Studios tuned out

Radio riches elusive to marketers pitching pix

For the millions of commuters who sit in rush-hour traffic on L.A.’s terminally congested freeways, the radio becomes a refuge like no other urban center on the globe.

For the keen-eyed radio advertiser, these captive listeners are like ducks on a metropolitan pond. And certainly easy prey, it would seem, for studios marketing their feature films over the airwaves.

But because television remains the studios’ primary ad medium, the art of selling movies over radio is still somewhat in a primitive state. “Studios,” observes Marybeth Garber, director of radio sales for the Southern California Broadcasters’ Assn., “aren’t practiced at finding radio markets, because they haven’t been doing it long enough.

“TV has provided a security blanket that most studios cling to, and if their numbers are high enough in the marketing analysis from TV alone, they’ll drop radio altogether and buy more TV.”

Selling images to listeners

MGM senior VP of media Jeff Killingsworth argues, “Radio’s primary drawback is loss of the image. We relied heavily on action and car chase visuals for our ‘Ronin’ TV spots, and translating that for radio was very difficult.”

Sometimes, the problem is in the studio marketing department’s creative office, according to John Butkovich, marketing consultant and former senior VP of media at Sony Pictures Entertainment. “There are simply some films for which creative is called on to make radio spots, and it just defeats them, because effective, fresh radio advertising is deceptively difficult.”

If a movie has a song hook, however, an action-heavy movie can enjoy a leg up in radio marketing. Killingsworth notes that while “Tomorrow Never Dies” had as much, if not more, action and chasing than “Ronin,” it also had Moby’s remix of John Barry’s James Bond theme.

“The effort there was to extend the Bond franchise to a younger male audience, allowing them to perceive Bond as their action hero, not just their father’s,” Killingsworth says.

Similarly, the studio did major radio buys for this summer’s “Disturbing Behavior,” with its alternarock-laden soundtrack, on such key FM stations as KIIS, KPWR and KROQ.

Teens a veritable gold mine

“Marketing efficiency comes when you hit the stations that deliver the teen audience, the 20-plus audience,” Butkovich says. “That’s where the big numbers are, and certainly where I’ve had my most successful campaigns.”

Youth leaders in L.A. currently are the urban-oriented KPWR-FM and KKBT-FM, followed by KIIS-FM and KROQ-FM, among others, and these are where the largest studio ad buys are targeted.

The keen studio marketer also knows that radio industry categories such as “urban” or “black” or “contemporary hit radio” tend to mislead. Thus, Butkovich notes, he bought on urban formats for the decidedly lily-white “My Best Friend’s Wedding” because the movie appealed to girls, and girls listen to urban stations “in droves.”

“It’s a lesson not just in demographics,” says Butkovich, “but in psycho-graphics — know what your audience likes, thinks and does.”

Even more concentrated than commuters and adolescents, perhaps, is L.A.’s Spanish-language listenership, fueling Spanish-language KLVE-FM and KSCA-FM into the top station slots in recent Arbitron ratings.

Regardless, movie ad buys in this format remain low relative to numbers.

“I doubt people at the studios listen to these stations,” says David Acosta, media director of the Arenas Group, which specializes in media advertising and public relations for the Latino market. “It’s pretty foreign to them.”

For mature ears only

More clearcut are the talk and news formats, which Garber says can be artfully used by the studios to target adult listeners.

“DreamWorks saw that ‘Saving Private Ryan’ was possibly uncomfortable for an older, World War II veteran-era audience,” she says, “so it was astute enough to buy time in the fifth week of the run on the talk and news stations like KABC-AM, KNX-AM and KFWB-AM.

“And if you’re really clever, like Miramax, you target the voting movie Academy audience, which we know listens to NPR stations like KCRW-FM and classical stations like KKGO-FM.”

“It shows that there are so many listener segments in this city, and you can’t take any of them for granted.”

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