Has South African radio evolved to meet consumers where they are? If you look at how the industry has grown a bouquet of digital arms and adopted online events, to facilitating social experiences that are completely virtual now, it’s a resounding yes!
From our homes to the car, to work, and even places where we shop – radio has been our constant companion for decades. Jacaranda FM recently created another ‘space’ to meet consumers where they are.
We’re in the eye of the third wave as I write this from my bed. I’m Covid-19 positive but as isolated as I feel in quarantine, I know we really are all ‘here’ together.
Fluctuating lockdown levels, the delayed vaccine roll-out, and our general pandemic fatigue and desensitisation – all have completely changed the way we connect with each other socially. We already know that social connection can lower anxiety and depression, help us regulate our emotions, lead to higher self-esteem and empathy, and actually improve our immune systems.
Social connection is what we need, but we can’t go about it like we usually would. So, how do we connect in a safe space?
Our solution was Mzansi Quest, a free online game where players travelled through iconic South African places, collected virtual artifacts in the hopes of winning the grand prize of R50 000, and connected with over 10 000 other people doing the same thing.
VR allows for connection to be multi-dimensional
Virtual reality (VR) can overcome natural constraints and present things that would not be visible in the physical world (where we can’t be social). This makes VR a powerful tool for connection, allowing users to become highly immersed – as they would in real life. Connection is also about resonating with what is around you, which is why Mzansi Quest not only facilitated interpersonal connection, but connection with familiar landscapes and iconic places in South Africa we haven’t been able to necessarily visit.
Mzansi Quest gave you, your friends and family the opportunity to enjoy live music events with some of our radio talent like Martin Bester and Jazzy D, who entertained audiences in the Jaca Lounge, further enhancing that important connection with our on-air talent
The data points towards virtual reality
Warning, hard plug ahead! We have a first-party listener data collection service called SoundInsights, in which we offer research to clients to assist with marketing decisions, but we also use the service to inform our own campaigns. The data showed that our listeners are streaming more radio and spending more and more time listening and engaging on mobile devices, so our litmus test – What do our listeners need? – was answered.
South Africans want better online engagement and VR can offer a deeper extension of what the brand is already doing digitally.
Virtual reality will stay and be embraced widely
Do you remember when they said TV would be the death of radio? Thank goodness we’re all past that and understand how content consumption channels have become more diverse and don’t replace traditional ones. Not only is the VR experience more engaging and likely to be considered by brands as part of their marketing mix, but VR has the super capability of reducing prejudice towards stigmatised groups.
Virtual reality can build tolerance and acceptance
No other channel has allowed us the ability to remove stereotypes and stigmas from the conversation as much as VR has. When creating Mzansi Quest, the use of five avatars allowed us to create our own community who were represented by one of the Big Five characters. The characters were familiar, but no preconceived biases were distracting and harming players in the virtual experience. I think this channel can successfully be used to build better tolerance and acceptance over time.
VR puts the power in the user’s hands
Virtual reality is all about the end-user and one aspect that really stood out for me was the anti-cyber bullying measure that we created. If anyone in Mzansi Quest was bothering you, you simply had to select their name from a dropdown menu – and you disappear from their feed as quickly as they disappear from yours. Jacaranda FM has a big under 18 audience and VR has allowed us to create a safe online space, where everyone is empowered to disempower bullies.
We didn’t know what to expect when we took the plunge into social VR, and Mzansi Quest was greatly successful, with many lessons learnt for improving in this space in the future. What we are sure of now is that social virtual reality experiences like Mzansi Quest was the first, but definitely not the last of its kind, and has successfully connected our listeners during lockdown.
Deirdre King is managing director of Jacaranda FM. She joined the station from Nando’s South Africa, where she served as general manager of brand experience IMEA (India, Middle East, Africa). King has an impressive resume and has helmed key projects for some of South Africa’s biggest brands. Before joining Nando’s, King worked as head of marketing and communications (Africa) for The Walt Disney Company.
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