The Forgotten Power of Audio

This is, we are told, the era of video. Of images. Of YouTube and Instagram and Vine and .gifs. I don't disagree with that. But do consider this Super Bowl ad, which was my personal favorite and indisputably one of the most powerful ads to air during the big game:

Please watch it.

Then, press play again and close your eyes.

I don't think I am going out on a limb here if I suggest that it was every bit as powerful without the images as it was with them. Consider Hal Riney's voiceover in this spot, which defined Ronald Reagan's campaign (and again, I encourage you to close your eyes):

If you work with brands day to day as I do, you know that storytelling and content are more crucial than ever. But with all the focus on the tech aspects of storytelling, and the tools we use to distribute those stories, we must never forget that the atomic unit of branding is the story, no matter who tells it, or how it is told.

Audio is an enormously powerful medium. I don't know how many banner ads you can recall, but I bet you can hum the jingle for Intel, or sing "We Are Flintstones Kids" and "Oh, What A Feeling To Drive…Toyota" or sing the Big Mac jingle without much prompting. Audio tells stories every bit as powerfully as video, and while Chrysler may have co-opted this extraordinary Paul Harvey speech, it should serve as a reminder to the rest of us that great audio storytelling isn't about platforms or technology or even audio quality--it's about the storytellers.

Today, we have online music providers that aren't telling stories--they are just jukeboxes. Wheat truckers. We have some offline radio broadcasters who have responded to passive measurement by offering passive content, and trying to out-commodify today's online wheat truckers. That's not going to save radio, either online or offline.

Stories demonstrate the power of audio. Nothing is more powerful in the minds of consumers than stories. If you are one of my regular readers in the radio business, you know this, I hope. You can invest in streaming technology, online music curation algorithms, visual branding and social sharing technology. But never, ever forget that the power of audio branding lies with the story, not how that story is distributed.

To succeed in telling stories, we don't need to invest in cutting-edge streaming or podcasting platforms or collaborative filtering algorithms.

We need to find today's Paul Harveys.

I miss you, Paul Harvey. I hope the next Paul Harvey is out there. We need you.