Private Hear: September 2013

Featuring work from Confused.com, Sony Playstation, Transport for London, Expedia, The Sun and the National Trust.

Private Hear: September 2013

Thigo de Moraes, creative partner,
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Ross Neil, creative director, 
WCRS

Before we get to talk about any of this month’s ads, I must pontificate.

Radio ads are great – or, at least, radio ads should be great. Everything in advertising should be great. We get paid to make films, music, games, graphic art etc. We work with some great crafts people to make these things – people who have won Oscars, Grammys and whatever it is you win if you’re great at animations that use popsicle sticks. There’s no excuse for what we make to be any less good than other products of popular culture. The fact we do it for a commercial purpose shouldn’t make anything less interesting – in fact, it creates a necessity to make it very, very interesting.

This is why listening to these ads was a bit disappointing. Some of them are OK, some aren’t, but almost all seem content to be correct – a bit of advertising that does a job – and not much more.

I don’t think this is because whoever did these don’t care about their job or because they don’t respect radio as a medium. This isn’t a radio problem, it’s an advertising problem. Most of what we make nowadays is dull. It doesn’t have a chance to win people’s interest from TV shows, pop music or video games because it doesn’t even try.

Sometimes we do try, people like it and it’s great fun. We should do that more often.

That’s the pontificating done. Now to the ads.

The Confused.com ad is funny. A robot sees a man with another man in a car at night, recalculates his insurance based on this new relationship and tells the chap’s wife about it. It gets quite a complicated point across in an entertaining way. I enjoyed listening to this more than I enjoyed watching the TV ad.

The National Trust ad features sounds from the great stuff you can do on a day out in NT places. The problem is it could be about any day out and it’s a bit dull. With castles, forests and herds of deer to talk about, this should sound a lot more fun.

Expedia tells us travelling makes you interesting – a good start. A girl wins a spelling bee by spelling "Mississippi" and another imparts a curious fact about the Zulus. Unfortunately, the fact isn’t that interesting. The strategy comes across, but not the feeling.

In the Transport for London ad, a shopkeeper tells us we can’t pay for the congestion charge in shops like his any more. It’s an attempt to bring something different to a very functional brief, and I’m not sure it succeeds entirely.

The Sun ad does an OK job of blasting out a list of all the cool stuff Sun+ gets you.

The Sony PlayStation campaign is for a game and has an interesting mechanic. People can play a game of sorts on the radio: choosing the outcome of a story and listening to the results in a series of ads. Unfortunately, the story isn’t that interesting and doesn’t make the most of sound design and storytelling to be compelling enough for people to join in without a cash incentive. 

You read quotes from film directors saying the sound of a film is 50 per cent of the experience. Sometimes, 70 per cent. So why do so many radio ads fail to grab us by the scruff of the neck and carry us far, far away to the same land so many TV ads live in? Some might say budget, others time – but if the ambition is there, then, by crikey, we can build it. After all, you hear a lot about folks on their mobile devices while watching TV. Only they’re not watching, they’re listening. So why isn’t radio as fun as just listening to an Audi TV ad? Clever answers on a postcard not addressed to me.

So it’s 7.30am, you turn the radio on and hear…

National Trust. I love the National Trust, but this sounds a bit of a boring day out: kids laughing behind dad’s back, just before bursting into tears because a Saxon grave turns out to be just a hole in the ground. Where’s the sword-fighting? The falconry? The pounding hooves of a jousting match? Let’s sex it up! Haven’t you seen A Knight’s Tale?

The Last Of Us on Sony PlayStation. It’s getting there, but I can’t help feeling it sounds like a narrative read for research and a bit too much of a convoluted consumer journey. Instead of telling me there’s a man under a beam or allies across the river, why not act it out? Bring it to life. Run around and record it in situ. That said, I do applaud the ambition of this epic campaign – the problem is the journey is a little too long. 

Confused.com. This is trying to be sweet but just makes me think that, if this rubbish robot can ruin the life of an emotionally complicated gentleman, what the fudge is he going to do with his finances? Handy tip: don’t make the visual analogy of your company "a bit shit" because, by default, your company will appear the same. If Brian can ruin this man’s life, I don’t want him – or Confused.com – anywhere near me or my pounds, thank you.

Transport for London congestion charge. Love this. It feels real, like I’d been transported somewhere. Totally got the message – it’s charming, feels right for the audience. Trying to think of any more boxes it ticked… nope, that’s all of them ticked. 

And a charming little ad for Expedia. Love an ad that teaches you something. The idea that a holiday isn’t just somewhere you go and come back from, but something that you take with you that gives you knowledge, is brilliant. I’m not just going away, I’m learning something. Great benefit wrapped up in a lovely story. Thank you.

And we end our radio ad break with The Sun and "duelling voiceovers". It’s trying, but it could’ve been so much sweeter. The wit of The Sun is so sharp and this just lacks that last bit of welly. 

And that’s it – turning the radio off and filling my pockets with keys and wallet, one eye scanning e-mails as I leave the house. Goodbye.


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