iStock 000005790096SmallMarketer Fred Catona’s claim to fame is a wildly successful advertising campaign for Priceline. Using radio ads back in 1998, his company was able to garner an unbelievable 2.2 million responses in under two weeks.

But would the same tactics work today? Catona spoke yesterday at Quorum as part of the University City Science Center’s Smart Talk series. His numbers are impressive. But then again, Priceline was founded sixteen years ago, before the advent of smartphones. Catona brushes away the idea of digital marketing and social media as effective tools for direct marketing sales. At the moment, he may be right, but the problem is not the moment. It’s the future.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism puts out an annual State of the News Media Report. The latest numbers are from 2013 and are based on Arbitron ratings. Catona has a valid point about radio. Ninety-two percent of Americans report that they still listen to some AM/FM radio. That’s down in the past decade, from 96 percent in 2001. Still, it’s an overwhelming majority, even if no one ever actually listens to the ads.

But look at what’s exploding, and this is where your campaign should be aimed. Because the radio listening population is graying. Only a small percentage of adults 18 to 29 are listening to news on the radio, while the numbers for digital consumption in that demographic are blowing up.

The car is where people are tuning in, but now it turns out that more listeners than ever are choosing to stream online content through their car audio systems. In just two years the number of online audio listeners has tripled, from 6 to 17 percent, and that’s a trend to watch. Online and mobile radio are projected to see the steadiest growth.

Catona’s strength is in interruptive advertising, and he’s got a tight formula for calling prospects to action. Direct response marketing is anything that ends in a plea to call a toll free number or visit a website.

There is an interesting intersection between this traditional marketing gambit and the new generation of content marketing. Turns out that the underlying rationale for messaging is pretty similar. Catona asks companies, “Who’s your enemy?” While most people would automatically respond with the name of a competitor, that’s not the real foe.

Rather, the enemy is conceptual. For Nike, the enemy is laziness. Hence the “Just do it” tagline. “Find out your customer’s enemy,” counsels Catona, who places a lot of importance on narrative to structure a sales pitch. “There’s a protagonist and an antagonist. The tension makes it interesting and gives it energy. It creates focus and passion when you have an enemy.”

Ultimately, while Catona is old school in his choice of outlets, his messaging strategy rings true for new school marketing. In creating the Priceline pitch, “Name your own price for an airline ticket,” Catona harnesses the most basic law of sales communication: customer empowerment. Telling someone that they can name their own price respects the target. It brings them in and hands the power over to them.

That’s exactly what content marketing is about. Rather than explaining what you can sell people, find out how you can best help them, and speak to that. Your prospects are probably not listening to the radio at this moment, but you can be sure they are online looking up every last detail of a potential purchase. Be there with the solution to their own personal demons.