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CREATIVE DIFFERENCES
Farm radio is facing many challenging issues today. One issue that usually doesn't weigh heavily on the shoulders of the farm broadcaster or sales manager is radio creative. There are claims that farm broadcast is suffering from a lack of great creative work in farm radio spots and that the medium is often not used to its full effectiveness. Conversely, there are examples of excellent creative that get results. Agri Marketing has spoken to members of the industry to explore both sides of the issue. Here's what they have to say...

Ted Haller, vice president, integrated media director for Osborn & Barr Communications
There is no argument that farmers listen to the radio, and farm radio specifically, but the fact that farmers listen to radio programming does not mean they always stick around for farm commercials, says Ted Haller, vice president, integrated media director for Osborn & Barr Communications, St. Louis.

How do you crack the clutter of radio advertisements and have your spot listened to and, better yet, comprehended? It takes a relevant message prepared in the right manner to break through the noise of radio advertising.

"When I think about radio creative, I think of my wife and kids driving in the car and how fast their finger flies to the button at the first hint of a commercial," says Carl Hertel, creative writer/creative supervisor for NKH&W, Kansas City, Mo. "You have only the first three seconds to get a listener's attention or you've lost them."

Is it true that society is conditioned to tune out advertisements? "Rule number one in radio advertising is it's pretentious for us to think that someone wants to listen to our spots," Haller jests. If it's true that listeners naturally tune out advertising spots, then agencies must be further challenged to create spots that will cause the audience to stop and listen, either through the product message or a creative element.

Often the creative element behind good farm radio is humor. NKH&W Inc. is the source of some really humorous radio creative.

Carl Hertel, creative writer/creative supervisor for NKH&W Inc.
The agency's philosophy: Have fun and remember that radio is a unique medium. "Some people just don't take the time to make radio fun," says Hertel. "Radio spots must be more than a spoken brochure."

Jeff Nalley, farm director for the Cromwell Network and 2004 NAFB president agrees. "TV audio is meant to complement the image of the commercial. Radio is a different medium. Radio uses words to create the image for the listener. Clients that use TV audio don't always capture radio's potential to impact the customer."

Nalley says radio creative is somewhat of a lost art. There was once a time when radio was used to create mental images of nearly every product available. But oftentimes it is rare to find a radio spot that shows rather than tells.

Kate Andersen, creative writer for NKH&W, says radio definitely is not used to its full effectiveness. "Some people have a hard time understanding the medium," she explains. "You have to look at radio in terms of entertainment."

Andersen explains that those who use radio well are able to create imagery with words and bring characters to life, which NKH&W refers to as the "theater of the mind."

For example, one of FMC's Mustang Max spots draws you into a conversation between two bugs, one with the famous voice of Estelle Harris. The ladies discuss the fate of Stan, a stinkbug who flew right into a cotton field treated with Mustang Max and was executed on contact. According to Nick Nicholson, executive creative director for NKH&W, "Kate gave a lot of personality to some ill-fated bugs."

Another FMC spot advertising shark herbicide to rice growers in a concentrated California market introduces "Lou the shark" as if he is a new guy moving into the neighborhood. He explains to listeners that he is finished eating beach bums and is a strict vegetarian dining mostly on weeds that populate his rice field.

NKH&W is also responsible for the award-winning Cow Conversations spots produced for the American Angus Association. In case you haven't heard them, the spots are almost like a dating game for cattle. It's not easy to take topics such as animal husbandry and breed genetics and put them into an entertaining package, but the many awards and accolades that the spots have garnered prove that humor, executed in the right way, gets an audience's attention.

Humor is a double-edged sword in radio, though. It either works for you or against you. "If humor is done well, it is wonderful," says Haller. "But it is often difficult to pull off without insulting your audience."

RADIO AT ITS BEST

Sheree Johnson, senior vice president and director of media services for NKH&W Inc.
Often effective farm radio isn't just about the creative execution; it requires the right tactic. Sheree Johnson, senior vice president and director of media services for NKH&W, says farm radio is the ideal medium during conditions that require flexibility. "When we experience market conditions such as insect infestations, it is great to have radio's flexibility to distribute timely messages," Johnson says. Haller agrees that radio is perfect for delivering messages that advise farmers to use a specific product during dry weather or consult an agronomist due to a specific infestation.

"Time and time again, I hear a spot that doesn't even mention the product within the first 30 seconds. That is a waste of time and money," Haller says. He explains that farm radio also works well when there is a call to action.

Johnson points out that radio also is a great way to create a buzz for your product. "Radio can really create impact when it's used to start a buzz with word of mouth. That is one of the best uses of the medium."

But even the best creative work and the right tactic don't do your product or service much good if your audience doesn't hear it. Haller says that oftentimes there isn't enough frequency being used to adequately deliver any message.

"Companies would never go to a consumer market or TV with only 15 spots per week and think that the market is covered. You would use no less than 60 spots, but probably 100," he says. "But the mindset in farm radio is that you're buying programming rather than the medium of farm radio."

Haller says there is no magic number of spots that equals sales, but it does take a certain amount of frequency to break through, regardless of the creativity involved.

"Unless your spots use a call to action or price/item technique, in many cases there isn't enough frequency currently being used to effectively deliver branding messages," Haller points out. "Compared to TV and consumer radio, frequency in farm radio is much lower. But, the price for radio is higher. In theory, the price of farm radio should be 50 to 75 percent of what TV is to maintain comparable frequency."

Both TV and radio have their strong attributes and almost everyone agrees that these mediums work best in an integrated marketing campaign.

"You don't have the same imagery to work with in radio that you do in TV, but radio, if done correctly, conjures up the image seen in a TV spot. It is an excellent complement to TV messages. You create brand awareness with television and follow that up with the frequency of radio," Haller says.

"In an ideal world, radio is part of the media mix. It works best at pounding home a message with frequency - for that there's nothing better - but you're probably not going to hit a home run with radio alone unless your giving away a Mercedes Benz with the product," Haller concludes. AM


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