Should ‘RJ Mentions’ be regulated?

06 Jan,2012


By Robin Thomas


Long relegated as being the poor cousin of other vibrant forms of media – namely television, print and digital – on the popularity and ROI front, radio today is increasingly engaging in an exercise that is alleged to be aiding the medium in reviving its dwindling fortunes. Though one may argue that this exercise was being pursued since the birth of the medium in the country, it is the ubiquitous manner in which it is being persisted upon by radio stations that is a cause of worry.


RJ Mentions, a term that is becoming synonymous as an alternative form of advertising by the radio players and clients alike, is a phenomenon that has taken the industry by force. While the practice seems to be a fair one for the radio stations, who see it as just another way of promoting a message or cause for a client, questions are being raised on the misuse of the popularity of the RJs, who are known to influence the buying patterns of the listeners.


Adding to the worry is the fact that radio stations fail to put a disclaimer along with the promotional message, leading many to term the move as being a “paid news” initiative. That leads one to the moot question: while the print and television players face flak over flashing “paid” news, how could a high-decibel medium like radio go scot-free in delivering the same?


Is it because the medium is so under-valued that authorities are failing to take notice or is it that there are no clear-cut rules that define what is permissible and what is not leading to the players engaging in the “questionable” exercise unhindered?


Agreeing to the use, or rather abuse, of RJs for promoting a brand, a source from a leading radio station, requesting anonymity, said that it is a practice that is being pursued by most players. “RJ Mentions play an important role in the radio business as it brings in more revenues to the station. Radio stations usually charge 4-5 times more than the regular radio ads for RJ Mentions, depending upon the cities and the RAM and IRS figures.”


Another senior industry official, again requesting anonymity, agreed that while the practice is being followed, it is important for players to issue “statutory warnings or some kind of disclaimer, particularly on sensitive issues like health and insurance. “Radio stations must indicate ‘RJ Mention’ as advertisement and treat it as such otherwise it is deception. If the RJ does not know what he is testifying is right or wrong, then it is an act of irresponsibility by the RJ and the radio station and therefore, it is unethical.”


As an industry veteran and having donned advisory hats across mediums, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta seems unconvinced of the tactical advertising route being adopted by the radio players. “The issue of credibility is very important and if that credibility is damaged, it becomes very difficult to regain the trust of the listeners.” When asked whether it was right for radio stations to charge exorbitant fees for such an exercise, he asserted: “If radio stations take money for RJ Mentions then it is completely unethical because it is as corrupt a practice as any other corrupt practices.”


But amidst all the brouhaha over what is right and what is not, it is important to understand the perspective of the marketer, as ultimately it is they who benefit from this practice, however dubious. And given the fact that they do not approach the medium with as much vigour as they do the others, it is even more noteworthy to question whether it is an effort worth the trial for them?


Sanjay Tripathy, Executive Vice President-Head Marketing and Direct Channels, HDFC Life feels that the choice between RJ Mentions on radio and radio ads depend upon the objective of the communication activity. “While radio ads are effective when the goal is to just disseminate information, RJ mentions are useful when the brand needs to engage the listeners,” he suggests.


For Sandip Tarkas, President (Customer Strategy) and CEO Future Media and T24, radio is seen as a less serious medium, unlike print which is more about news and such. “Since radio is more of an entertainment medium, I have no moral dilemma about RJ Mentions. As a practice, I feel RJ Mentions are very effective as RJs have a huge following and listeners can relate to what the RJ speaks. However, if it is overdone, it may become less effective,” he quips.


Lending support to the views endorsed by Mr Tarkas, a few media agency players feel that RJ mentions is a growing trend and most brands today want to be part of this trend. According to them, the success of the brand plug depends heavily upon how the RJ carries it forward to the listeners.


Rajneesh Chaturvedi, National Director, MEC Access observed: “RJ Mentions have a high brand recall. It is a form of branded content, therefore, brand recall is more than the regular radio spots. It is another way of communicating brand proposition, and certainly not misleading.”


Echoing similar thoughts, R Venkata Subramanian, Senior Director-Investments, MPG India noted: “RJ Mentions are very effective for brands, as the brand definitely has a higher brand recall value.”


Ajay Rao, Vice President, Dentsu expressed a similar feeling: “It depends on the RJ and the manner in which he plugs the brand. If done in a relatable way, it could establish the benefit which the brand strives to deliver.”


In this confused scenario, where neither the client nor the player wants to let go of the enterprising opportunity, it would require the intervention of an industry body to decide what would be the ethical way to go about doing business. On being asked, Uday Chawla, Secretary General, Association of Radio Operators for India (AROI) informed that AROI is working on a Content Code for radio. Mr Chawla stated that listeners should be made aware whether any recommendation is a sponsorship or advertisement and if not, it should be clearly stated that this is a personal view of the presenter or the RJ. “Sponsorship and advertising are the main revenue models for any media vehicle. Hence sponsorship, if stated clearly as such, is fine. However, surrogate advertising and recommendation is an issue, and clear ethical guidelines for journalism and presenters need to be defined, which should be applicable for all media, including radio which should not be singled out,” he stated.


Mr Chawla’s stance probably sums up what the radio industry needs to do on the future around RJ Mentions. It is only a matter of time before rules are formulated to define the practical from the unethical.

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