I have written previously about the idea that so-called “traditional” advertising forms, television and radio are dead or less effective than have been before. I pointed out in that article that radio is the cheaper option, which implies that television is better. Some products and services are better suited to radio, but a closer look may show that radio is in fact more effective than television.
When I was a kid, there was this TV show called Jakers the adventures of Piggley winks featuring an anthropomorphic grandfather pig telling stories of his childhood to his grandsons, usually with an underlying moral or educational purpose. I remember one episode, where his grandsons are excited to play their new video game, but Piggley secretly turns off the power and tells them to listen to the radio instead, a better form of entertainment from his day.
Being very cynical even at that age, the whole thing rather annoyed me with the idea of a grandfather who thinks that his childhood was superior in every way to the youth of today. I’m sure that Piggley would be playing video games too had he been born the same year as his grandchildren. Not to mention the irony of the fact that it takes a TV programme to send kids this message. This is still my opinion. But this rant at a fictional character is by the by. In relation to radio advertising, it’s got me thinking about radio and how it’s changed since “Piggley’s day.” The most interesting aspect of this is when he says ‘[the screen is in your imagination].’
From a marketing perspective, this is actually quite interesting. With television you are restricted to one image. With radio, the possibilities are endless. Now, of course one might point out that, in television advertising, control over the image means the company advertising the product or service can mould the image to what they want to display in order to attract their target audience.
But, when you create the image yourself, surely the level of imagination that the listener has to employ allows an element of creativity that will lead them to create an image of something that suits them? Therefore, you can effectively market what you are selling in a way unique to every listener without having to make much effort. The nature of the medium, as Piggley points out, allows this to happen.
Obviously I’m no psychologist, and I’m basing a theory about advertising on what I’ve learnt from a fictional talking pig, but I was intrigued to see if any real psychologists had addressed radio in such a manner. A quick google search of ‘psychology of radio advertising’ yielded a lot of results, including an entire book on the psychology of radio. However, the majority of the studies in this area were from when “Piggley” was listening to radio. The idea of everything being given to the reader except an image appear to be the general opinion. Obviously Professor Cantril is a more reliable source than a fictional pig, but what’s interesting about Piggley’s view is that he is doing it in comparison with television.
Because it has an image, television essentially fills the last blank that the radio advert had to leave to the reader’s imagination. And much of the work on the psychology of radio since then, such as Miller (1997) talk of an increase in the tendency to try and create a specific visual image in the listeners mind. Listening to radio adverts myself, I found this to be true. It’s as if radio is trying to be television. Just because it is an older medium, does not mean it is inferior.
I think there’s a lot of potential in the way radio works with regards to advertising, and research into the psychology of the images people create depending on what they hear could pay off. Just maybe not mention where I got the idea.