Monday, 2 June 2008

"What's Your Name Again?"

So Virgin Radio has been snapped up by Absolute Radio and their backers, The Times of India Group for £53.2 Million. First, congratulations to all the team at Absolute Radio International. Those who know them, or have worked with them, know what a first rate team they are both as owners and consultants. This particular UK national licence is safe in the hands of people who are passionate about radio. Good stuff.

The interesting thing about this deal is the decision to discontinue with the ‘Virgin Radio’ brand and launch a brand new radio brand. The BBC’s James Cridland has written a thoughtful article on his personal blog about the pros and cons of this decision, and comes to the conclusion that ditching the name is a good idea. Certainly, when I was Head of Music at Virgin in the late 90’s, the audience was over 4 Million and the Virgin brand had a lot more ‘media and consumer equity’ than it has now. So, with a war chest of £15 Million to re-launch this station… what’s this thing going to be called? How do you go about dreaming up a new name?

There are different tacks you can take. You can adopt the “Does What it Says on the Tin” approach, which delivers names like… Rock Radio, Classic FM, Planet Rock and The Jazz. You kind of know what you’re going to get even if you’d never listened to these before.

Then there’s the “Evokes a Mood” approach which gives us gems like… Smooth Radio, Easy, Chill, Beat and Vibe. This is more subtle, and yet nudges at expectation without being as direct. But you do have a hint at what you were going to get.

Then there’s the “Just Call It Something Cool” type of brand. For example… Kiss, Galaxy and Xfm. If you’d just touched down in the UK and had no prior knowledge of Galaxy, you’d have no reason to suspect it’s a Dance and RnB format aimed at under 30’s. But the name’s quite a good one nonetheless.

Of course the days of naming your station after a river are hopefully gone! Yes that’s right international readers… there are plenty of stations in the UK named after a local river!! As are the days of giving your station the Latin word for ‘undefeated’ which bore significance for William the Conqueror but isn’t that great as a radio brand. Come on down ‘Invicta FM’. We know who you are!

The only time I’ve been involved in naming a station was when I worked at Virgin Radio and we had been given a place on one of the London DAB multiplexes to fill with a ‘Soul and Disco’ station. The process involved the then Operations Director Andy Mollett saying “I’m going to toilet. When I come back I want you to have a name for this station”. And “The Groove” was born!! It has since died a death... but not, I believe, as a result of its name!

But the main point is this. In the long term, listeners won’t really care about what it’s called, as long as it delivers the content and music they want. Sure… some names are better than others, but we tend to only think a brand name is bad if the brand is bad. Bad brands make bad brand names. You can call a great brand whatever you want… people will still consume it.

Launching a new radio brand in the UK gives those who had lost faith with the old Virgin Radio a chance to reappraise the station under its new guise, and for those who love it as it is… it will be reinvented as perhaps something even better. I’ll bet you this though… It won’t be in Latin, named after a river, or decided upon during a toilet break!


James Cridland said...

The styles you've forgotten are the much beloved "river style" of early heritage stations (Radio Aire, Radio Forth, Radio Clyde, Radio Trent), the "frequency style" names (Elevenseventy, Mix 106, FM107.9), or the ludicrous "frequency style when you were on AM but now you're only on FM style" which 2Ten FM exemplifies.

When Pennine FM rebranded to The Pulse, the station spent three days without a name, which was hilarious. "You're listening to the radio" was one rather excellent link I remember hearing - commercial radio presenters totally incapable of not mentioning the radio station every link, top and tail.

For a youth brand, I think the name The Shit is well worthwhile, if only so you can say "This is The Shit, innit?" in a youth stylee. Can't see Ofcom going for it, somehow...

jaybs said...

Virgin Radio was never a format that appealed to me, just wish the UK could have heard "The Groove" - I was only ever to listen on the internet.

I do feel it is time for the station name change and I'm sure it would have been one of the conditions of the sale, not sure what name is best to adopt as I think the format is now so dated, the whole station needs a complete
overhaul and full re-branding.

Colin Kelly said...

In these multi platform times I think new stations should use .com in their names.

Very easy way to promote the web-site without even thinking, much more modern sounding than "FM" or "radio" and gets round the issue of mutiple frequencies.

Anonymous said...

Fictional US examples from the Queens of The Stone Age album 'Songs for The Deaf' which is basically a concept album based on a road trip. All US stations begin with 'K' or 'W' for some reason.

WOMB - The Womb
KRDL - The Curdle
KLONE - 'Clone radio, making sure every radio station in America sounds exactly the same'

Anonymous said...

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