Friday 16 May 2014

Lesson learnt from Sachin’s B’day

If cricket is religion, Sachin is God. His 41st birthday on April 24, 2014, was manna for marketers. It was a mad scrambling of everyone wanting to associate with brand Sachin to drive sales. From car dealerships offering the master blaster offer to radio stations running week long specials, to brand updates alluding to Sachin on their social media feeds, it was ‘Sachin…Sachin…’ all the way.

Six years back, I was responsible to drive revenues on the short code owned by a leading media group. The idea of doing a Sachin special came up, a few days before April 24. As we did only text SMSs (no wallpapers, animations, etc.), I was at my wits end to figure out what can possibly be done on text to ride the Sachin bandwagon. A no brainer was facts and trivia about Sachin. The modus was simple, to have keyword(s), which the user texted on the short code to get info about Sachin.

The difficult part was promoting those keyword(s) on zero dollar budget. Unless people knew the keyword(s), they could not text them to the short code and we made no monies. One of the three options was to publicize the keyword(s) in the group daily/online properties. It was not a viable option. If we were to plug the short code in the group daily/online properties, the group would have lost revenues by not being able to sell that inventory to paid advertisers. This option meant that we generate traffic in the order of 6–7 digits because 70-90% of the topline would have gone as revenue share to Telecom Service Providers. We knew that we won’t get a million SMSs at an end user price of INR 3.00 for a property like Sachin’s trivia!

Second option was to promote the keyword(s) as footer in the response message to other keywords or to put simplistically cross promote on existing keywords, which were already generating traffic. Third option was to on-board Telcos to promote the keyword(s) on their SMS promotional channel.

We cracked option 2 and 3, but couldn’t generate traffic that would meet our projections. Was it worth it? With the benefit of hindsight, I would perhaps say yes. Six years back mobile internet was not pervasive. Something tactically gimmicky such as trivia about god of cricket on mobile with SMS as a distribution channel made sense. Today, one would not spend INR 3.00/- to pull some trivia about someone; as googling on phone is easier and cheaper.

Did we make monies? No. Was the product bad? No, if it was bad, the Telcos would not have promoted the keyword(s). Why didn’t we make monies? Perhaps the promotion didn’t reach as many people as it should have. If we do something similar today, will it make monies? No. I believe what we did in 2008 over SMS, holds good for mobile apps today. Download numbers of a Sachin app offering facts and trivia about him launched close to his birthday in 2014 is anyone’s guess. It was one of those scenarios where an allusion to a star birthday did not cut ice. I am not sure about the experience of those car dealerships and radio stations.

Lesson learnt: Celebrity birthdays don’t lend to money spinning opportunities for businesses which are remotely connected to the appeal of the celebrity. In this case perhaps a sports mall would have made more monies selling cricket bats than us selling Sachin trivia.  But yes, even Sachin would agree that singles are needed to keep the scoreboard ticking :-)

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Why don’t we have format shows on Radio!

Why don’t we have format radio shows of scale, and even if we have format shows why is it difficult to recall a single  name unlike the format shows on television, such as Fear Factor, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Dancing with the Stars or many other such shows? Is it because of the nature of the radio as a local medium (each city having its own programming mix), or because of the economics behind it? Let us discount the fact that due to the aural nature of the medium, creativity on radio is limited. There are enough creative options to build format properties on radio.

In the case of multi city radio networks, I have seen concerted social campaigns that gained national traction and attracted public notice, be it Red FM’s ‘Dabaa Ke Bajaao’, urging the public to vote during the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections or Fever FM’s ‘Voice of Change’. Was it the magnitude of the cause behind the success of these social campaigns? Why can’t the same success with social campaigns be replicated to create format shows of national stature on radio?

These questions merit a detailed debate, beyond the scope of this post. Let us attempt an answer by taking an economic view.

We’ll make some assumptions.

Assumption 1: Contests/games format such as identify the voice, identify the song etc. are the result of a station’s own creative process. 

Assumption 2: The station uses a premium priced short code, i.e. each time you send a text to the short code, you are charged an amount typically INR 3.00 or any other  amount, which is not per your regular SMS tariff plan.

Assumption 3: The premium SMS charge is split between the telecom service provider and the short code owner (in this case the station) with telco keeping a lion’s share.

Assumption 4: The amount retained by the station is used to sponsor the prizes. For example, if the station receives 1,000 responses to a contest question on a given day on its short code, the total kitty is INR 3,000 (1,000 * INR 3.00). Assuming the revenue share is 50:50 between the telco and the station, the amount available to the station for prizes is INR 1,500.

Pretty simple, isn’t it?

Let’s add another entity to the mix. The entity that develops contest formats powered by the underlying software solutions, which integrate with various media to produce game shows that can also be played over radio. Let’s call this entity ‘contest IP provider’. Now, if a station uses the concept/format provided by this entity, the above kitty of INR 3,000 has three claimants. Assuming the share of the telco is fixed, not much is left on the table for the other two.

Is the radio ecosystem ripe enough to accommodate contest IP provider? What are the potential hurdles faced by such contest IP providers:

First, it’s an additional overhead for the station. A station has the ability to attract sponsors and advertisers even without paying extra for add ins. At best, it could be a quid pro quo wherein the station can provide air time to ‘contest IP provider’ to promote themselves, thus translating to zero dollars for the contest IP provider.

Second, even if it is a fixed license fee charged by the contest IP provider, the fee needs to be realized by the station’s sales and marketing folks when they go looking for sponsors for such licensed format shows. I believe sponsors may not be willing to pay more than what they are currently paying for air time because it increases their budgets. Sponsors may also give a pass to give high value prizes in lieu of dollars, which directly impacts the number of people who participate in the game/contest because the number of participants is proportional to the value of prizes.

Third, the SMS revenue share between telecom service providers and Radio Stations is not favorable for innovation in India. If the show goes well, the contest IP provider makes money for the telecom service providers. Not much is left for the radio station and contest IP provider, thus there is not much motivation for a station to run a licensed format show thereby incurring additional costs.

I am not into the skin of the business of radio, and would like to have your thoughts on this. Is the nature of the medium such that it does not lend itself to format/license shows of scale? Is there no room for Endemols, Celadors or Freemantles of the world on radio?

I’ll look forward to your answers.

Monday 24 March 2014

Spot the Odd Location

I should admit that it is not easy to miss the recent radio ads of 99acres, which are into some heavy duty rotations. I caught their four ad units on radio. Three of them were typical of real estate portal ads, which counted attributes of maximum verified listings, 11,700 listings for properties in Bangalore (I liked how they localized it for a medium like radio!) and posting free ads. The fourth ad unit took an advergaming route, which I found different from the other three ad units.

What’s it all about?

The ad urges the listeners to spot an odd location amongst the three options given to them. The advergame goes by different names on different radio stations depending upon the language played by the station. I caught the advergame on two stations, Fever 104 FM and Indigo 91.9 FM. I believe the campaign might be live on other stations too in Bangalore (Karnataka, India), perhaps other cities too. The advergame goes by the name Galat Location Ko Karo Alag on Fever 104 FM which plays Hindi Music and Spot the Odd Location on Indigo 91.9 FM which plays English Music.

How to play ‘Spot the Odd Location’?

The listeners have to respond with the name of the odd location by texting it on the short code/long code announced in the ad. Fever 104 FM listeners have to send the responses to 54242. In the case of Indigo 91.9 FM the response code is 9900100919.

Game Play

It’s simple and intuitive. The ad gives the names of three localities from the city in which the ad is broadcast. For Bangalore, out of the three locations, J.P.Nagar, Malleswaram and Malviya Nagar, I know that Malviya Nagar is an odd one, because there is no locality by the name of Malviya Nagar in Bangalore.

It is at this point in the ad that the underlying message of the campaign is conveyed. A city may have odd locations, but there are no odd properties on :-), ok, I believe it :-)

What’s the Prize?

Couple movie tickets.

What’s the big deal?

Tailoring the communication to leverage a local medium like radio is commendable. I also appreciate the production efforts behind the campaign. The nature of the campaign is such that ad units have to be tailored for each city (assuming it’s a pan-India campaign), and it has to be a different ad unit for each day of the campaign to avoid repeating locality names, not to mention, tailoring it for each radio station too to incorporate the station’s short code/long code. It is an execution challenge for the media agency too.

However, if you have read my earlier post, Guess the Property Price, I am not sure if 99acres advergame drives the same level of listener engagement as Indiaproperty advergame did.

Advertising opportunities?

None. Air time is bought by and I believe the prizes too. 

What next?

Personally, I value clear and transparent communication of terms and conditions, if one is taking to contesting as a central idea in an ad. As a listener I did not understand, how many units of prizes are up for grabs, or how the fulfillment will happen.

A response text communicating the URL to the terms and conditions would have been helpful.

What else?

Regarding the fulfillment of the prizes, I am not sure if it will be done by 99acres, radio station, or through an online ticketing platform; am not sure if there was a possibility to get the prizes sponsored from an online ticketing platform in lieu of the on-air plug (or within the response text), ‘Couple movie tickets fulfilled by’.

A response text also providing the URL for downloading the 99acres mobile application would have helped stretch the advertising dollars.