MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; Archive research might spark more creativity in radio

An ex-colleague of mine asked me last week if I could recommend an accountant. As it happened, I could. His name is Barry Kernon (plug) and he’s jolly good. But I couldn’t remember his phone number or his address.

An ex-colleague of mine asked me last week if I could recommend an

accountant. As it happened, I could. His name is Barry Kernon (plug) and

he’s jolly good. But I couldn’t remember his phone number or his

address.



Which is not surprising, really. I mean, who ever remembers the number

of their accountant, plumber, garage, double-glazer, mobile phone

company, etc etc? Unless, that is, they are on radio. Because, had I

been in a radio ad - you know, those ones where one person tells the

other of his or her problem and the other miraculously knows just the

place to get it fixed - I would, of course, have been able to recite the

address and phone number off the top of my head and then do it again

just for good measure.



Sadly, such ads seem to dominate the airwaves. I say this because,

having listened to the winner of last week’s Radio Advertising Bureau

Aerial Awards (Campaign, 1 November), you realise that there are quite a

few ads that don’t follow this same cliched pattern. But they’re

obviously few and far between and I was struck by how few of the winners

I had heard in real life, as it were. Incidentally, what I noticed about

the winners was that only one, the Harry Enfield Dime Bar ad, used the

two people talking in a ridiculously arch kind of way, and that was as a

parody. More than a few - the Army ads, road safety - didn’t use humour

at all.



In TV, press and posters, most people accept that 20 per cent of the

work is outstanding or good and that it’s downhill all the way for the

other 80 per cent. In radio, the proportions are different: maybe 5 per

cent is adequate to good and the other 95 per cent has, as someone

described the average England fast bowler, delusions of mediocrity.



I say this not because it’s fun to bash radio advertising (all right, it

is) but because the radio industry has now recognised that creativity

is, perhaps, the biggest issue it faces. All kinds of reasons are put

forward to explain why we haven’t cracked radio, one of the most

significant being that, as our culture becomes more visual, so it

becomes harder to get creatives to think any other way. There is

something in this, but the best radio ads can use sound to create a

picture in the listener’s mind. Listening to the Army recruitment ads, I

was right there in the jungle with the boys. But one of the dangers of

living in a visually literate society is that we leave dialogue behind -

hence the proliferation of radio ads (such as Admiral Insurance) in

which the conversation is as stilted as it is at Ferrero’s ambassador’s

party.



Curiously, creatives who delve into speech radio’s archives (i.e. the

BBC) may find a mass of inspiration. Going back, they can start with

Tony Hancock. More recently, TV programmes such as They Think it’s all

Over and Alan Partridge started life on radio. We all know that TV

advertising nicks liberally from TV itself. So why doesn’t radio

advertising pinch from radio?



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