibility to the brand. Since the top presenters tend to be given the drive time slots, live reads at this time are at a premium.
Live reads in general are more expensive than other types of adverts and their frequency is carefully controlled, “because an excessive number of live reads can result in very bad radio”, says Zwane. 5FM limits live reads to one per hour, “and should the same brand book two live reads in the same show, their message has to be different”, says Dhupelia. “We do believe that live reads carry weight in terms of perceived endorsement but, more importantly, they allow for immediacy in disseminating hot-off-the-press information that is key to our business.”
One way of making advertising more interesting is integrating it seamlessly into content, so that the ad becomes a part of the programming, though Wheeler says care should be taken to preserve programming integrity. At East Coast Radio, Breakfast Stack co-host Samson Oduntan broadcast about how he was getting his driver’s licence. “We have included a YouTube link to this particular story and there are a series of videos showing updates on the progress that Samson is making,” says Wheeler.
“General Motors agreed to take advantage of the opportunity to showcase a Chevrolet Spark for Sam to do his lessons in. This has been featured not only in the video but on air as well, with Sam’s Spark being a product placement initiative.”
There are many benefits to advertising during drive time, apart from sheer numbers. Radio allows listeners to engage with content on other platforms simultaneously. A broad drive time campaign could tie outdoor media, for example, with radio advertising. For a station with a large commuter audience (whose hands are free to type on their mobile phones), multimedia integration is also a possibility at drive time. 5FM have a lot of very young listeners who are very tech-savvy. This station has “pioneered the ability to offer a well-rounded approach to an on-air campaign”, says Dhupelia. “By extending the thread of conversations across other platforms, it allows the listener a real-time experience of the brand,” she adds.
Zwane says the 30-second ad will be around for a long time, but “more and more advertisers are creating a whole lot of different listener touchpoints using content co-creation, docu-dramas, sponsorships, promotions, competitions and so on.”
For Dhupelia, the future of drive time radio is to become more of a conversation. “We are home to a very vocal and involved audience and the benefit of real-time engagement with them is where brands are likely to strike gold.”