The radio medium’s loyalty amongst consumers derives substantially from the trust engendered between the on-air presenter and the listener. Research has demonstrated that radio is trusted more than any other medium, and that its audience feels a much greater affinity than it does with less intimate media such as television and newspapers.
In view of the importance of this ‘trust’ between radio and its audience, it seems a remarkable own-goal for radio to be promoting itself in a misleading way in advertisements carried on its own medium – radio. If listeners cannot trust radio people to be truthful about radio on the radio, then does it not undermine the bond that exists between a radio station and its listenership?
A recent radio advertisement placed on commercial radio stations by the Digital Radio Development Bureau, the agency tasked with persuading the public to buy and use DAB radios, stated:
“This is an advert for DAB digital radio. If you were listening to me on a conventional analogue …” [the sound of radio interference interrupted the speaker momentarily. The voice-over then continued:] “… radio you might very well hear strange noises …” [further sounds of radio interference followed. The voice-over continued:] “… which would ruin your enjoyment of your favourite programme …” [more interference sounds were audible. The voice-over continued:] “… meaning you might miss out on the crucial …” [radio interference sounds could be heard once more] “… but, with a DAB radio, you can enjoy crisp, clear digital sound. To find out more and discover loads more stations, visit getdigitalradio.com. Prices start from £24.99. Digital radio, get more from your radio”.
Listeners complained to the Advertising Standards Authority [ASA] that this advertisement was misleading because, when the DAB radio signal is inadequate, the audible broadcast signal is interrupted.
The Digital Radio Development Bureau responded that:
• because DAB is a digital technology which is either ‘on’ or ‘off’, the signal is always the same right up to the coverage limit
• DAB uses single-frequency networks technology where the same programme is transmitted from a number of sites, and DAB receivers add the signals from all the transmitters together, reducing gaps whereas, in an analogue radio network, gaps between transmitters cause the signal to fade in and out as the listener moves around
• a digital radio receiver is not subject to the background hiss and interference that might be audible with an analogue radio, and it is only when the listener is not in a digital station’s coverage area that the signal drops out
• electrical interference from fridges, thermostats, motors or light switches can cause crackle on analogue radio, whereas digital radio is not susceptible to this
• the other interference referred to in the advert is intrusion of pirate radio broadcasters that listeners might hear on analogue radio. Because there is no low-grade, cheap equipment available for DAB, pirates are not able to broadcast on digital radio
• the advert sought to promote the fact that DAB radio was hiss- and crackle-free, which the Bureau believed was reasonable and responsible.
The ASA believed otherwise. It said it understood that “if listening to digital radio whilst travelling, the digital signal could drop out when entering a built-up area or walking between tall buildings,” whereas the adverts “gave the misleading impression that listeners would never experience any interruption to a DAB signal, when that was not the case.” The ASA banned future use of the advert.
This was not the first occasion on which advertisements promoting DAB radio have been found to be misleading. In 2005, the ASA had similarly banned a radio advert which had stated:
“If you’re someone who thinks an iPod is something you might keep your contact lenses in you probably haven’t heard about DAB digital radio. With a new digital radio costing from as little as 49.99, not only can you hear all your current favourites in crystal clear sound, you can switch on to a dial-full of digital-only stations specialising in everything from classic rock to books that talk. The future is here today with distortion free DAB digital radio: taking the hiss out of the way you listen to the radio. Message provided by TWG Emap Digital.”
On this occasion, the ASA decided that “not all DAB digital radio listeners would receive ‘distortion free’ and ‘crystal clear’ sound and concluded that the claims were misleading,” it having “received no evidence to show that DAB digital radio was superior to analogue radio in terms of audio quality.”
On another occasion, in 2004, Ofcom banned an advertisement broadcast on London station Jazz FM which had claimed falsely that DAB radio offers consumers “CD-quality sound”. Ofcom concluded that “some listeners, in particular listening circumstances, would perceive a difference in sound quality between services using lower bit rates or broadcasting in mono compared to the quality attainable on CDs.”
There is a recurring theme here of DAB radio marketing campaigns repeatedly being found to be misleading listeners. Their response: just try and try and try again. Perhaps there should be a ‘three strikes, then you’re out’ policy. Do not pass go. Do not advertise DAB radio misleadingly on the radio. Do not continue to abuse the trust between the radio medium and its listenership.