A view from Clare Bowen

Ripping up the radio rulebook: why we need to kill the conventions of radio creativity

Donald Trump's tone throughout the US presidential election campaign has shown the rules of effectiveness have changed, writes Radiocentre's head of creative development.

Much has been said over the past few days about the irresistible rise of Donald Trump to president elect of the United States.

Amid the exhaustive wailing and gnashing of teeth on social media, it is important to salvage some insights from the shock result.

Many people have noted the ripping up of the rule book that has happened over the course of the campaign.

The erratic strategy, the prevalence of policy driven by soundbite and, not least, the extraordinary tone with which Mr Trump addressed the electorate which made him impossible to ignore and, eventually paved his path to victory.

By breaking conventions of political rhetoric, injecting his persona, both in public and on-line, with hyperbole, of bombast and uncompromising individualism, he was able to create disruption, attention and conviction where it mattered. 

I recently read through some research commissioned in the early days of the Radio Advertising Bureau.

The research explores the tropes and trends of radio creativity and, although it dates from the days when Hillary Clinton was living in the White House (no irony there) the findings seemed applicable to this time of disruption in the context of both politics and media.

The piece employs semiotics and narrative theory to identify creative codes and conventions within a sample of 300 radio ads.

The findings are intuitive: an overriding tendency to favour classic tropes of humour (successfully executed or otherwise), pastiche and high drama.

This comes as no surprise. RAB Studies such as Radio: the Emotional Multiplier have proven that radio’s effectiveness as an advertising channel owes much to its emotional impact.

The problem comes when creative departments sleepwalk into the same formulaic devices to deliver that emotion.

Former JWT Chairman and revered adland guru Jeremy Bullmore once observed that "Too much radio advertising is trapped in styles and stereotypes of its own making", and that a breaking of those conventions would be both creatively liberating and something that audiences would respond to positively .

This year, Radiocentre launched a campaign calling on advertisers and agencies to "See radio differently", Radio is often pigeon-holed into a creatively unambitious box, as a tactical driver of short-term sales uplift. But sound, song and the spoken word are in the ascent.

The quiet popularity of Kate Tempest and George the Poet, Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize (whether or not he wants it) and the advances of podcasts and voice-based technology are all good news for the creative scope of radio advertising.

The industry would do well to disrupt the conventional approach to radio planning and creativity and I am confident we will start to see more surprises in this traditional channel.

Long-form content, short-form ads, innovation in production, live ads, daring casting, celebrity collaboration, the radio industry is hungry for all of it. If the Orange Man can win a place the White House, we must surely believe that anything is possible.

Clare Bowen is head of creative development at Radiocentre.