The Tuesday Rant: Why Do Most Radio Ads Suck a Big Bag of Dicks?
Volume 3 In a Series By Felix
As a student, I would soak up good advertising like a dry sponge. From the One Show annuals, to the D&AD and Communication Arts books, I loved it all. That’s right, ALL. I even loved that ugly, red-headed, limping, alien of a step-child with bad halitosis that we call radio. Being a hopeful copywriter, this was one of those areas that I truly loved because it couldn’t be solved with design. It couldn’t get a wallpaper treatment or a snazzy photo. Nope, this one required good salesmanship and persuasive language. And of course, a decent idea to carry that message.
One of my all-time favorites is this gem written by copywriting great Tim Delaney, of Leagas Delaney fame, in 1984. Entitled “Firips” it’s probably one you’ve already heard, or at least heard of. It’s considered by many people way smarter than myself to be one of the best radio ads of all time. It helps if you know the comic duo of Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones, their timing is impeccable:
SFX: Sound of a shop bell rings, a cocky East-End jack-the-lad type walks in and is faced by a patronizing shop assistant.
“I’d like a videocaster please.”
“A video recorder. Any one in particular?”
“Well I’d like it to have some specifications.”
“And functions. I must have some functions.”
“I see, did you have any model in mind?”
“Well, a friend mentioned the Hari-kiri, kibuki, kissuni, erka-watchamacallit, you know the Japanese one, the 2000, cos I’m very technically minded, you see.”
“I can see that, sir.”
“So I want one with all the bits on it, all the Japanese bits, you know the 2000.”
“Er, well, er, electrical I think because I’d like to be able to plug it into the television you see. I’ve got a Japanese television.”
“Yeah I thought you’d be impressed, yeah, the 2000, the Hokie Kokie 2000.”
“Well sir, there is this model.”
“Yeah, that looks smart, yeah.”
“8 hours per cassette, all the functions that the others have.”
“Good, yeah, good.”
“And I know this’ll be of interest: a lot of scientific research has gone into making it easy to operate.”
“Good, mmm, good yeah.”
“Even by a complete idiot like you.”
“Yeah … pardon?”
“It’s a Philips.”
“Doesn’t sound very Japanese.”
“Nah, a Firips. I mean a Firips, it’s a Firips.”
“Yeah, er, well it is a 2000 is it?”
“Oh in fact it’s the 2022, mmm.”
“Mmm, no, nah, nope, it hasn’t got enough nobs on it, no. What’s that one over there?”
_“That’s a washing machine.”
“Yeah, what sort, a Japanese? “
V/O: The VR2022. A video you can understand.
This is great radio. Good comedy (I still think it’s funny some 24 years later), seamless integration of product and brand without being pushy, and most important, it worked. Brand recognition for Philips increased 24% because of that sharp piece of writing.
Other classics that I urge you to pour into your ear are Apple Tango: Lost Property and any Hamlet Cigar radio ad from the 80s and early 90s. Sorry, they’re all British, but what the English lack in oral hygiene they more than make up for in radio ad writing. Check out the Aerials Foundation Hall Of Fame right here:
So, where is this going? Well, as the title clearly indicates, those gems of radio are disappearing faster than your hard-earned cash in a gas pump. I seriously cannot remember the last time I heard a good radio ad. Or even an average one. Or just a plain old dull one. They all suck more dicks than a $10 crack whore.
I’m not sure what happened to the need for imagination in this medium, but it’s certainly in short supply. Here are the common factors in today’s radio ads:
1: Cram as much crap into 30 seconds as possible
2: Include a phone number and repeat it at least 4 times
3: Assume the listener has the IQ of a houseplant
4: Forget about any inclusion of a creative idea, it’s a waste of time
Here’s a quick rundown of your typical crappy radio ad that plays every 20 minutes to annoy the living shit out of you.
“Hey John, you look down. What’s up?”
“Oh Jane, it’s this insurance bill. There’s no way I can afford it.”
“Well have you tried Asswipe Insurance?”
“Asswipe insurance? What’s that?!”
“I have it. I just called them on 1-800-ASSWIPE and they saved me 30%!”
“30%! Wow, let me grab a pen and write down that number. What was it?”
“Thanks Jane, I’m calling them right now.”
VO: (reads 4000 words of legal crap in 5 seconds)
You get the idea. Well, there isn’t one, it’s as creative as Donald Trump’s hairstyle and just as dated. If TV and print advertising sucked this bad, there wouldn’t be TV shows or magazines.
It’s ironic that in a world where print ads are now at a point where they say nothing and simply show a clever visual, radio has gone in the opposite direction. They say everything, and yet there’s nothing remotely clever or crafted about them. Maybe the lack of copy in print and TV is having a knock-on effect. The ability to craft truly compelling, creative copy is a dying art. Or, listening to my radio this morning, a dead art. From regular radio to XM, not one ad stood out. Shameful.
One of my first CDs told me that radio was great because your effects budget was limitless. In radio, you create the scene in the listener’s head. And Hollywood, with all of its 3D animation magic and ILM wizardry, cannot compete with the images you can create in your own melon. Some of my favorite TV shows started out on radio. I pay money to listen to comedy on XM, and I’m not alone. It’s not as if radio itself is dead. No, it’s just the advertising. And what makes this even more gut-wrenchingly annoying is that on commercial radio you are bombarded with these awful ads for roughly 20 minutes out of every hour. That’s considered torture in some countries.
I can already hear some creatives screaming that this is all the client’s fault. Nice fallback. But if we can persuade our clients to pay for a print ad that is basically creative masturbation, why can’t we persuade them to rethink radio and do something that stands out. Believe me, it would not be difficult to create a standout radio ad these days. That would be a big fish in a very, very small pond.
So, here’s the assignment, Denver. Can we come up with something fantastic for radio? The next time one of you gets a brief with radio included, don’t just trot out the usual crap and dismiss it as the lost cause you know radio to be. Remember, you have a captive audience and the ability to hit a message home in a way that’s unique to the medium. I’ve heard great radio. I’ve read stellar scripts.
Surely someone out there can do it. Or am I just clinging onto this dream of good radio in the same way a 6-year-old clings to his old blankie, knowing all too well that it’s shortly destined for the trash? We shall see.