Radio Ads for the Eyes as Well as Ears

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DMarc Networks hopes to turn the audio experience of radio advertising into a visual one with a new technology called Dynamic Radio Data Service, or dRDS, that displays text messages on car radios equipped with LCD and LED screens.


Most cars are not equipped with radios able to accept such advertising, but the numbers are growing, said Ryan Steelberg, dMarc Networks' president and co-founder. Radios with LCD and LED screens are standard in 75 percent of 2002 and newer cars, he said, and more than 20 million people have cars that use the technology.


Working with Clear Channel Communications, Revolution Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment, dMarc began a campaign this summer to promote the action film "XXX," starring Vin Diesel. It targeted listeners on Clear Channel's five major Los Angeles-area radio stations. Steelberg estimates that text messages reached 700,000 to 800,000 people during the campaign, which ran July 31-Aug. 16.


The messages promoted the movie and the soundtrack. The technology is designed so that an ad appeared when a song from the soundtrack played on a station. Ads are limited to eight characters. The client decides whether the ad will scroll, remain still or notify the driver through a paging mechanism.


The system synchronizes with data feeds from the station, such as a play list or weather or stock reports.


"So if Coke wanted to, they can run an ad every time the weather was reported to be over a certain temperature," he said. "Once the parameters are set, the songs or reports serve as triggers to run the ad. There are dozens of feeds like weather and stock that we can use."


By turning the dashboard into a "limited in-dash billboard," Steelberg said, advertisers have another way to get their message across.


"Companies can add this or use it to complement the radio buys they do for a campaign," he said. "It's another way of driving a Web site or a phone number into the heads of the consumers."


As for safety concerns about receiving text messages while driving, Steelberg claimed that changing the station or using a navigational device represents more of a distraction.


"It's a very passive system," he said. "All the driver has to do is look down at the radio screen. It's an information source that doesn't have to be stared at for a long period of time. Navigational systems and more interactive features within cars present more of a concern for safety bureaus."


The commercials are sold as 60-second spots, but Steelberg said those are broken up and the ads run in approximately eight-second blocks. There is no tracking device to monitor response rates or effectiveness of the ads.


DMarc is working with 53 radio stations, 15 of which are independent while the rest are part of Clear Channel Communications. Though the focus for now is Southern California, dMarc plans to expand to another major market within the next year.


Nearly 15 other advertisers have used the technology including the WB and Auto Insurance Specialists. Steelberg said 55 campaigns have been run.


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