Do you know what audio theater is? Does it make you think of something to do with speakers at a movie theater? Or maybe it’s a subset of home theater equipment. Or maybe you’re supposed to go to a play and shut your eyes.
It’s none of those. It’s what we used to call radio theater. (Or radio theatre, if you’re Canadian or British. Or a snooty purist.)
You know what radio theater is, right? Remember when Ralph and Randy sat in front of the big giant radio and listened to Little Orphan Annie? We all know what that is, even the people who only hear about it from their grandparents.
But the people who actually do radio theater want to call it “audio theater” instead. Why? Because people don’t listen to the plays on the radio anymore, they listen to them on CD players, iPods, computers, car stereos, etc.
So in order to be more accurate, they changed the name of the art form to more accurately reflect what it is that they produce.
And lost out on a large portion of their potential audience.
There are still plenty of people who used to listen to radio theater with money to spend, but they don’t spend it on the entertainment form from their childhoods because they don’t know it’s called “audio theater” now. Companies like Decoder Ring Theatre have worked hard to overcome this hurdle by being one of the most progressive and dedicated audio theatre troupes I’ve ever seen, embracing social media and Internet marketing, as well as podcasting. (Full disclosure: Decoder Ring Theatre produced and aired six of my Slick Bracer radio plays this summer.) But a lot of other companies have only seen a fraction of this success, and I believe it’s primarily because of this language disconnect between what is “correct” and what is “best.”
How many times have companies harmed their marketing efforts by insisting people call a term by what they want to call it, not what the customers want to call it? How many times have government agencies lost the respect and credibility they worked for, because someone who knows nothing about public communication insisted the agency use the accurate term, not the best term? How many news programs get laughed at because they try to change the commonly accepted term to something that better suits their political biases?
- An agricultural equipment company I know calls its products by the term they want to use, rather than the more common term their customer uses. This is evidenced by the 1,200 Google searches for their term, and the 20,000+ searches for the common term. While they may rank well for their chosen term, they don’t rank at all for the term their potential customers are using nearly 8 times more often.
- When the H1N1 epidemic flu first started, the public was calling it “swine flu,” but the media managed — with a lot of work — to get people to start calling it H1N1, because it was harming the pork industry. But the government agencies wanted to call it the human flu, and flu pandemic. Regardless of what they wanted to call it, the media ignored them
- Fox News’ insistence on calling suicide bombers “homicide bombers,” as per the Bush White House, made them a laughing stalk among journalists and news watchers.
If you’re not sure whether people are using your terms or theirs, go to Google’s Keyword Tool and put in your term and any industry terms you can think of. See which terms have the most global (worldwide) searches and the most local (US) searches. The ones that win are the ones most people are using, and the ones you should be focusing on.
Update: Deleted “Audio” from “Decoder Ring Audio Theatre” above, because despite being a loyal listener for 5 years, and now a contributor, I still can’t get their name right.