The Power of Vernacular Radio


The world speaks English these days, but true local resonance means speaking to people with the subtlety of reference and expression that simply can’t be imitated. New Yorkers sound like they’re from New York. Bostonians sound like they’re from Boston.

And marketers who want to reach audiences in these places need to understand that.

This phenomenon is what one media observer calls “vernacular language.” Chris Botha writes: “Vernacular language media brings with it something incredibly powerful. It speaks to a person’s core, their culture, the deepest part of their being. It elicits emotions and feelings in a way that no other media can.”

Of course, Botha is talking about a culture halfway around the world in South Africa, but the lessons are still the same. Botha notes that, despite being bilingual, there is a certain emotive force behind radio in his native South African tongue (called Afrikaans, an offshoot of the Dutch language) instead of English.

But the point is, we love to hear language that reminds us of home. Whether that means a familiar Southern twang on your favorite Country station or the language that you grew up speaking to your parents, vernacular radio delivers something that national broadcasts just can’t. And this is what the power of local is all about.

But when advertisers try to paint broad strokes with their campaigns, these local markets can be left out. People tend to think that  the “neutral” American accent of your typical newscaster speaks to all people everyone, but this isn’t always true. Similarly, ad campaigns that strive for the vanilla vernacular to reach the broadest possible audience are often making a mistake.

So how can advertisers take advantage of vernacular radio’s potential?
Of course one tactic is to run ads that speak in the accent of your target demographics. While this can be a tough job on a national scale, local radio provides a great outlet for reaching communities with common cultures and vernaculars. And radio also offers the possibility of native advertising, where established personalities with a connection to their audience are already speaking their language.

Vernacular radio is a powerful tool here at CBS Radio, and with the enormous digital distribution of our stations and shows, it’s becoming easier for an Angeleno in California or a Southerner in NYC to listen to the language that reminds them of home. And for the millions of college students about to return to school in the coming weeks, we can only hope that tuning into their favorite hometown station will bring make them feel a little closer to home.