(By Curt Kraft) It is safe to say that radio has embraced the digital age. I know, I know. More stuff for the sales department to deal with. UGH! More coffee, please. Anyway, we supposedly now have more ways for our clients to advertise in addition to the traditional over-the-air audio method. This will ultimately result in increased business for the client and increased advertising revenue for the station. In turn this will lead to increased commissions for the salespeople and raises for the air personalities. OK OK. Just kidding. Strike that last sentence.
But it does lead to a rather interesting question. Do these new digital methods of advertising really work? Are they truly creating new business for the client over and above what’s going out over the air? How is this measured? And who does the measuring? Call me old fashioned, even old school. But I’d like to know in advance that my client is getting an effective method for advertising their business. I don’t want to just dazzle them with new terminology while I’m secretly crossing my fingers behind my back.
Now, to be fair, I’ve done my own research. I have read many articles on the subject. There are some who say that digital is a very effective way of advertising. That it reaches out to an additional audience that might not be paying close attention to those spots you’re running over the air. That it might even bring in totally new customers who spend most of their time on their smart phones or laptops. These people who speak out in favor of digital advertising do make a compelling point.
However, there are those who say it only works marginally at best. It’s all right to try it but still use the more traditional methods of advertising because we know “they” work. Still, there are others who say it doesn’t work at all. That digital advertising is pure bunk and you shouldn’t waste your money on it. For me, the jury is still out. But there is one form of digital advertising that I do find kind of creepy. I’d go so far as to call it Orwellian with a dash of “big brother.” They call it “geofencing.” (Insert ominous background music here.)
Geofencing, in layman’s terms, is when you go out with your smart phone on, either walking or in your car, and one of your apps alerts a local business that you are in the neighborhood. That business then sends you a message letting you know about their big sales promotion and since you’re “in the area” why not stop by and check them out? The question is, how does the average person feel about this? Do they realize their smart phone can be used as a tracking device? Do they mind suddenly getting an ad on their phone? Do they shake their head and wonder how the business knows that they are close by? And by “close” we could mean a few blocks or a few miles. That’s the beauty of geofencing. As a business, you set your own boundary as to how far you want to track potential customers. In other words, you the customer have now become a blip on someone else’s screen. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
This kind of advertising makes me a little uneasy. If they know where you are on their screen, what else do they know? Do they know that sometimes when I go to the mall I’m just there to use the rest room? And then I get back in the car and I leave without buying anything? What will happen the next time I go to the mall? Will a security guard come out and ask me if I intend to do any shopping or am I just here to go to the bathroom? In which case you are barred from this mall. I know that sounds paranoid. But hey, there are still some of us who sleep with a night light. Do businesses really want to advertise via such a cloak and dagger method? Do I really want to offer this new “digital” method of advertising to a potential client? Yes, I know the digital age is here to stay. I just don’t know if radio should embrace every aspect of it. A constant, steady flow of revenue is important. But send your salespeople out to get it, not Mulder and Scully.