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Good marketing campaigns begin with a product ready to be marketed. As the Harper government has learned, spending $2.5 million advertising a non-existent Government Jobs Grant program is not a particularly judicious use of limited marketing funds.Even when they have a great product to market, however, media companies – and radio divisions in particular – are equally notorious for their refusal to spend, rarely allocating any budget for the external marketing of their brands.  They live by the mantra “we exist, therefore, we are marketing,” preaching daily to the converted listeners already tuning into their radio broadcasts in a hopeful attempt to achieve ratings targets and drive revenues.

The cruel irony for the radio industry is obvious: stations rely 100% on revenues generated from the marketing dollars of other businesses, yet they refuse to spend dollars to market their own brand. And when they do open the purse strings, usually for outdoor campaigns, they settle on bland creative that fails miserably in its efforts to attract new ears to the product. In the Niagara radio market, where billboards are usually the primary platform for external station marketing, CHTZ is a notorious example of a radio station that does outdoor poorly. For a station revered for its often provocative attitude and content, CHTZ delivers an annual epic fail when it comes to creating effective and compelling outdoor advertising. This year’s campaign – a series of boards featuring chimps and turkeys and the caption “ROCK ON” – fails to present any persuasive reason for a new listener to tune to the station. What does the message being communicated here truly say about their product? Is a turkey a compelling image to a rock radio listener? Is the playlist wrought with songs considered “turkeys” by today’s discerning radio listener? Who knows, other than the Program Director and GM who approved it? On the other hand, GIANT FM billboards describe the station’s product as ‘the greatest music ever recorded’ – certainly not award-winning copy, but at least it’s effective in positioning that station’s particular brand of mainstream classic rock.

Both billboards, however, fail to capture the essence and rebel spirit of the rock music they play or the brands they champion. Outdoor advertising, when used effectively, has the potential to generate enormous controversy or inspire incredible emotional attachment – sadly, radio in 2014 lacks the appetite for controversy and the ability to create true emotional attachment with listeners distracted by other more compelling digital entertainment choices. That truth is reflected in forgettable outdoor ad campaigns that do little to enhance the brands being marketed.