News & Views

Modern classics

Transform Magazine (Apr 2020)

Bauer Radio worked with Thinkfarm to launch a new station in an unchallenged category. Now, Scala Radio is making classical music relevant to modern life, and winning Transform Awards in the process Classical music is not fixed in time. It can be found across eras, across media, across geographies. It doesn’t appeal only to a single age group, but it can appeal to all age groups. And it has been somewhat underrepresented in the UK radio landscape.

In March 2019, that changed with the launch of Bauer Media’s Scala Radio. “It’s established a new station out there for which I think there was a massive gap. It’s a product that’s gone out there with a strong sense of itself and of the audiences it serves,” says brand consultancy Thinkfarm’s managing director Stephen Izatt. The station established itself as an alternative to the two established classical radio options while reinventing the way in which classical music can be represented visually. The project gained two golds, a silver and a bronze award at the 2020 Transform Awards Europe in addition to taking home the premier prize of the night, the ‘Grand prix.’

But it wasn’t a sure thing from the outset. With a difficult naming process and the need to clarify the positioning carefully, Thinkfarm helped Bauer ensure Scala Radio’s brand would be consistent and communicative across every touchpoint.

Though the process began with Bauer deciding it wanted to launch a classical station, the experience Thinkfarm was able to bring, based on its work with other Bauer properties like Magic, a past Transform winner, Absolute Radio, Hits Radio and others, enabled it to craft a strategic position that worked in context. And, because of the launch’s unique positioning, it was able to build creativity into the brand from the beginning. “As this was a totally new brand and station, we had limited comparisons to make. However, this meant excellent creativity free from pre-conceived ideas and opinions,” says Clare Baker, national brands marketing director for Bauer and Scala Radio.

The strapline, ’Classical music for modern life’ delivered the station’s positioning and facilitated the development of the brand. By juxtaposing ‘classical’ and ‘modern,’ brand consultancy Thinkfarm was able to bring a source of tension into the brand, generating a distinction between high notes and low, ups and downs. This idea was carried forth across the visual and audio identities. “They’re not opposites,” Izatt says, “It’s a partnership.” Creative director Mark Norton adds, “You get that lovely tension; old and new, formal, informal. That way you get to unlock all kinds of stuff.”

The positioning unlocked a sense of freedom in the brand. It was able to extend beyond the tropes and clichés prevalent in classical music. Visually, this meant use of Op Art styling; aurally, it was a high-to-low rendering of ‘scaaa-laaaa.’ In terms of programming, Scala Radio can do what other classical stations do so well and bring in new listeners from other genres of music. It contextualises classical music, making it relevant to modern lives. “There’s an incredible amount of classical music in gaming,” Izatt says. “And of course, we know about film scores. Classical music is actually quite relevant today and is part of people’s lives in some ways that they don’t even notice.”

Doing so opens up the audience from existing classical listeners – of which there are some five plus million in the UK – to music fans of all varieties open to understanding more. “There’s an audience there who wanted to access classical music in a different way,” Izatt says, with Norton adding, “There’s clearly an audience out there that is ready for something else. That was key.” Baker seconds this, citing the personalities of the presenters and the way in which the station is “showcasing classical music through the lens of modern life,” as a means of making it “a place where everyone is welcome.”

The next step in developing the brand was to pin down a name. This could’ve been as straightforward as selecting a musical term, a musician or a single work and using that as the brand’s name. But Thinkfarm wanted to ensure the brand would be diverse and open to all audiences, while retaining the notion of modern relevance. A working name was discarded early on in the process because it was deemed too masculine.

Then, a logical leap led to an answer.

“We thought, ‘Let’s not think of it as a persona. Let’s not think of the music itself. Let’s think of the place in which this happens,” Izatt says. That led to the arguable leader in live classical music, La Scala. In ‘scala’ there were many benefits. It is a word relevant to the wider cultural scene as it has been adopted by theatres and cinemas. It means ‘scale,’ fitting in with the high-low brand positioning. It was a short word which was useful for social media applications, and best of all, it wasn’t registered. Baker says, “Scala translates as ‘scales’, escalating and descending melodies at the heart of music, old and new. Classical music for modern life, reflecting the tone of the station with the diversity of our line-up and music offering.”

An audio brand was built out from the word ‘scala’ and Thinkfarm got to work on the brand visuals. Norton calls Scala “A classical radio station for old punk rockers,” a characteristic which allowed it to ‘denormalise.’ “You don’t have to look for classical visual references. Creatively, it opened lots of doors,” he says.

Another visual motive was to examine the use of music throughout the big moments in history. “If you look at some of the big pieces,” Norton says, “They relate to the struggles of society and revolution and war. The highs and lows become a very crucial thing. That found its way into the visual and campaign work.” The visuals themselves are loud – with bold colours and big sweeping curves, blocky typefaces, and attention-grabbing graphics – as well as subtle – with the scale deployed for consistency and unity and a simple power derived from the use of language.

To implement the new brand, Scala Radio put its brand to work in the physical environment. By plastering the environs of London’s Waterloo Station, wrapping Hackney cabs and delivering large-scale out-of-home graphics, the brand was essentially following through on its promise. It was delivering classical music within the context of modern life.

This simple idea was enough to unleash the brand; to bring it to life by bringing it into modern life.

Transform Awards judges were impressed with this clear positioning and the impact it had on all aspects of the brand, from the development of the brand’s objectives to its implementation. One judge said it was “unarguably smart, relevant and clear. Great to see how the name then informed the whole creative identity, from audio to visual.”

The result has yielded positive results thus far for Bauer. Baker points to the Transform Awards wins, commercial partnership launches and standout Rajar figures as proof of the launch’s success.
The launch of Scala Radio not only made classical music relevant to modern life, but by reinterpreting the role classical has to play for its audiences – locating it in games, in film, in other genres of music, in sport – it might have also made modern life relevant to classical music.

© Transform magazine

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