Monday, 10 October 2011

Are radio ads getting better?

Is it unkind to quote the words of the first ad ever heard on Pennine Radio (Bradford) when it launched in 1975?  Probably.  Ah well.
It was for the Telegraph and Argus.  I’ll cut to the highlights, just when Mum starts getting really enthusiastic:
(Mum) “There’s always plenty of local news. Births; marriages; deaths; all small ads; and all sorts of articles on offer at a fiver an under.
(Daughter) ‘Mum, please remind me to take a copy ‘ome tonight. I know Bill’ll enjoy its sports news, so there’ll be summat for both of us.
(Mum) There’ll be something there for everybody, Sue. It always pays to take the T and A."

Click and have a listen if you don't believe me!
Bradford T and A - Pennine (mp3)

It’s taken a few years of making radio ads, but we’ve thankfully got past that stage where ‘people in the street’ volunteer an unhealthy knowledge about a product:  ‘and they’re open Thursdays 'til late’; ‘Really’; ‘Yes’. ‘What’s that phone number again?’.
As I write those words, it occurs to me how long ago it was that radio ads sounded like that.  Sadly, though, the perception remains that radio ads are naff.  The contrary is true. Whilst I have long thought that those creating radio ads could learn something from radio station imagers; I now feel the traffic should wisely be two way.
I have heard persuasive, brilliant commercial material of late.  Skilfully written; beautifully produced.  World class.  Compare the Market; Xbox; John Frieda: the list of current excellent creative is a long one.
We still need to do more to demonstrate the power of great ads; and to salute those who write and produce the Nation’s best.   I believe that UK radio advertising creative is reaching an all time high. Maybe the focus of winning business in an ever tougher climate has pushed our medium to prove itself more; or maybe, at last, our great industry is coming of age.
Of course, I am going to praise some home-grown fruit here, but I genuinely think we have produced some impressive material.  Our writers and producers grasp the potential.  The Worcester Racecourse campaign moved me: it was about winning and victory.  Powerful themes.  Some of the local further education material has been equally potent: real people talking.
There’s still room for improvement, of course.  One can smell a script written by someone who fails to understand radio from a mile away.  Thankfully, the CD with the Mastermind theme tune has been stolen. I think I stole it, actually. 

Can we also ban any ad which contains the words ‘thirty seconds’: ‘We’ve just got thirty seconds to tell you about’?  And, if you are even thinking about having the sound effect of pseudo-talkback, please, go and work elsewhere.  How many listeners know what talkback is?  These two devices spring from minds which cannot think beyond the carriage.  
Forget thirty seconds.  Forget talkback.  Forget studios.  Remember what radio is great at.  You have not bought thirty seconds; you have bought a space in someone’s mind – now take them on a journey.  Radio loves story telling.  Radio is great with real people’s voices.  Lean on what radio does best and you’ll create engaging, effective spots.

I gripped my steering wheel in anger on the M42 the other day when I heard a major national retailer boast discounts on ‘hundreds of lines’.  I’d love to meet the woman who returns from a shopping trip, laden with bags, boasting to her friend about the ‘discounts on all lines’ she had uncovered.  Those copy-writers would presumably have penned lines like: “We’ll employ force dispersal wherever we meet combatants’ for Churchill in 1940.  Words matter.  We would have likely lost the will to win the War without them.
Every programmer is fully aware of the power of the radio medium.  We know listeners will engage with us exactly as they would a friend.  The same language, the same closeness.  They talk to us about their good times, and the bad times.  I know I am not the only person in radio who has had a hand in pointing a listener in the right direction when their world seems a particularly dark place.  We know they feel that way because of the words we say each day.  The words in ads are potentially just as powerful.  A great copy-writer understands the relationship between listener and station.  It talks to them, not at them. 
DM here to ‘Call me Dave’. Dave, mate, can you tidy up the pathetic rules which require us to broadcast gobbledegook at the end of ads. No credit agreement is signed purely as a result of hearing an ad, for goodness sake. Yeah? Rgds.
Put your hand up if you are a great voice-over.  Keep your hand up if you are also a gifted actor.  Let’s cast the right people for the right jobs.
I’m not being snooty, by the way. We do need to flog stuff - and a memorable audio identity cuts through.  Jingles can really work.  We all know what two things Autoglass do: you have just brought their verbs to mind.  We need these ads to work, not just win awards. You have got to hear 'The Hungry Horse' on brmb.
The fact that Gav Jenks from Autoglass has thousands of Twitter followers tells its own story.  Listeners now are engaging with him directly long after a campaign has finished.  It’s still a shame he’s left Brum, though.
And when we’re finished, let’s be proud of what we’ve done.  We deserve to be.  Let’s play them on nice speakers and in a context.  I am sure no-one wheeling out a new TV ad to those they need to influence would play it on a black and white 14” screen with naff speakers.
So, here’s my official support, for what it’s worth, to the RAB in their quest to make the final step forward to World-leading radio creative which convinces cynical media buyers that our medium is exceptional.  No medium engages as powerfully as radio, and your brand can hop on our backs if you play the game with skill.
Did I mention free parking?
Follow me on Twitter @davidlloydradio

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