Double Standards - '2011 was a real kick in the arse for UK agencies'

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 26 July 2012 08:00AM

Radio advertising may have bounced back after a dismal show at Cannes in 2011. But, two radio specialists say, the medium is still undervalued by both agencies and advertisers.

Clare Bowen: head of creative development, Radio Advertising Bureau

Clare Bowen: head of creative development, Radio Advertising Bureau

SIMON BLACKBURN - head of radio, MPG Media Contacts

At Cannes this year, 21 UK entries were shortlisted for the Radio Lions, compared with none in 2011. Why?

The current high profile of leading UK commercial radio brands has recaptured the imagination and consideration of advertisers, and this has undoubtedly contributed towards a superior quality of creative output. Radio is firmly back on the agenda and clients want to be suitably well-represented within these desirable programming environments. The industry-wide effort to raise the profile of audio creativity has been evident via a two-pronged approach. First, there has been the motivation to drive greater industry recognition for creativity (awards); something distinctly lacking historically. Second, there are now more trade press column inches allocated to critiquing the quality of radio creative in the public arena.

Is radio creativity on the up?

The Radio Advertising Bureau has made concerted efforts to drive creative forward by partnering with D&AD to launch a "creativity in radio" programme. We should also acknowledge the success of the RAB's RadioGauge and how this simple, effective and free creative research offering has introduced much-needed focus on the quality and effectiveness of advertisers' creative work. I also believe that the investment media owners (and one or two media agencies) have made with in-house creative audio departments is generating more intense competition for the client's audio creative brief ... so the days of creative agencies turning around overpriced and substandard audio copy are numbered.

Radio is still the nation's second most-consumed medium after TV, but it seems radio has to work harder than any medium to prove its worth. Why is this?

While radio on one extreme can deliver more persuasive messaging than rival media via the enviable power of station/presenter-endorsed content, radio also faces the ongoing challenge of having to share each listener's full attention. As consumers, we are typically doing something else while listening. So we buy audience delivery and we have to buy high frequency levels to get noticed - this is in stark contrast, for example, to the powers of the frequently discussed "X Factor spot".

What is radio doing to earn itself a larger share of the media plan?

Expanding the listener experience across all station platforms is the most crucial component for driving incremental share. The quality of radio station websites, for example, has improved considerably over recent years. And while they will struggle to compete against digital networks for ROI-focused performance plans, the leading station sites are most certainly now of a size and quality to be rightfully considered for brand-related digital planning. Mobile solutions are now higher on the agenda, which makes perfect sense when considering the clear synergies between radio and mobile.

What big opportunities are there for radio as a medium?

A combined effort is required, among all those involved in radio, to ensure more planners view radio as an important strategic and creative component of the broader media mix. Clients could help also - most advertisers issue brand guidelines during the briefing process, but how often do you see audio guidelines? Finally, we talk about creativity mainly in execution terms, but there is also the broader creative use of radio as a whole. Very few brands are capitalising on the recently more relaxed Ofcom regulations surrounding station/presenter-endorsed content, and this is where radio can be most powerful.

CLARE BOWEN - head of creative development, Radio Advertising Bureau

At Cannes this year, 21 UK entries were shortlisted for the Radio Lions, compared with none in 2011. Why?

The industry has been muttering about the decline in radio standards for ages. I think 2011 was a real kick in the arse for UK agencies. It's frankly embarrassing not to be nominated for a radio award at Cannes. This year, the quality of UK entries was clearly higher. Looking at some of this year's winners - Brazil's "go outside" campaign, for example, which uses radio to emit a high-frequency noise to repel mosquitoes, or Global Radio's live ads for Xfm/Warchild - it appears that creatives are starting to think about the medium differently and that innovation has been justly rewarded.

Is radio creativity on the up?

One swallow doesn't make a summer (except maybe a rubbish British summer), but I think we have reason to be optimistic. Looking at radio's improved performance at Cannes and D&AD, and with advertisers such as John Lewis putting radio into the mix, these are all positive signs. I also sense a bit of ennui regarding the glut of emerging technological platforms, which just aren't being used properly from a creative perspective. There is a simplicity to radio that is quite appealing.

Radio is still the nation's second most-consumed medium after TV, but it seems radio has to work harder than any medium to prove its worth. Why is this?

To paraphrase a man much indebted to the medium, radio is something that happens to you while you are busy making other plans. People in the industry love to fetishise all things "new". I think radio is often dismissed without really thinking of what you can achieve with sound. Lots of us don't listen to the radio in the same way as Joe Public (whose average listening time is two hours per day), and therefore we don't give the medium the attention that good creativity requires.

What is radio doing to earn itself a larger share of the media plan?

The RAB is focusing on the value of the medium from a customer's, as well as the advertiser's, perspective. Our Emotional Multiplier research is a good example of this. The industry is also focusing on emerging platforms and how radio can best inhabit these. Absolute and Bauer are doing great things here. We also know that creativity is an issue for advertisers and we are building relationships with creatives to raise standards. This means championing the basics of radio advertising: craft/production values and good copywriting. There is nothing as compelling as a good conversation, and that is where radio is at its best.

What big opportunities are there for radio as a medium?

Radio is underexploited as a brand-building medium. There's too much tactical stuff on air that is choked with T&Cs. Strip radio back to a quality voiceover, an entertaining script and good music, and we'll be in a better place. Brands should also be thinking about how to take advantage of radio's affinity with social media and digital platforms, and use them to their best creative advantage.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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