Why Radio 6 smells like salad cream

The current campaign to keep Radio 6 reminds me of the campaign a few years ago to keep Heinz salad cream. Heinz threatened to stop making salad cream, because it had fallen in popularity, and this made headlines for a few days. People who had not bought salad cream for years suddenly became all nostalgic about the taste of their childhoods, and a campaign was launched to save salad cream. Of course, when we look behind the scenes here, we can see that this must have been a great big PR stunt - companies stop making products all the time if they stop producing enough profit for them, and it doesn't make headline news. In the normal course of events, salad cream would have just disappeared from the shelves, and the 5 people who were still buying it would have just not been able to find it anymore, and they too would have switched to eating mayonnaise. In order to make headline news, someone had to have engineered the PR. Someone had to write a press release about Heinz stopping making salad cream, and get journalists interested in the story. And of course, this had to happen before the end of production, so that people could then rush to the shops and buy the noxious yellow stuff.

With all the fuss about Radio 6, we see a number of the same elements. We have a product which has disappointing levels of sales, or in this case listeners. I regularly listen to Radio 6, and had been very surprised to find out a few weeks before that the listener figures were so low. The brilliant Adam and Joe show on Saturday mornings was the most popular show, but only had 160,000 listeners, and some of the other shows only had around 5000. So, the BBC has a problem child, their little radio station is a bit of a runt. And they're doing a strategic review and have to think about whether this is the best use of their money.

I'm not sure whether the campaign was started as part of an official marketing strategy by the BBC, it seems more likely that as rumoured, it was started by a BBC employee - I'm guessing someone who works at Radio 6. Radio 6 has been promoted to millions of people who have probably never heard of it or thought of listening before. And I bet that their listener numbers have jumped this week just as dramatically as the sales figures for salad cream did when Heinz threatened to stop making it. In marketing terms, there are few techniques as effective as making people feel that they might have something taken away from them.

So I can admire this as a marketing technique, and you can argue that the ends justify the means, if Radio 6 is saved and lots of new people get to listen to a wider mix of music. But I'm not convinced that this is an ethical way to do things, so I won't be wearing any Radio 6 ribbons just yet.


Julia Chanteray is a business expert and mentor. She runs The Joy of Business, helping smaller companies grow into bigger and more successful companies. Julia was the resident business expert on Channel 4’s Risking It All programme, and regular speaks and writes on business issues.
She has spent her life running companies, from social enterprises to high growth technology businesses, and over the past few years has ...

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