Montreal View: Alternative listeners a desirable market

Several weeks ago in my column about radio station cfny-fm in Toronto and 'alternative' music was a warning to radio executives not to forget a market of voracious consumers of fast food, new clothes and entertainment (film, cds.)Actually, the warning appeared...

Several weeks ago in my column about radio station cfny-fm in Toronto and ‘alternative’ music was a warning to radio executives not to forget a market of voracious consumers of fast food, new clothes and entertainment (film, cds.)

Actually, the warning appeared in the original version of my column, but was edited out by Strategy.

Turning to ‘alternative’

No sooner had the article appeared did partner Woods drop on my desk a sheaf of newspaper clippings about u.s. radio stations turning to ‘alternative’ music to appeal to certain advertisers.

We were ahead of our time, once again.

Listen to this lead in the amazing Wall Street Journal:

‘More fm commercial radio stations are switching to alternative/modern rock formats, opening a market for advertisers who can tap audiences once loyal to the noncommercial radio stations that played such music.

‘The switch has many top 40 stations moving from a diet of Phil Collins, Michael Bolton and Mariah Carey to a platter of Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam and Tori Amos.’

Bill Scull of wenz in Cleveland told the Journal that his advertising revenue doubled after switching to an ‘alternative’ format.

‘While the audiences may not be as large, they are big purchasers of computers, clothing and entertainment products,’ Scull said.

Thank you, Bill. You hit the Nine Inch Nail on the head, and you allude to a point we have been bringing to the attention of clients and prospective clients and anyone else who would listen since time immemorial:

Concentrate on buyers

Concentrate your media fire on buyers of your products only, and not at an audience size. What is important is not the size of an audience, but, rather, whether the medium you are selecting is reaching the buyers of your products.

Now, doesn’t this seem like some of the most simple stuff in the world? It is. But, while it is very simple, it is not very obvious.

Another recent article in the Journal describes the rise of another hybrid music format nicknamed ‘Triple A,’ which is an anti-classic-rock format appealing to an older group than the ‘alternative’ set, but who still like variety in their fm rock music.

The article reports that there are no audience ratings data available on the new formats, but ‘advertisers appear confident because the Triple A format may have the same demographic upscale audience as classical music stations, which, typically, don’t score high in the ratings.’

Specific character

Wisely, Triple A advertisers appear to be more concerned with the specific character of their audience than with its size.

Size is given too much importance as a criterion. Media research has great difficulty realizing value when it cannot be calculated mathematically.

What is going on in radio, with the rise of ‘alternative’ radio stations seems to underline the deficiencies of conventional media planning and how out-of-touch fm radio programming is.

Here are a few more points to that effect.

Mark my words, someday, media planners will wake up and throw out categories such as ’18-34′ or ’25-54.’ This is a blundering broadstroke categorization, at best, and stupid garbage, at worst, depending on your mood.

As if an 18-year-old Nirvana-head displays buying habits similar to a married 34-year-old with a mortgage, car payments and children.

To start with, if we are going to use age groups as categories, they are going to have to be a lot more specific, such as, ’18- to 20-year-olds,’ or, ’21- to 23-year-olds attending college or university.’

Walk down Yonge Street in Toronto, St-Catherine Street in Montreal, or Robson in Vancouver on Saturday afternoon and study the type of consumer in the sneaker and jean stores, music stores, and fast food joints and dance bars.

It’s not John and Jennifer Suburbia with the ‘contemporary’ dining room set. It’s young, college-aged youth with money to burn. You don’t need a doctorate in demographics or media research to figure this out.

Now, ask the question: is this consumer sub-group listening to the Beatles on a ‘classic rock’ station, or to Pearl Jam on tape or cd because the ‘classic rock’ station doesn’t play enough of any new music?

Who’s listening?

Another question. Who would you guess listens to radio more frequently? The 19-year-old punk tooling around the burbs in a beat-up Pontiac partying with his buddies, or the 40-year-old Dad at home on the weekend with his family?

Yet, most radio audience research and media research says, using the ‘big numbers or bust’ measurement grid, that it is 40-year-old Beatles-loving Dads who are the true radio freaks.

The whole rating/measurement thing is hopelessly out of touch. fm radio is hopelessly out of touch.

Having seen enough savagely flawed market research from supposedly reputable firms, I instinctively doubt and question every media number put before me.

I think I have good reason.

Michael Judson is president of Judson Woods, a public relations and advertising company in Montreal.