Three Ideas To Fix Radio Advertising As You Drive This Memorial Day

Driving With The Radio On

A lot of us will spend a good deal of this Memorial Day Weekend behind the wheel, which is an ideal position to consider the sorry state of radio advertising.  Given that people in cars make a truly captive audience for ad messages, the generally abysmal quality of radio ads is as inexcusable as it is undeniable.  Just tune in a few stations for an hour or two and you’ll realize most of the messages feel about as welcome as your Uncle Don’s college golf stories: they may mean the world to him, but you?  Not so much…

This isn’t just my opinion; a sad blurb in Mediaweek notes that the radio advertising business posted its worst quarter in history.  Salespeople will blame this on the recession, but radio’s affordability should have perfectly positioned it to profit from media re-allocations.  And they would have, if the end product weren’t so uniformly boring and non-engaging.

But let’s not curse this audio darkness, let’s light three candles, with these three simple ways to boost the quality of radio creative.

1. Let’s end the uninterrupted monologue.

Yes it’s cheap to park a voice behind a mic and hand him a script, but it sounds cheap as well, and who wants that?  The world of radio lives in the imagination and unlike television, it doesn’t take millions to create rich luxurious vistas in the mind.  The first step is to break up all that yapping.  Find places to work in sound effects and your message will breathe.  Early on in my career as I was hammering out beer ads, now radio legend/then merely radio savant David Lewis introduced me to the ear-relaxing magic of Pops and Pours–simple SFX of beer cans and bottles popping open and pouring into a glass.  That’s all it took to greatly enhance Martin Mull’s monologues on Michelob Dark, bless him.

2.  Let’s cast more interesting announcers

Take a minute and listen to the voices in your world–very few of them have the innocuous Stepford sounds of your typical TV news reader.  So why doesn’t anybody have an accent in radio ads?  When did someone decide it was a smart idea to overcook the great melting pot of regional inflections into an inoffensive but unmemorable reduction sauce of sameness?  Sam Kinison had a voice, Denis Leary has a voice, Samantha Bee has a voice–and none of their deliveries have been ground down into anonymous audio sausage.  Cast voices with singularity and your message memorability will immediately spike upwards.

3.  Remember music?  People like music.

Music hath charms to sooth a savage breast, to soften rocks or bend a knotted oak.  That’s what William Congreve wrote in 1697 and his point still stands: music can make the difference between passing and failing, between soaring and crashing, between mindsticking memorability and forgettable tan wall paint.  Needledrop may be a cheap alternative, but do you really want to sound cheap?  If you’re creating a radio campaign, spend a few bucks and call in a music house.  If you partner well, the investment will reward you richly.  Maybe it’s this David Letterman/Jon Stewart/Lonely Island post-ironic age we live in, but somewhere, somehow, for some long lost reason, copywriters lost their never for crafting a few lyrics and recruiting a music house to make them interesting.  And the jingle died.  If you think that’s right, I have three words for you: American Family Insurance.  Yeah that’s right, you just hummed those nine notes in your head–don’t pretend you didn’t.  Invest in music–it’s powerful magic.

So there you go: three ideas for punching up the quality of radio creative.  Admittedly, I thought these up three during my morning commute.  If you dream up some during your drive this weekend, send them along.

And of course, click it.  Or ticket.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

4 thoughts on “Three Ideas To Fix Radio Advertising As You Drive This Memorial Day

  1. Adam Samara says:

    Theater of the mind!

    I worked as a radio station intern one summer, and the DJ there did little 10-20 second skits coming in and out of commercial breaks. He was great at whisking you off somewhere, doing something hilarious, and then cranking a Foo Fighters song. It rocked on many levels. But he always told me: “It’s all about theater of the mind, Kutcher!”

    (That was my nickname… from Ashton Kutcher… long story.)

  2. mark0905 says:

    I’m with you so long as none of these ads you’re talking about are produced by or involve anyone currently associated with Walter E. Smithe or its “advertising”.
    I’m just sayin’.

  3. David Lewis says:

    A Proud Graduate of the Old School–

    Thanks, dennis… for the kind words about me. And, more importantly, thanks for caring enough about quality radio advertising to actually say something about it.

    The trend now is to have the copy strategy read aloud by an announcer who doesn’t sound announcery. I’m rarely asked to write or even produce comic dialog anymore. I think it may be because many of the current generation either don’t know how to do it well, or, for that same reason, they might not think to ask for it.

    “Humorous” advertising these days, seems to be more slapstick or silly… and less about a well crafted set-up and punchline. Sadly, slapstick, much like my beloved The Three Stooges, doesn’t translate well on radio.

    The ad people I learned from early in my career were schooled themselves by the folks who grew-up “watching” the radio. Aside from the incredible lessons taught to me by such radio mavens as my former bosses, Bert Berdis, Alan Barzman and Jim Kirby… I had the lucky advantage of growing-up in an era watching the great TV sitcoms– from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to “All in the Family”. That’s where I learned dialog and timing.

    The current cast of ad creatives grew-up more with MTV and the net… and perhaps that’s why we see very inventive and stylish work in a lot of their television and internet advertising and print work. That’s the “New School”, I guess.

    Like you, I hope we soon get some hybrid radio. The best of both schools: The comedic or dramatic storytelling or dialog that’s always worked so well on radio… combined with the fresh and innovative casting, sound design, and music choices of today’s creatives.

    Radio advertising doesn’t need to be reinvented, it just needs to evolve. Please don’t start the evolution without me.

    –David Lewis

Leave a Reply