Nova's marketing chief on new campaign, balancing nostalgia with fresh thinking

Nova's chief programming and marketing officer talks through the new Nova marketing campaign, return of the Nova Boy character and how to constantly adapt to suit changing consumer sentiments

Nova and smoothfm may seem like strange bedfellows, but the two represent distinctive, complementary approaches to a growing desire for radio stations to be upbeat and provide both a mix of contemporary and nostalgic tunes for listeners.

That’s at least how Nova’s chief programming and marketing officer, Paul Jackson, describes the brand positioning and programming approach he’s applying to the two brands this year. The comments came as the experienced radio executive took the wrappers off Nova’s latest marketing campaign, work that brings back the iconic Nova Boy character in a fresh 3D form after a six-year absence.

The new Nova marketing campaign re-introducing Nova Boy and featuring the tagline, ‘Turn up the feed good’ debuts nationally across multiple platforms from 18 April 2021. The core TVC features both Nova Boy and presenters across Nova’s breakfast and drive-time shows and is complemented by use of Joel Corry’s smash hit and upbeat song, ‘Head and heart’.

The campaign is the biggest Nova has done on television so far and led by TVCs across 7, 9, 10, SBS, Foxtel, Kayo, BVOD as well as cinema advertising. It’s also supported by a transit and out-of-home campaign which sees the iconic Nova Boy animated character placed in everyday moments.

Taking on the CMO mantle

Jackson has an 11-year tenure on Nova’s brands and joined the radio group as group programming officer. Before that, he was in the UK running group programming at Capital FM and helping grow the Johnny and Lisa Breakfast Show into the number one FM position in London. He also was group program director and chief executive for a time at Virgin Radio.

In August 2019, Jackson also inherited Nova’s marketing leadership, a position formerly occupied by CMO, Tony Thomas.

Jackson told CMO many of his prior roles saw programming and marketing under his remit. And even before taking on marketing at Nova, Jackson has worked in tandem with its marketing team on campaigns, product positioning and brand narrative. Most notable of these is launching smoothfm in May 2012.

Bringing programming and marketing under one leader at Nova in 2019 ensures every idea and conversation is undertaken by programming, marketing and promotions together, rather than marketing coming in once an idea is formed, Jackson said.

Radio rethink

One of Jackson’s first jobs since taking up the marketing leadership reins was giving the smoothfm brand a new personality, look and feel.

In its first seven years of operations, smooth increased by over 200 per cent to 1.838 million listeners across Sydney and Melbourne, and Jackson said it has been the station with the highest 25-34-year-olds listeners a few times over that time. Yet audience sentiment showed a need to move away from the predominant ‘relax’ proposition and imagery and bring in more of an upbeat personality to suit growing demand for ‘feel good’ stations, Jackson said. This would also help smooth appeal more to the 30-40-year-old demographic.

The work led to a refreshed brand logo and visual look, introduction of Robbie Williams as the new face of the smoothfm brand, and a reinvigorated programming approach which has also seen the brand develop new digital radio stations including smoothfm Relax, smooth 80s and smooth 90s.

“People liked the relaxing element of smoothfm, but we were overplaying it. In fact, the audience is up and about with the kids, doing school runs and life is busy,” Jackson said. “Male or female, they often feel overloaded by life’s pressures all week. Smooth was where they got to singalong and it just made them feel good. But they don’t really get to relax most times.

“We had a wow moment recognising we had to balance that. It’s a relaxing environment because it’s clutter-free, but they’re not lying back on the sofa doing nothing, which was the original iteration. So we evolved.”

Constant adaptability

Such recognition of changing audience sentiments – notably the emphasis on upbeat - is why Jackson now sees smoothfm and Nova as “two sides of the same coin”.

“We have to adapt constantly to the moment we are in. Where we are musically today might not be what people want in six months,” he said. “During COVID, there was absolutely a desire for music that just made you feel good and were familiar with. That proposition of fresh plus throwback was very important. Three or four years before, there were several A-list stars with great records behind them and having fresh hits in the proposition was what all people wanted.”

Today, both musically and tonally, it’s also very clear: People want upbeat, Jackson continued. “People use the same keys words in our research – upbeat, keep it fun, good times, make the day brighter. That means a feel good tone for both Nova and smoothfm is vital,” he said.  

“But we need to deliver that tone in different ways. We decided to make Smooth and Nova opposite sides of the same coin.”

To do this, Smoothfm moved from relaxing to making you feel good and brighten you day up. “Things are a bit tough, we recognise that, and we have an arm around you to help you feel good. But approaching that brightness in a different way,” Jackson said.

By contrast, Nova is younger, focused on music hits, has its Red Room live shows proposition, high personality shows and is all about turning up the ‘feel good’.

Jackson said he’s happy for audiences to “move up and down the dial from one station to another” as a result. “We appreciate people want change, across the week, month, different times or by moods,” he said.  

This is also the reason why Nova has developed a suite of Nova and Smooth stations available via mobile apps. Jackson pointed out smoothfm Relax reflected programming more in line with smooth’s on-air original offering from 2012-2015.

“We’ve taken same approach with Nova with 90s, noughties, tens and throwbacks – and we will continue to develop into other genres as well,” Jackson said.

“I believe that is the future. And that requires building strong brands. Your motherbrand needs to be very clearly defined to give you permission to go into other areas.”  

Bringing back Nova Boy

Enter Nova’s new brand campaign. Go back two years and the way Nova was presented was largely through artists like Ed Sheeran or show talent.

“Doing the smooth work made us all start to think Nova differently and our approach,” Jackson said. “We have been good at running our own race, so we asked ourselves internally: What can we do to differentiate and excite our listeners a bit more and go beyond what everyone else is doing? You want that chemical reaction in the brain so when they see Nova, they get that emotive feeling.

“We saw something was missing that was emotive. It’s not being emotional in the approach, it was just that we were one-dimensional. That is what led us back to the iconic Nova Boy.”

Nova Boy was a key asset in Nova’s launch 20 years ago and remained front and centre for a decade. The character was only dropped after a big brand refresh in 2015.

“At that point Nova was seen as more of a male brand that was young and irreverent. We wanted to evolve to be more straight down the middle, mass radio. So the Nova Boy was taken out of the frontline marketing,” Jackson said.  

“We thought given the period we are in now, if we get this right, the emotive reaction of this brand icon could be significant. We then tried ways of bringing his back, but none of them felt right. Then we hit on the idea of 3D and doing animation.”

Credit: Nova

Nova Boy’s iconic and distinctive character provides a vehicle to drive Nova’s brand personality and difference, Jackson said. 3D animation also means Nova Boy can be brought to life in the office to events, in the car and at home.  

“Based on the research we did around the sentiment of the character, people who know Nova Boy will recognise it and love it. But there will also be people who won’t know the character but have been listening to Nova over the last six years,” Jackson said. “There is a mix of talkability and getting excited about something that’s new and different, but it’s also nostalgic.”

Nostalgia factor

Jackson agreed during the height of the COVID pandemic, nostalgia has been amplified.

“Even with listeners wanting something new, there is a greater desire for throwbacks and music they know and love. That may just be the musical cycle we’re in right now – a lot of big artists haven’t put records out yet, and a lot of new artists are not putting out releases yet,” he commented.

“It’s no accident Dua Lipa’s latest album is ‘Future Nostalgia’, other artists like Bruno Mars and throwing back to disco of 1970s and 1980s.”

At the same time, it’s a fine balance meeting everyone’s needs through one core brand proposition. “We are all so individual, running our own race and we have so much choice. Trying to program radio stations for everyone is very hard,” Jackson said.

“You have to be very clear about your product positioning and what you will get. If you love Smooth or Nova and trust us, we will then deliver you 10 types of stations covering all the genres. That is the way we have to approach it.

“But if you haven’t got a national brand that’s trusted in the first place, you’re going to find it much harder to push forward.”

The new Nova marketing campaign debuts nationally on 18 April 2021. Jackson said heavy weighting on TV was a no-brainer.

“With Australia coming into a winter period, and with big shows coming with big engagement, it’s a great spot to reach people of all ages,” he said.  

This is being supported with a transit campaign, a proven effective channel for Nova, plus a smattering of out-of-home advertising across shopping centres and gyms. All feature 3D Nova Boy animations aimed at bringing the character back to life.

“We can put Nova Boy in so many occasions and work with clients,” Jackson said. “For example, he’s holding carrier bags in the graphic in shopping malls – they could be branded Coles or Woolies. He can do anything in any situation.

“We also work with football teams across the country, and you can imagine Nova Boy in stadiums on advertising. In areas we’d otherwise just put our name up in, this is emotive and a bit of a game-changer.”  

Over time, Jackson said his team will reprioritise and change the balance of channels to ensure an ongoing schedule of engagement. The campaign is being undertaken in partnership with Red Engine and Carat.

Of course, Nova still needs to produce shows good enough for people to engage with in the first place.

“But if we have clarity of the brands and what we stand for in people’s minds, present ourselves in the right way with that trusted brand, and perform against that core essence of making you feel good – we have to live and breathe all the values –we’re giving ourselves the best possible chance,” Jackson added.  

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