Radio 6 Music is probably the best station in the world for educating people about, and entertaining people with, interesting music. Unfortunately, the BBC Trust has proposed to kill the station as part of cutbacks. This is being done as a precursor to further expected forced cuts once a Conservative government is elected into power in the next few months.

Ok, now you have the background. If you would like more information, there is a plethora of articles on this story from respected journalists (just Google “6 music” and hit the news button). I’m not a respected journalist, so I’ll try to give you a brand-brain answer to explain why a public corporation that is supposed to be dedicated to providing entertainment that would otherwise not flourish in the commercial world, is proposing to kill a station that does just that.

The answer is: Procter and Gamble, and the number 6.  P&G wrote the book on brand management.  In the last 10 years they adjusted the one-brand-for-every-product approach. They have reduced (a) the number of brands they sell and (b) their total number of product lines. It’s a simple argument: the human brain can only handle so many choices, so if a multi-product company can simplify a consumer’s selection process, it should do so. If you have a strong detergent brand like Tide (Ariel equivalent in North America) then don’t introduce a new brand for your cheaper line; just call it Tide Basic.  If you have a strong toothpaste brand like Crest, then don’t introduce a new brand for your baking soda toothpaste; call it Crest baking soda.

What does this have to do with the BBC? Their director of music and entertainment, Tim Davie, is a P&G Brand Management veteran, and also former Marketing Director at Pepsi. He is applying brand architecture principles to a problem that requires much more subtlety.

Here’s your cheat sheet for the BBC radio brand architecture:

Screen shot 2010-03-11 at 10.30.53

The points Mr. Davie has made are:

  1. 6 Music is distinctive. But 6 Music listeners, especially around the average age of 37, have alternatives available on commercial radio. So the station’s offering is unique, but there are other stations that target generic 37 year olds?
  2. Radio 7, another digital-only station with similar listener figures to 6 Music will be re-branded as 4 Xtra. This way they can cross-promote, all under the Radio 4 brand.
  3. 1Xtra, even though it has lower listener figures than 6 Music, gets to stay on as an extension of the Radio 1 brand. Again, Davie brings up the fact that cross-fertilization will make it work.

Mr. Davie is thinking of brand category spectrums

Screen shot 2010-03-11 at 09.41.08

It jars Mr. Davie’s brand brain that his music brands are 1 to 3, his news brands are 4 and 5, and suddenly 6 is another music brand.

In a way, he has a point; it is difficult to promote 6 Music without the subconscious mental connection to his bigger music brands. But the answer is not to kill the station. The answer is to fix the BBC Radio brand architecture and find £6 Million savings somewhere else in the BBC lineup (probably killing some BBC 3 TV properties and not buying certain American shows that Rupert Murdoch or Channel 4 would end up buying anyway).

There have been grumblings in the blogosphere about how 6 Music should just become 2 Xtra.  This would be a bad idea. Radio 2 is an older brand that has been asked to have (a) less music and (b) more appeal to listeners over 65.

My answer is to create Radio 1.6

a)    The station would be focused on great music, rather than MTV music

b)   It would keep the heritage of 6Music with the number 6

c)    It stays firmly within the Music brand spectrum of the BBC Radio brand architecture

d)   It would be connected to the Radio 1 brand, to allow for cross-promotion, especially in the direction from 1 to 1.6

e)    It’s “higher” than 1, indicating older-than-teen audiences might be interested

f)     It’s “lower” than 2, indicating it’s more about music, and it’s not an oldies station.

Screen shot 2010-03-11 at 10.03.56

And for those who don’t like the idea of a decimal, I have one alternative. 6 Music was created with the spirit of the late John Peel, a Radio 1 DJ who was passionate with playing great music, and introducing the world to the best new music. As a tribute, why not BBC Radio 1JP?

Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. Genius!
    Please inform Mr Davie of your proposed solution – I’m sure he’d consider it.
    As their ‘cuts’ aren’t cuts at all, merely an exercise in moving budgets around to create ‘better’ programmes, it shouldn’t be a problem to obtain the funding for this innovative new station.

  2. I just love the idea of Radio 1.6, although I suspect they wouldn’t go for it. What about Radio 1 Extra Plus?
    Conversely, get rid of Radio 3. At £27.2m per million listeners, does it offer value when compared to 6’s £8.6m per million listeners? Or just sell out, and stick some adverts on it. No one listens to them anyway.

  3. George, you’re thinking along similar lines to me. Only I think you’ve missed out a couple of key points (read up on the station remits on the BBC Trust’s website).

    The way I see it, stations 1 and 2 are ‘entertainment’ stations for those who are not well catered for by commercial radio (hence the veiled threats to R1 to look at it’s playlist and the requirement of R2 to look for an older demographic).

    Radio 3 on the other hand is a specialist music station with a limited audience and a high quality output. Exactly what 6 Music is… No idea what you’d call it though… 3+3?

  4. 3 + 3 is quite nice :-). Although 3-21st century might be more the trick.

  5. George, you actually turned me on to 6 music for the first time, f you remember…

    Can’t – even – use – brain – brains. Despair – setting – in.

    Whatever you guys decide, ok with me. 🙂 Just sell it to Mr. Davie, save the station.

  6. Can’t – even – spell.

    Brand brains, obviously, was the intention in above comment…

  7. I don’t think the BBC really know the true audience figures for 6 Music.

    I do a TV & Radio survey every day for a company called GFK (Growth from Knowledge) that I am 95% sure is paid for by the BBC because of the slant that supplementary questions take. Of course, I can’t prove this and it may be that the surveys are paid for by a number of organisations and that the BBC is only one of them, but for the last week or so the supplementaries have been about a different Radio 4 program each day.

    Anyway, the radio part of the survey covers all of the BBC radio stations from Radio 1 through to 5 Live and also my local BBC radio station, but none of the digital stations. So, if the survey is used by the BBC and it isn’t asking about the digitals, how can the BBC claim to know the audience figures with any degree of accuracy?

    I’ve seen this sort of thing many times before. Come up with some numbers that justify your argument. Present them to your audience with conviction, throw in a few graphs etc. Everyone assumes you know what you are talking about and the decision makers don’t question the ‘evidence’. (Now where have we seen that sort of thing in the last few years?)

    PS I’m 56 so if the average age of a 6 Music listener is 37 there must be at least 1 other listener who is aged 18. That’s quite an age range and I’m sure that neither Radios 1 or 2 could claim the same.

  8. George, it’s worth emailing Tim. I know he is public enemy number 3 at the moment but of all the top management at the BBC he has shown a willingness to acknowledge emails (the standard email format applies) and I have had a few interactions with him. He’s even said to me that he encourages debate and healthy protest.

    So it’s definately worth emailing him and asking for his thoughts on your proposals. I’m currently drafting my own alternative review (for all TV and radio stations). The thing is, if the Trust do reject the proposals they will need a Plan B. Feel free to email me if you wish to thrash ideas about.


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Brand Architecture, Brand Positioning, Brand Reminders


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