This month’s deserving Aerial winners are David Anderson and Ian Brassett from M&C Saatchi for one of their charming TFL Congestion Charge radio ads, as voted by Lee Smith and Nick Bird of Dare. The ad is just one execution from a nice little radio campaign they wrote informing London drivers that they can no longer pay their congestion charge in their local stores. When I heard the ad, I was immediately struck by the naturalness of the read. It’s not over-rehearsed and comes across as funny and unaffected: a breath of fresh air after much over-produced stilted radio scripts that get to air.
Last week, the actor/writer Mel Smith died of a heart attack. He is perhaps best remembered for Not the Nine O Clock news (‘Gerald the Gorilla’ interview, anybody?) and the Head to Head sketches in Alas Smith and Jones in the 80s and 90s. He will be sorely missed.
To the world of radio advertising, he is also remembered for the classic ‘Firips’ commercial for Philips video recorders , still considered to be one of the greatest radio ads of all time. The spot dates back to 1981 and was penned by Tim Delaney of Leagas Delaney in collaboration with Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones and recorded by Nick Angell. The script was heavily improvised during the recording and the team were given ample breathing room in studio to create and craft something unpredictably brilliant. Hats off to the client for investing in that calibre of talent to allow the organic growth of a unique and entertaining radio ad that’s still remembered 30 years on.
Last week D&AD’s annual awards ceremony was held at The Roundhouse and RAB were sponsor of the radio categories.
Sound has an incredible emotional power (Confession: I still have to turn scary films onto mute) and one thing that struck me at D&AD was the significance of sound in so many categories beyond radio. The standout campaign of the night was ‘Dumb ways to Die’ by McCann Erickson Melbourne for Metro Trains, which won 5 pencils including one Black Pencil, the D&AD’s highest accolade. The memorability of this campaign depended hugely on the song – the faux naïve folk track was certainly what I was humming on the way home. Interesting then that this was nominated in the radio category but didn’t convert to a Pencil. Perhaps it’s that the judges feel radio should deliver more than a straightforward sonic message: engaging the imagination to stimulate a “visual” response through sound is what makes radio at its best.
I couldn’t agree more with Andy Nairn’s Campaign blog ‘Watch your Tone’ this week.
Much about a briefing document is not especially inspiring. Phrases like ‘single-minded proposition’ and ‘measures of success’ are hardly the stuff of which Shakespeare is made, but the paragraph dedicated to brand tone of voice has a special awkwardness all of its own.
You know on dating sites when, (I’m told), you are asked to describe yourself in an enticing yet self-deprecating selection of non-controversial adjectives? Well, there is a section on a brief in which the planner tries to descipher client Newspeak for how they perceive themselves on their brand pyramid/ tree/ onion/ octopus/ [insert random metaphor here]. As Andy points out, the client brief equivalents of GSOH are words like ‘empowering’, ‘optimistic’, ‘real’. And if it says ‘irreverant’ you are in trouble: it’s the most studious synonym for ‘fun’ going and you already know that this brief is going to be anything but.
Andy cites the delicious juxtaposition of the descriptors used on the old Hovis briefs: ‘grit and goosebumps’. Distinctive, different and directional – sparking more subtle imagiantive thinking. As a brief is supposed to do.
With radio advertising, I have a particular loathing for what I call ‘Shouty Radio Voice’. You know it. The one where people stop sounding like people and start sounding like bad radio advertising because they think that’s how radio advertising is meant to sound. At RAB we talk a lot about consistency of tone of voice and if you read our Turning Art into Science paper http://rab.co.uk/turning-art-into-science you’ll find evidence as to why sonic consistency works in voice over, music, sonic sign off etc. For me however, the first step is to get that tone of voice 100% right in the first place before you even think of consistency. It informs upon everything: from the vocabulary of the script through to the pacing of it through to the performance. If you write your tone of voice to an indistinct vocabulary, you are likely to see similarly pappy words in your radio script that won’t give the message the punch it needs to cut through. And if you direct your talent in studio with bland words like ‘fun’, ‘upbeat’, ‘excited’ et al, that’s when you end up with Shouty Radio Voice.
So, planners, more adjectival ingenuity would be much appreciated. Thanks.
Last week, Andy Hart and Dave Coplin from Microsoft presented an excellent double act at Advertising Week Europe on the subject of ad avoidance. It struck me as a relevant topic for radio creativity as much as web-based advertising, not least in the week when Trevor Beattie announced ‘the death of the 30 second ad’ in the context of TV.
We live in an age of shrinking concentration spans and growing consumer choice: choice that increasingly means that ad exposure itself is becoming ever more optional. The‘3 seconds and skip’, ‘click to close’ culture is on the increase. Andy Hart argued that these formats actively encourage a consumer behaviour that goes beyond ad blindness to actual ad avoidance in an online environment. As online/mobile radio listening increases (it’s currently about a third of total listening), the medium is moving out of its linear heartland into a territory where ad avoidance is endemic.
In this context, I’d predict that radio creative will have to work harder or at least differently to gain and retain audience attention. One thing that gives me optimism is radio’s emotional advantage. I honestly struggle to name one great banner ad, and I normally skip video commercials I’m served before I’ve served up any sort of branding, because I have no emotional relationship with what I see. And not because I have a short attention span. Radio has the advantage that it can operate on a level of emotional engagement with its audience, where as banners broadly operate on an informative level.
Part of Andy Hart’s prescription for stemming the tide of ad avoidance was to ensure that creative was one of three things: that it’s either entertaining, useful or beautiful. I think this is a robust rule of thumb for radio ads too. Stella’s ‘Cidre’ ads from Mother last summer and the recent Warburtons campaign from WCRS are great examples of entertaining ‘traditional’ radio creative that draw me in and make me want to hear more. I’d happily listen to 30 or indeed 60 seconds of well written and well read audio branded entertainment. But there needs to be more, better written brand building scripts coming from agencies. Too many ads we hear try to be entertaining but don’t come up to the mark from a writing or a production point of few. (But the RAB is already addressing this with it’s Creative Development Project, of course…).
As for functional advertising, radio has proven its effectiveness in delivering tactical messages. I think the watch out for brands is one of simplification. Advertisers should use radio tactically to deliver clear, single-minded messages that are relevant and properly produced. Absolute’s logged in listening is a model that delivers fewer but more relevant ads for listeners, while the potential of geolocation technology is another way to increase relevance for mobile listeners. I’d like to see a shift in standard spot lengths. More long-form ads for the entertaining, ‘branded content’ type commercials and shorter, snappier ads for tactical messages to keep pace with the nations curtailed attention spans.
And finally ads that are beautiful. In radio we don’t have the benefit of Joe Wright’s cinematic lens or Annie Leibowitz’s eye, but for me, Garrison Keillor’s voice over for Honda or Rutger Hauer’s dulcet tones for Lurpak show that radio can definitely do beautiful.
Writing in Campaign on 22nd March, Danny Rogers speaks of the necessity of a ‘digitally optimized approach to creativity’. With the reach and emotional capacity of the traditional linear radio model, combined with the opportunities of mobile platforms, If we keep the changing listener environment and expectations in focus, I’m confident that radio creative can hold its own in the brave new digital world.
Cannes Lions is the world’s largest celebration of advertising creativity. In its 59th year, it’s a prestigious showcase of global advertising talent from all aspects of the industry, from traditional film and print advertising to up-and-coming media platforms. (Tellingly, Microsoft Advertising were the official sponsor). Yet radio is a category that hasn’t shone in the French sunshine in recent years: with its reliance on localised idiom, its intimate relationship with a national rather than international audience and its intrinsically audio format, you could argue that these limitations mean radio is never going to stand up on a global podium with a multi-cultural panel of judges.
2011 was a low point for UK agencies in radio, with a blanket ‘null points’ scorecard presented across the category. No nominations were awarded, let alone Lions. For the nation that invented The Bard, The Beatles and the BBC, that result left much to be desired. Happily for us, that disappointment was not repeated this year and, while it’s not a trophy cabinet to make the England soccer team work harder, the UK came away with a more than respectable showing of 2 Silver Lions for ‘Tourism Ireland’ (JWT) and 4 Bonzes for ‘Metropolitan Police (AMV BDDO), ‘Women’s Aid’ (AMV BDDO), ‘War Child’ (Global Radio) and ‘Antony Nolan’ (Albion). Ogilvy & Mather were also nominated for Ford. While Not for Profit/charity commercials tend to do well in the radio category, it’s great to see the highest award of those go to a paying client. Well done to all those agencies. Let’s hope it marks the start of a radio renaissance for us: there’s a long way to go – but it would be fantastic to see a Gold in the mix in 2013.
Looking back on the winning entries, I’ve been thinking how we might achieve this. Chatting to one of the judges, Jo McCrostie from Global, she spoke about the sheer volume of entries (well into the 1000s). To achieve any standout, agencies should initially ensure their entries are as clear and concise as a winning CV. Consider video submissions: the judges will be grateful for the variety.
Another observation I had on listening to the entries was that while linguistic idiom doesn’t necessarily travel, the strongest concepts – the ‘good ideas’ – actually transcend language. Radio is too often used to tactical ideas but the emotional capabilities of the medium are still underexploited outside the Charity sector. Think of the power of music (John Lewis’ TV ‘The Long Wait’) or a well delivered speech (Honda is a fantastic example of voice on radio). A concept that delivers on an emotional level is category neutral and radio should tap into this more often.
The final thing I’d point to is progressive use of the platform. Today, radio lives and breathes on an ever-changing digital landscape – your mobile, your iPad, your PC. The Grand Prix was awarded to a campaign from Talent in Brazil that turned radio into an insect repellent by emitting a high frequency sound to deter mosquitoes. Thinking of audio in a context beyond spot – and even Sponsorship & Promotion advertising as we know it – would bring variety and a breath of fresh air to the category. Which after 3 days locked in a judging room, or quaffing rosé at the Gutter Bar, is exactly what those Cannes veterans probably need.
Last Thursday was a record night for radio at the D&AD Awards. With 16 entries awarded ‘In Book’ Status and 8 nominations, a total of 3 Yellow Pencils were awarded: the highest number of honours since 2004.
Awarded agencies included Be Bravo, USA for “Leica”, Net#work BDDO, Johannesburg for “Mercedes-Benz” and Grey, South Africa for “The Nelson Mandela Foundation”. Warren Brown, Creative Founder at BMF and Foreman of the D&AD Radio Jury said “Great writing, great production and great ideas are evergreen at D&AD and in the industry as a whole – and that’s what we’re looking for when we’re judging the radio category here – it’s an awards that really honours and recognises the craft involved.”
At a time when questions are being raised about the quality of writing for radio, writing for advertising in general and about language and literacy in a much broader context, it was fantastic to see this standard of creativity within the category and the strength of craft and story-telling. One thing that struck me was that two of the pencils awarded were given to categories that are purportedly difficult to bring to life on radio. Leica is an inherently visual product but the script succeeds in stimulating the imagination to create pictures through sound. Mercedes Benz was also awarded a Yellow Pencil although car advertising is notoriously considered a ‘difficult’ category to write for.
Another thing that struck me was the absence of UK entries on the shortlist, the worthy exception being AMV BDDO’s nomination for the Metropolitan Police. Britain prides itself on being a nation that loves language – indeed all the awarded entries were written in English – yet UK scripts were scarce at D&AD.
Whether UK agencies prefer to focus their sights on other categories at awards, or whether there is a lack of skill/confidence in radio writing in the UK is up for discussion. Through partnering with D&AD in such initiatives as our Inspiration sessions (being piloted at AMV, Ogilvy, McCann and Adam & Eve) the RAB is committed to offering its support to agencies and helping them to deliver a consistently higher standard of radio writing in the country.
And here’s hoping for a British Yellow Pencil in 2013!