We have discussed the radio industry's aversion to chasing after demographics that fall outside of the 25-54 “sweet spot.” Over the years, entire formats have been kicked to the curb because they are problematic in the three decades that comprise this valued audience group. And in every strategic research session that involves formats on the verge of skewing younger or older, managers are actively engaged in keeping the demos in that 30-year groove – and out of harm's way.
This is especially curious when you talk to broadcasters who are legitimately hitting it out of the park with 25-54 ratings, but still struggling mightily to reach their sales goals. Part of this has to do with the media environment in which we live. But another reason for this sales frustration is the bottleneck of stations all competing for essentially the same turf.
It's great to be top 3 25-54 (although even many of those stations aren't making their budgets). But when you fall to 7th, 9th, or completely out of the Top 10 altogether, the future is far from bright.
Sadly, radio has followed this straight and narrow path to its own detriment. Teens – members of Generation Z – and those who have unfortunately turned 55 years-old have been out of favor for decades, despite their influence and spending power.
While both demographics are out of favor, they each bring different attributes to the table that radio could easily put into two buckets: short-term and long-term value the industry is simply letting other players have.
Aging Boomers fall in the first category. They will not be around forever. But, in fact, their needs as seniors are intensifying – housing, health care, travel, pharmaceuticals – all categories that are already spending billions on media other than radio. Just watch cable news – you see these ads everywhere.
Gen Z falls into the long-term investment category. Broadcasting and marketing to them will probably not produce an immediate return. But unlike those graying Boomers, they will be around forever. Or at least for many, many decades. This bucket is about seed-planting, and it requires time, patience, research, and investment. The upside? The possibility of attracting young people to a medium – content and personalities – they may enjoy most of their lives – if they get in the habit now.
As a friend of mine in the radio business asked me, “What's the ROI on survival?” Chew on that one for a while.
And to move from the hypothetical to the reality, we're now seeing three very powerful entities – AARP, Politico, and Amazon – working on products and initiatives designed to appeal to consumers mostly unwelcome by most radio broadcasters.
According to MediaPost's Sara Guaglione, AARP and Politico have partnered on a project designed to focus on 50+ voters for the upcoming midterm elections. Talk about a short-term gain. Both brands are hoping to capitalize on the political circus by focusing on the voters especially likely to go to the polls – Boomers who are getting up there.
AARP and Politico are creating a series called “The Deciders” which starts its run next month. It's a multi-media campaign that includes articles, a poll, and even events. According to the story, both brands believe the 50+ demographic is overlooked, often taking a back seat to Millennials.
Given the frenzy surrounding so many contentious midterm races in every state of the U.S., “The Deciders” has the makings of a successful campaign, aimed squarely at the most likelist
And then there's the Gen Z bucket – the longer-term play. And who else but Amazon has teens and even younger consumers in its crosshairs. They're making an investment in the future of their fast-growing Alexa technology .
That's been the company's M.O. for years, much to the chagrin of their stockholders. They have built an amazing business on their vision of the future – not on immediate revenue goals that must be met – or else!
And so it should come as no surprise to you they're now marketing Alexa for kids. And they're very likely going to sell millions of these blue versions of their Echo Dot Kids Edition, thanks to parents. (What a novel concept – marketing to kids so they persuade the adults in their house with money to buy a product!)
Engadget's Steve Dent says these special kids versions of the Alexa voice has some cool features – it reads to kids, plays music, and even teaches them better manners.
I find myself saying “please” and “thank you” to Alexa, even though it's not necessary. It was how I was raised. Now when kids use “please” in their questions to this blue Dot, their politeness will be rewarded with a “thanks for asking so nicely.”
This special version will also provide more detailed explanations to help kids learn. In addition, parents will be able to set time restrictions, block songs with questionable lyrics. and prevent the little ones from going on Alexa shopping sprees.
You'll be happy to know they'll also be able to tune in “family stations” on iHeartRadio, as well as access Audible's children's books, as well as other kid-friendly content.
This is a considerable investment in a technology that may not initially be profitable. (Although at a retail price of $80, it's nearly three times more expensive than an “adult” Dot).
But that's Amazon – looking ahead at Generation Z, running the numbers, and calculating the upside of hooking kids to the friendly voice of Alexa. Before you know it, the little ones will be old enough to pay for Amazon Prime.
There's quick money to be made by going after Boomers, and on the other side, there's great potential in targeting their grandchildren.
One is a play for the present, the other for the future.
And both are more original and innovative than anything we see in radio.
Two unpopular demographics, each with value to an industry that should be actively trying to break out of its “cheese room” to develop new revenue streams.
It's more than a drop in the bucket.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.