Feature

Cannes: Gross on judging radio

Radio is such an interesting medium because it's changed so little since its inception. Radio is just your script and a sound studio. That's it. And that's what makes writing radio so incredibly difficult, but so incredibly rewarding when done well.

So what do I look for when judging radio ads? First, I try not to look at the product before listening to the spot. It's an unfair advantage.

And then I ask myself these questions:

Is it original? The spot should sound like nothing you've heard before.

Does the spot sell the product? Often spots can be entertaining, but they bury the product or forget to sell to us. We're not entertainers, we're salespeople and our ads should be judged accordingly.

Is it produced and executed well? So many times I've listened to work that had a strong concept, but was ruined by poor execution. Did they use the proper tone? Was it well acted? Was it strong from start to finish? "Real Men of Genius" took months to get right. We auditioned hundreds of voiceovers, listened to numerous soundtracks and endlessly re-worked jokes during the recording session.

Is it effortless? Bad radio tries too hard. It's aware of itself. Great work simply exists. Great radio sucks you in and affects you without knowing you're listening to a radio ad. It speaks to you as a person, it doesn't shout at you.

Does it draw a mental picture? It shouldn't just say the price or list ingredients. Radio should take you some place far away from your car or home and make you laugh, cry or think.

Is it simple? It is the most important characteristic of creative greatness. Whether it's a song, a painting or an ad, the best work is always harmoniously simple. Just because we have 60 seconds doesn't mean we have to fill each and every second. Take a breath. Edit more. Rewrite.

But, ultimately, what makes great radio is someone to think about it in a new way. What works today might not work tomorrow. The next great radio spot will defy explanation. There is no secret formula. We have changed the way we think about everything else. Why not change the way we think about radio?

GENIUS - MR GIANT TACO SALAD INVENTOR

SFX: MUSIC UP

ANNOUNCER: Bud Light presents Real Men of Genius.

SING: Real Men of Genius.

ANNOUNCER: Today we salute you Mr Giant Taco Salad Inventor.

SING: Mr Giant Taco Salad Inventor.

ANNOUNCER: A culinary creation that baffles the human mind: a 12,000 calorie salad.

SING: Aye Carumba!

ANNOUNCER: Ground beef, refried beans, guacamole, cheese, sour cream and if there's any room left, a few shreds of lettuce.

SING: I don't see no lettuce.

ANNOUNCER: Some may ask, "Is your taco salad healthy?" Of course it is. It's a salad, isn't it?

SING: You can eat that deep-fried crunchy bowl.

ANNOUNCER: So crack open an ice cold Bud Light. Conquistador of the calorie. You put the feast in fiesta.

SING: Mr Giant Taco Salad Inventor.

ANNOUNCER: Bud Light Beer. Anheuser-Busch. St Louis, Missouri.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS ... BUDWEISER REAL MEN OF GENIUS

The beauty of "Real Men of Genius" is it's a perfect example of Theater of the Mind. Each spot immediately draws a mental picture in your head. We know these people. We've seen these people. In some cases, even though we hate to admit it, we are these people.

The best ideas can be summed up simply. And "Real Men of Genius" is a simple concept - saluting America's everyday heroes.

It does this with an overblown attitude and a pompous, over-confident voiceover, who, in turn, is helped by an over-the-top singer. It's a one-two punch that is original and surprises listeners. (It's so original that it's been parodied by disc jockeys and late-night talk-show hosts and flew around the internet long before anyone heard of TouTube.)

But what ultimately makes each spot so rewarding is the writing. Even after the 100th spot aired, the writing continues to be strong. They still paint that mental picture in our heads.

Anheuser-Busch has produced more than 200 of these commercials. They sell CDs of these spots. And the voiceover and singer tour the country, performing the campaign live at sports arenas, concerts and radio stations. Clearly, "Real Men of Genius" proves that radio can be just as powerful, and rewarding, as any other medium.

- At DDB, Mark Gross has risen from art director to group creative director, creating award-winning campaigns for the agency's flagship account, Anheuser-Busch. His most notable work is the Bud Light "Always Worth It" campaign and the Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" campaign, the most-awarded radio campaign in advertising history.