Digital radio switchover is a marathon, not a sprint


Canny marketing can make change desirable, says Dan Todaro

The government is committed to turning off the FM radio signal, but there will be no analogue switch-off until digital listening reaches 50%. At the moment that would likely miss the 2015 target date. Nevertheless, the benefits of DAB have been compared to the switch from AM to FM as the preferred medium: digital radio offers greater choice to the listener with better reception and superior sound quality.

Public reaction has ranged from embrace to indifference and outright resistance; digital listening currently stands at 31.3%.

Digital Radio UK has gone to great effort to get the ball rolling, with a national campaign to boost public awareness. Now with government backing, the switchover will no doubt prove a success.

It can be argued that the slow public response is down to people simply not quite ‘getting’ digital radio. However, given the lessons of the TV switchover, this isn’t such a difficult obstacle. People didn’t understand the TV process either; at first, many viewers questioned why anyone would need more than five channels – and was their TV really not going to work after the change?

But with teams of trained specialists offering in-store advice and demonstrations, experts manning a call centre and a national marketing campaign, the public understood, and finally embraced, the process.

Digital mascot D Love follows in the footsteps of the advocates of new services to TV viewers, such as Digit Al and ITV Digital’s Monkey. Executing this campaign has undoubtedly helped to spread information about the radio switchover. It is vital to have a marketing campaign in 2013 to reach as many radio listeners as possible, educating them about the imminent changes ahead.

This also applies to brands, which can also push the cause forward. Manufacturers and retailers also need to be encouraged to champion the switchover and aid that point of realisation among the public, underpinned by D Love and messaging. Significantly, BMW now offers DAB radio as standard across its entire range and owners of older models can upgrade.

It cannot be overstated how much of a coup this is for the switchover movement considering the previous reluctance of brands to drive the campaign, largely due to a fear of alienating consumers. Now, potentially, a whole generation of car owners will only know DAB and will in turn apply the technology to their homes.

The triumph of the TV switchover proves that, while change can be unsettling and the outcome unknown, in this context it is a positive and proves that the public can embrace new systems if guided correctly. Yes, people don’t like change, but the radio switchover will nevertheless take place when the listening figure exceeds 50%. And now, after an initial lack of enthusiasm to adapt to digital TV, people can’t get enough of pausing and rewinding shows, on demand content and even 3D TV.

The TV switchover was achieved through effective advertising, shop-floor training and raising public awareness. With a renewed emphasis and investment from the authorities, the digital radio campaign can be galvanised into further action to push DAB forward for a successful switchover ahead of the 2015 deadline.

Dan Todaro is managing director of marketing agency Gekko.

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