Imagine if the producer of a major FM radio station approached you, as a brand manager, with a proposal and said: 'We want to make a series that explores the various facets of your brand.'
This is the opportunity a brand-funded programming campaign aims to deliver.
This type of programming involves a brand approaching a radio station with an editorial idea that both caters to the needs of the station's listeners in an entertaining way and, at the same time, provides valuable editorial credibility for the brand.
Although not an entirely new concept - radio listeners across the US in the 1930s were the first to become accustomed to having their local weather and news 'brought to them' by AN Other Car Sales or their local hardware store from sponsorship deals. The difference today lies in the need for brands to shape content, rather than simply be associated with the content that the media owner creates without being able to influence it.
There are two reasons behind this: first, advertising is everywhere on commercial radio and many argue that a 30-second spot no longer provides cut-through.
Reaching out to viewers
Secondly, with the advent of TV channels such as SkyPlus, where viewers select the programming they prefer and are able to take out advertising at will, advertisers face a major challenge: how to reach the viewer without being screened out? This is a concern that industry pundits believe will soon be coming to radio, and the same issue faces internet advertisers. Surfers are able to employ software that cuts out irritating pop-ups, interstitials and banners that advertisers use.
The challenge for a brand is to try and find a way through all this; brand-funded programming offers that very opportunity. Although there is a financial transaction between the brand and the media owner, it is not a media-buying function.
Brand-funded programming is editorially focused: it is about content creation. Therefore it is a function of PR, rather than advertising.
Markettiers4DC head of sound Oliver Russell says that although radio advertising has an important role to play in marketing a brand, it is far more effective when combined with PR. 'Radio advertising is very positive, but it works to establish the authority and credibility of a brand without necessarily persuad-ing the listener to use it,' says Russell.
A piece of brand-funded programming, of course, has its limitations. The onus lies with the brand to develop genuinely useful editorial content (avoiding overt messages), and editorial control will never lie entirely in the hands of the brand manager.
However, the way to retain more control is to understand the needs of each station's programming department and know which boundaries to cross and which not to. Furthermore, radio can be much more within your control because the content will be feature-based, rather than news oriented.
Brand-funded programming is also a powerful online tool - one of the most obvious advantages of using the internet is the fact that most websites are interest-specific.
Pros and cons of online media
But a drawback with online media is the lack of up-to-date audited user/audience figures.
This can create problems when negotiating rates with media owners. Nevertheless, the increasing uptake of broadband has created a corresponding surge in the number of hours average surfers spend online once they move from 56K modem dial-up connections to broadband.
The other advantage to an online campaign is the fact that there is no limit to airtime. While most online media owners still only offer the range of online advertising formats - banners, pop-ups, and so on - that they did five years ago, websites are expected to take greater advantage of technology such as video and audio streaming.
The cost involved with such tactical tools can also vary, from the minuscule to seven-figure budgets. But Russell argues that the issue marketers should be most concerned about is the fact that editorial-based programmes are far less expensive than advertising.
'We talk to the programming people rather than the sales team. Clients should be looking less at budgets and more towards building relationships with programming people,' he says.
The future of these media is changing, and the opportunities for brand-funded programming are evolving alongside them.
'Not all media will converge to TV as we once thought, but people will choose the platform on which they want to consume their media, whether it be PDAs, laptops or MP3 players,' says Russell.
'People will consume their media wherever and whenever they like, and this makes it very difficult for advertisers to target them,' he adds.
One thing is certain: with the need to create cut-through in an ever-crowded market, brands will need to devise more clever ways by which to reach their target audience and to increase the desire to purchase.
ONLINE - WELLA
Hair-styling product brand Wella hired markettiers4DC to design and run an online campaign in a way that would extend the brand's reach and build trust among a new consumer audience.
One of the key objectives was to promote Wella's Consumer Hair Advisory Team (CHAT) - a service that allows people to call a helpline or email for advice on hair care - and so to drive traffic to its CHAT website.
Capitalising on the growth in broadband uptake, the team put together the industry's first online hair makeover.
Using a series of short films, a 'how-to' section, featuring celebrity stylist Michael Douglas talking directly to camera and explaining each step of the process, was put together for the website.
The makeover provided Wella with an environment to promote its key messages in a controlled manner.
By placing compelling editorial content, funded by a brand and accessible from a web browser online, Wella was operating in a place that was effectively 'Skyplus meets the internet'.
The makeover is now an ongoing asset for Wella,having been archived on its website (www.wella.co.uk/chat), and several other sites.
The makeover was backed up with an online publicity campaign, including a live webchat with Douglas, which was then syndicated to other leading consumer websites, such as Cosmohair.
Using markettiers4DC's market research division tickbox.net, an attitudes survey on hair care was provided to create a talking point, forming the basis for a radio campaign in which Wella could demonstrate its expertise and pull the audience to its website. Douglas was made available for interview with radio stations after the media liaison team briefed stations about the forthcoming instructional webchat.
The Wella CHAT website took 30,000 new registrations as a result of the campaign and online coverage of the makeovers was carried on 25 websites. This coverage also featured ten webchats and 21 online competitions.
A total audience reach of 15.5 million was achieved. In all, 104 radio stations generated eight hours and 38 minutes of coverage to a total audience of 14.8 million. All coverage was generated without being paid for.
ON RADIO - INTERCONTINENTAL HOTELS
InterContinental Hotels Group ran a radio campaign at the end of last year aimed at promoting holidays in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Dubai and encouraging listeners to fly with British Airways.
Radio was selected as the best medium to achieve this because it enabled trusted radio DJs to become brand ambassadors for InterContinental Hotels. In addition, a radio campaign would be able to explore the 'atmosphere' of each destination rather than just present simple facts.
The target audience was adults aged over 45 in London and the South-East; the station selected as the best to reach this audience was Jazz FM.
Using a combination of tactical sponsorship and bespoke promotional activity, the campaign aimed to bring these destinations to life on air.
Using part-scripted live presenter reads, virtual guided tours and interactive competitions, the campaign explored each destination while positioning InterContinental Hotels at the heart of each location.
The bespoke sponsorship and promotions ran for four weeks.
A different destination was featured each week in a series of guided tours with live reads and pre-recorded virtual tours that included key messages and information on InterContinental Hotels branches and BA flights.
Competition rounds took place on each Friday of the campaign. Listeners were asked a question on that week's destination with a randomly selected winner awarded a week-long holiday at the featured destination.
Dubai was the star prize. Listeners who texted the word Dubai to the station were entered into the star-prize draw on the final Friday to win an upgrade to BA Club World seats.
The campaign reached 692,000 adults and delivered more than 13.5 million impacts - more than 61 per cent in excess of what was planned.
Jazz FM presenter Nicky Horne says: 'It was one of the most successful competitions that has ever run in my show since I have been on air.'