Radio Advertising

By The Drum, Administrator

July 19, 2002 | 8 min read

McKay celebrates Radio Clyde’s win in the Big Apple

A fly on the wall watches the assembled group of media buyers deep in discussion. “Radio is known to be effective,” says one. “It can build brands, extend the life of campaigns, give flexibility and bring intimacy, mood and tone to communication,” says another. “However, creatively, it remains a major challenge.” They nod in unison.

Their arguments for featuring radio on a schedule appear logical and robust. However, they still voice concerns relating to the ability of their creative partners to use the medium effectively. In a nutshell, the use of radio as an advertising medium, it seems, is still seen as a dichotomy.

Having heard enough, our fly speeds off, out the window, to Clydebank. The smell of bacon rolls and fresh coffee attract it to another open window – the commercial production department of Radio Clyde. Like the media buyers, they too are gathered around a meeting table. The team, Dan McCurdy, Jimmy Docherty and Alison McKay, are in high spirits. McKay has just returned from New York and the glitz of Times Square, where she scooped an award at the New York Radio Festival – the Oscars of the radio world. A creative award, no less.

“The general perception of radio is that the quality of ad is lower than it should be,” says McCurdy. “I think that the radio industry has to take a fair share of the blame for that. It was never a high priority to make great radio ads. But I think that we have reversed that, certainly at Clyde. Clients want good radio ads, because if they get good radio ads they get effective campaigns.”

Craig McVittie, Scottish Radio Network Sales planning manager, joins the trio. He is quick to voice his opinion: “Bad ads stem from a lack of understanding of the medium. But the RAB has provided such support and guidance on the matter that really there is no excuse for dullness and predictability. The level of knowledge has increased dramatically and this has to be backed by a heightened level of confidence.

“There is no excuse. If agencies complain that they can’t write a good radio ad or cannot find the right people to do it, then perhaps the client is with the wrong agency.

“If you are going to make a TV ad, you would most likely utilise a TV director or someone who knows how to make a TV ad. If you were going to spend good money on a campaign you would probably employ the services of people who know what they are doing. But in a way radio has failed to do this. If you want to make a radio ad people will still sit down and write one – because everyone can write. If you want a radio ad why would you not employ the help of a script writer and radio producer?”

The radio renaissance is a relatively recent phenomenon and, although tremendous progress has been made, perceptions still lag reality in terms of radio’s status as an advertising medium. This can lead advertisers to believe, somewhat dangerously, that if things go wrong the damage inflicted on a brand will be less than with television, national newspapers and magazines. Continues McVittie: “If the creative isn’t right, it’s a double blow. If the creative is wrong then you are actually hitting the right people with the wrong message and you are doing it on a frequent basis, which is a disaster. Hitting people with the wrong message is even worse than hitting people with a lukewarm message.”

There are such things as good TV ads and bad TV ads. Likewise, there are good radio ads and bad radio ads. But perhaps the bad radio ads stand out more because they are so much more difficult to ignore than ads in newspapers, magazines and on television, suggests McCurdy: “It is another medium. If you use its strengths and weaknesses the same as you would on TV or press you’ll benefit.

“Radio is a frequency medium. Campaigns are planned to a certain level of frequency, which is much higher than press or television, typically. Therefore, an ad that might irritate is likely to get more exposure, so what we try to do is not only produce better ads, but a variety of ads, so that we can rotate the copy as well.”

McKay continues: “People don’t flick radio like they do television. RAJAR data indicates that promiscuity is much less prevalent than you might imagine. Generally you are doing other things when you listen to radio. It will be on in the background and you will hear the things that appeal to you, and it is our job to make commercials more creative so that people aren’t zoning in and out as much. We have to keep people interested.”

Although the perceived lack of glamour is a problem, it is not the main reason why radio is often neglected on the planners’ schedules.

“Making a radio commercial, you don’t get to go to the beach on location, we have all our locations right here,” says Jimmy Docherty, nodding behind him at the vast wall of CDs: “But to make a TV campaign you often need a lot of money. To make a radio campaign you don’t, and the fact that clients will continually pump their budgets into TV commercials seems to suggest that they don’t always feel comfortable with radio.

“TV is often seen as the easy option. Obviously, clients and agencies have their own reasons, but radio is a hard nut to crack creatively and the challenges are greater, but as a result of this the rewards of getting it right can be bigger still.”

And that is part of the problem, continues McVittie: “Agencies do not make the money on radio that they can make on TV. That is most certainly an issue. If they can shove a client on TV, then they will get a double dunt – they get the television creative mark-up and they get the television budget to go with it. The money is spent that much more quickly.

“What you have in Scotland is a very conservative ad industry. They are loath to be too adventurous. Advertisers will use STV, the Record, possibly the Scotsman, and that is what they have always done. They are innately conservative.

“There are still those who are wary of using radio, both conceptually and creatively. But we can target campaigns very closely. The sample sizes that we work with are generally bigger than other media. Therefore we can drill down and define more precisely. But having done that, it is absolutely crucial that the message is relevant, well executed, that it engages people and that they enjoy it as well as all of the other things that a good advertisement should make you do. Before, it was almost a case of hit and miss. But those days have long since gone.”

Radio is extremely close to the listener – they look upon it as a friend, something that is close to their world and constantly in touch with them. They rely on radio for their information and they trust that information – often they just don’t have this trust in television and print.

“We try to make radio advertising as easy as we can for people. It shouldn’t be difficult. Making a radio advert should be an easy thing to do,” finishes McCurdy.

“Perhaps where radio got a bad name was when sales people would come back with a brief, hand it to you and expect a script back that afternoon without you ever having met a client. But you have to get to know the people behind the business as well as the business itself to get a full understanding of them, their business and their strategy.”

As the bacon rolls are finished off and the coffee is drained the buzz in the room dies only to be replaced by the buzz of the curious on-looker. As it flies out the window it is followed by a simple phrase, which perhaps sums up the whole discussion – “There are no limits on the radio. The only limits are the boundaries of listeners’ imaginations.”


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