I found Chris Evan’s recent move from BBC Radio Two’s most coveted primetime breakfast show to Virgin radio fascinating. The new show would be doing something no one has ever done before on commercial radio, it would be ad-free and funded by a content-led sponsorship deal with Sky.
Virgin says that:
“Sky’s sponsorship will provide investment to create branded content, competitions, and events which will take the Chris Evans show on Virgin Radio to a new level.”
From a broadcaster that relies on paid advertising to exist, this is quite a gamble. Why take the risk? The decision in part must have been led by Evans not wanting his show to be interrupted by ads and Virgin meeting its talent half-way, but is there more to it?
Virgin Radio UK was acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, which also owns a substantial chunk of Sky, in 2016.
“When I started talking to Chris about his return to Virgin Radio, we were very clear we needed to do something to shake things up – something that tore up the rule books.”
When one of your partner companies is a production powerhouse like Sky, arguably its less risky to shake things up and tear up the rule book, but whatever the reasons, this presents a completely different approach to radio’s traditional interruptive advertising model and with it, a unique opportunity for Sky and Virgin to create more meaningful relationships with its listeners.
A quick history lesson. Content marketing was born from the internet and involves the shaping of online material via videos, blogs and social media posts. It doesn’t explicitly promote a brand, but is intended to stimulate interest. Its success lies in its discoverability, shareability and user-generated content as a result.
It’s a strategy designed to cultivate relationships that are rooted in an emotional connection, shared values and interests, and a mutual understanding that surpasses a transaction. A content focused approach ultimately increases brand value and I’m fascinated to see how this translates via the radio.
Any new strategy inevitably raises some bigger questions – in this case, around the effectiveness of traditional advertising. Is Virgin acknowledging there is a need to move on from the interruption advertising model in order to deliver a quality programme? Is this the start of a shift in favour of engagement as a marketing strategy beyond online? What might this mean in the future for other advertising-dependent media channels?
According to The World Media Awards 2019 Research Report, content-led advertising is set to grow 78% over the next two years, with 45% of respondents saying that more than 50% of the campaigns they currently work on are content driven. Advertising in its traditional sense has always been annoying by its interrupting nature. In the past, we had no choice but to endure it, but today we have ad blockers and can skip the ads if there’s an option to do so.
On top of that we now have a generation that has never lived without broadband. For advertisers, this has created opportunities to deliver relevant and engaging content in order to win loyalty and deeper connections that the hard-sell of traditional advertising can only dream of.
I’ve always wondered whether the BBC was too restrictive for an innovating risk-taker like Evans, so I think the strategy of content-driven advertising is a smart move by Virgin and Sky. It aligns perfectly with ahead-of-his-time Evans, and seems like a natural fit for the innovative media giants backing him.
Will it work? As we know, the measurability of content marketing is not as clear cut as traditional ads. But just like Evans’ dalliance with Top Gear, time will tell very quickly one way or the other – and you can guarantee other media companies will be keeping a very close eye on how it progresses.