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Isn’t Radio the Original Branded Content?

I remember being on the Cousin Brucie show on 101.1 CBS-FM when I was a small child. I was amazed sitting in the studio watching him pull a “flyer” down off the “bulletin board” in the studio for an amazing product he wanted to remember to tell his listeners about.

Of course, there was no flyer, just a blank piece of paper, and there was no bulletin board – he simply ruffled the paper in the air to make the sound of paper coming off a bulletin board. Knowing what I know now, this is totally unsurprising. Bruce was simply creating a more authentic-feeling, integrated experience out of a paid advertisement. And of course, DJs have been doing this on the radio for YEARS.

Boring, linear, old-fashioned terrestrial radio may actually be the first innovative form of “branded content” in broadcast media. You can call it “co-produced,” but whether it’s on YouTube, TV, or yes, good ol’ FM radio, it’s staged content for the benefit of an advertiser.

And because they’ve been doing it on the radio for so long, I think there are some things that the latest generation of digital media creators can learn from this storied medium.

  1. Charge more (WAY more) for integrated messaging and storytelling than the rack rate for media inventory. On a pure CPM basis, radio has always charged more for “sponsored” programs or segments and for DJ-read ads than they have for ads that run in between programming. It’s remarkable to me how many digital creators still don’t know what their inventory is being sold for (and therefore what it’s really worth), when all they need to do is open an ad account on Facebook and look up pricing for ads that target similar audiences. If Facebook can sell ads that run adjacent to your page at a certain price, you should be able to charge at least as much for branded content that runs within your programming!
  2. Think locally. Digital creators tend to think that the world is their oyster, and in some ways, it is. The internet has certainly make us more interconnected than ever before. On the other hand, personal, seemingly authentic advertising works really well for local businesses precisely because they are so much more personal and closer to home. Everyone online is chasing big brands, but even small creators with targeted audiences can probably eek out decent CPMs by offering branding content to local businesses. Radio was built on this model – exactly the kind of story I told from my childhood above.