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Radio advertising

By The Drum, Administrator

November 4, 2004 | 8 min read

The latest Rajar figures.

The Ad Awards can be a rude awakening for radio creativity. This year The Union was the only awarded agency in the radio categories ... for just one client. There were no nominations at all for radio adverts under 30 seconds.

But why, especially when budgets have been tight, while television has been fragmenting and press has been in a period of transition, is radio advertising not taking over? Why are creatives not clambering over each other for the radio briefs?

While radio’s share of the overall advertising mix continues to rise, it often remains to be seen as a difficult area for creatives. While it may be one of the most personal of media, it is also one of the hardest to do well.

David Isaac, joint creative director at Family, says: “What constrains radio creativity is the amount of information you are asked to put in ads. By the time you include five points in a 30-second ad, you only have about seven seconds left to do anything creative. Radio is an entertainment medium and the adverts should be likewise. If you get bogged down in detail your ad is dead (boring).

“Hence, length is often important – the longer your ad is, the longer you have for performance, timing and engagement. Most ads seem to be 30 to 40 seconds long. The best are usually 50 seconds or over.

“My biggest beef about radio advertising, though, is the insistence of including a telephone number. Ask yourself – when have you ever taken a telephone number off the bloody radio? ‘I’ll just get a pencil and ... bugger, it’s Kylie.’ A website address is far more memorable.”

However, it is not always just the brief or the message that is the problem for radio advertisements. Creativity, according to many in Scotland’s creative industry, is in short supply too.

Zane Radcliffe, creative partner at Newhaven, comments: “The vast majority of advertising is aural wallpaper, and it’s pretty gaudy wallpaper at that. Much of this is sloppy retail advertising, which still seems to be written under the misapprehension that if you shout louder than everyone else you’ll be heard. There are, of course, notable and compelling exceptions, advertisers who understand the subtleties of the medium, but they are few and far between.

“Certainly, radio’s a more challenging medium for ad writers, in that it demands greater craft skills. There aren’t many people out there who can write convincing dialogue. But that’s exactly why radio should be seen as an attractive medium for any ad man wanting to flex his creative muscles.”

The reality, particularly in Scotland, is that fewer people are watching TV and clients are starting to understand that a campaign must work harder across a broad range of media to be truly effective.

Continues Radcliffe: “Radio is the most intimate medium available to advertisers. It allows you a greater range of voice: you can whisper in the consumer’s ear, you can challenge them, scold them, ask them questions, confide in them, entertain them and move them, all with a greater degree of subtlety than any other medium. And, importantly, it’s an unambiguous medium – you can communicate in an unequivocal voice – and in that sense radio is probably the medium that consumers trust most.”

One problem, if you can call it a problem, that radio currently has as an advertising medium is its perceived cheapness. Although it can cost significantly less to advertise on radio than it does on television, it is still vital to invest properly in the production values when crafting a radio advert, says Andrew Lindsay, creative director of the Union: “I think one of the sad things about radio is that people don’t invest in production. You have to. People see it as a cheap medium – a cheap production medium. It’s not. Or at least it shouldn’t be. To get a great commercial you have to invest in production and in actors and it’s not easy. Writing for radio isn’t easy. Good radio production isn’t easy. But it’s a great medium. Creative teams sometimes think of it as a poor man’s TV. When they come in to see you with their book, they always present the big visual things first – the outdoor, the press, the TV. Then, almost as an afterthought, they say, ‘We’ve got some radio if you want to hear it too.’ I think that’s the way many creative teams view radio, and that’s sad.

“There is a great deal of change going on within the industry. One of the huge problems that our clients have is that the cost of TV is huge. TV is certainly still a great way of getting a message across but it’s not the only way. The cost versus the reach is going to become a bigger issue with the proliferation of channels.”

Radio may be an art in itself, and it is one of the hardest media to conquer creatively. In saying that, it’s also one of the best. Radio used properly is incredibly potent, says Dan McCurdy, creative services at Radio Clyde. But the challenge to us all is to make “even better” radio commercials: “Advertisers want commercials that work, and good commercials are ones that engage the listener and work better commercially for the advertiser.

“Most creatives I speak to enjoy working with radio as a medium. Just under half the population of Scotland listens to SRH flagship stations like Radio Clyde and Radio Forth. I can’t imagine a client being happy to be excluded from this audience because the creatives don’t enjoy, or are not comfortable, with it.

“There are a number of case studies that show how effectively and single-handedly radio can build a brand. There are also a number of studies that demonstrate the multiplier effect of radio with other media. There is always an audio aspect that complements creative work on other media.

“The main creative benefit of radio, though, is that the listener controls and conducts how they perceive the information they are receiving. The pictures are better on radio because they are the listeners’ own pictures. Radio is personal, intimate, friendly and trusted.”

McCurdy disagrees with a large number of the agency creatives and believes that a good radio advert is not as difficult to create as some make out – if you put the listeners first and find out what interests them: “In the creative service departments throughout the SRH group, there are creative radio experts, who work in nothing but radio, to help advertisers achieve these goals.”

Kevin McAuley, key account director at Real Radio, agrees: “When making a radio campaign, if you include the stations’ creatives and, in some cases, the stations’ programmers along with the RAB, you can, and will, gain greater creative and effectiveness.”

However, he also maintains that emphasis must lie on the stations’ advertising schedules too: “Creativity is the life blood of radio but stations do not invest enough time or money working with the creatives to look at the bigger picture.

“Too many stations expect creatives to develop a radio commercial that will sit in the middle of eight or nine (sometimes more) other commercials and then directly compete with another brand or company in the same business category – just look at the motors market on radio. That is why we limit inventory and the actual number of breaks – it makes the commercial work harder and gives the client a higher share of voice.

“To make radio more appealing, stations have to build a healthier environment, reduce the number of commercials and potentially charge a premium for building a higher share of voice, and avoid stacking up ads and selling cheap air-time, which creates clutter. You have to care about what actually comes out of the speaker and build creative, response-orientated campaigns.

“Radio advertising should be creative for the message to stand out. The noise level of consumers’ media consumption is so loud that a ‘message’ within an ad break will not always register unless you are in every other break. The greater the creative, the greater the recall.

“Ultimately, be daring. Don’t play safe, and give clarity to the message.”

Zane Radcliffe adds: “Anyone can write a radio ad but few can do it well. It’s a frustrating medium in that it presents an ad writer with the best opportunity to speak direct, and humanly, to the consumer (whereas with posters you just shout). Radio must therefore be handled with great skill and subtlety. It’s a task that smokes out a lot of writers. And, even with a good script, there’s still the difficult job of recording it, directing actors, crafting sound etc. The best radio ads are a collaboration between a client who understands the subtleties of the medium (you really don’t have to repeat a phone number eight times!), a writer who understands the listener, actors who know how to act and a skilled engineer who can pull the whole thing together.”

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