For country listeners,
it's God and country
A look at their values in post-Sept. 11 America
By Gabriel Spitzer
In the campaign for the hearts and minds of country radio listeners, advertisers should consider appealing to God and country.
A new study from Edison Research shows that country listeners are patriotic and family-oriented, but only slightly more conservative than the general population.
The study, "Winning the Country Music Campaign," uses a novel methodology. Edison recruited Democratic and Republican political pollsters to conduct the research, bringing to bear the techniques of a campaign poll.
The results expand the notion of qualitative data to encompass country listeners’ views and values, including what they like about country radio and country music in general.
This last distinction is important, as the country radio audience and the people who buy country music records are not the same.
For one, the radio audience skews slightly older: 56 percent of frequent country radio listeners are 50 or older, compared to 50 percent of frequent country music buyers.
Surprisingly, the radio listeners lean Republican, with 37 percent favoring the Republican party and 34 percent favoring the Democrats, while country music buyers lean Democratic, with 39 percent preferring the Democratic party and 35 percent preferring the Republicans.
Country radio listeners like the format because it is "generally positive" and has a "comfortable style," while music buyers are more interested in particular performers and the genre’s upbeat, fun style.
Both groups agree that what they like most about country music is that it is "sincere" or "keeps it real."
This attribute, coupled with the overall values that both groups said were most important to them—religion (44 percent), family (40 percent) and compassion (32 percent)—would seem to make the country format a smart advertising vehicle post-Sept. 11.
"Country music is especially well-positioned in the post-Sept. 11 world," says Joe Lenski, executive vice president of Edison Media Research.
"The values the listeners rate at the top are religion, family and compassion. When you ask them what attributes they apply to country music, they're sincerity, keeping it real, and telling stories. So if you want to use a vehicle that’s rated high for sincerity and realism, those are values listeners attribute to country music."
Lenski says that media buyers ought to take into account the sort of information this research has uncovered about listeners.
"To buyers, qualitative data means income, buying habits and so on. Maybe advertises and buyers should expand that definition to use what political campaigns use, which is, what values do the listeners hold? Maybe I have a product I want to associate with family, sincerity and religion. Then country radio is a good vehicle to use," Lenski says.
Moreover, country radio listeners overwhelmingly support the new patriotic bent that country radio has taken since Sept. 11.
Seventy-six percent said they like the more patriotic themes, music and promotions on country radio stations, and want them to continue. Just 19 percent said they had had enough.
This kind of research may be especially pertinent in uncertain times.
"From the advertisers’ perspective, they’re being very sensitive right now to the way Americans feel about these types of things," says Mary Ann Slepavic, vice president of research at Interep. Slepavic has conducted a number of studies for Interep about the country music radio format.
Comparing country music purchasers to country radio listeners, it quickly becomes apparent that country radio has not fully tapped into the genre’s fan base.
"Radio is under-performing the music as a whole," Lenski says. "To music fans, country radio tends to sound artificial and slick."
That slickness evidently doesn’t sit well with the music buyers, who rate sincerity or "keeping it real" as country music’s most important attribute.
"You see that too in the statistics," says Lenski. "While music sales are down, radio listening seems to be in a steeper decline. There’s always this debate at the country radio seminars: the stations blame Nashville and say, get us some hits. And the Nashville labels say, we have the music, you just aren’t playing it."
Among both listeners and purchasers, 68 percent said they had positive feelings toward "country music," while 9 percent said they had negative feelings, for a net positive of 59 percent.
That makes it slightly more popular than "country music radio stations," with a net positive of 53 percent, and "today’s country singers," which garnered a net positive of 51 percent.
Of the 11 items on this portion of the survey, only one out-rated the country music items: George W. Bush, with a net positive of 64 percent.
The study is based on a sample of 1,009 respondents, surveyed between Feb. 2 and Feb. 4. Non-radio listeners and people who said they both never bought country music albums and never listened to country radio were screened out. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.2 percent, at 95 percent confidence.
March 8, 2002 © 2002 Media Life
-Gabriel Spitzer is a staff writer for Media Life.