LIVE ISSUE/RADIO ADVERTISING: It’s time to tell clients why their ads are a turn-off - To improve the standards of its ads, radio must take a hard line

It’s hard to think of a more maligned medium than radio. Traditionally viewed as the ugly sister of television, prominent clients continue to shy away from devoting a large proportion of their budgets to it and agency creatives look down their noses should they be given a radio brief.

It’s hard to think of a more maligned medium than radio.

Traditionally viewed as the ugly sister of television, prominent clients

continue to shy away from devoting a large proportion of their budgets

to it and agency creatives look down their noses should they be given a

radio brief.

The common assumption is that because total radio audience figures have

decreased over the past few years, this has resulted in a knock-on

effect on radio advertising revenue. But figures from AC Nielsen-MEAL

tell a different story.

In 1991, more than a fifth of the 33 advertising categories tracked by

MEAL allocated less than half a per cent of their total advertising

budgets to radio. Three categories - DIY, housewares and agriculture -

didn’t even consider the medium. However, by last year the picture was

much healthier.

Of those 33 categories, only tobacco advertisers now set aside less than

half a per cent of their budget for radio, while five groups earmark

more than 10 per cent of their budget.

So advertising is increasing on radio, but not, it would seem, at a rate

quick enough to position it as a viable medium against TV. This year, at

the Radio Advertising Bureau’s Aerial Awards, Robert Campbell, the

creative partner at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe and chairman of the

1997 Aerial Awards jury, attacked the quality of the ads he had to

judge, blaming the attitudes of clients and senior agency people for

making radio a secondary medium (Campaign, last week).

The Aerial Awards were launched three years ago by the Radio Advertising

Bureau as an alternative to the many TV, press and poster award


Now, every summer, a jury of 12 senior creatives judge a selection of

radio advertising campaigns. The shortlisted ads are then voted on by

more than 200 industry creatives in a ceremony held annually at


Campbell believes that the general consensus is to treat radio as TV

without pictures. ’Nobody pays it the attention that it needs,’ he


’Until some real thinking is put into it, radio advertising will remain

as it is. The tip of the iceberg is the brief and the commercial, the

damage is done way before that.’

Douglas McArthur, managing director at the RAB and founder of the

Aerials, agrees: ’Radio advertising is much better than it used to be

but we have a long way to go.’

Tim Ashton, the former creative director of Bates Dorland and an Aerial

juror, thinks a radical new approach to radio advertising is needed.

’It’d be inspiring for creative teams actually to listen to the radio

and stop producing formulaic work. There are loads of good shows on the

radio and most of the kids writing the ads don’t listen to them. Most of

the ads that we think are good, we only think are good because they’re


Jo Tanner and John Messum, the HHCL & Partners creative team behind the

celebrated Still Tango campaign which won an Aerial, also agree that

radio doesn’t stand a chance when it’s compared with TV. ’Aural

stimulation doesn’t grab people as much as TV. TV has sound and vision

and the relaxation of watching TV is a family thing. Radio used to be

like that,’ Tanner says. ’Among creatives, radio doesn’t command the

respect TV does. If you win a D&AD pencil for a radio campaign, it

doesn’t have the kudos of winning it for a TV or print campaign.’

Messum believes the eagerness of radio stations to allow any old

campaign on air devalues the medium. ’It costs very little to make one,

which results in anybody who wants to sell anything making a radio ad,’

he complains.

’That’s why the airwaves are blocked by crap ads with horrible jingles.

It devalues the environment and eats into the quality of the shows. If

more stations refused to take crap ads then the environment would be

better and clients would start demanding radio campaigns that stand


The client, therefore, has to shoulder some of the blame. Adrian Reith,

the managing director of the radio specialist, Commercial Breaks, and

the founder of the Association of Radio Specialists, believes the

solution is to keep clients well away from their radio ad until it is

made. ’Radio would improve overnight if clients couldn’t read.

Scripts need to stop being approved and should actually be made and then

listened to by the client,’ he says.

Simon Rhodes, the marketing director of PPP Healthcare, who is a fan of

radio, agrees with Campbell about the decrease in the quality of radio

ads. ’Radio is still enjoying healthy revenues and the RAB has been

successful in its efforts to get the medium more recognised in the

agencies. But there are a couple of things blocking its rise. Radio has

failed to receive the currency in agencies that it deserves and I expect

clients have to bear the brunt of the blame. Also, radio is a very

brutal medium and weaker creatives can sometimes have a lot more to lose

on radio,’ he says.

One person who disagrees that the standard of radio advertising has

fallen is Mandy Wheeler, the creative director of Mandy Wheeler Sound


’I think that the standard of radio ads is high,’ she argues. However,

Wheeler, too, admits a greater variety of styles would help. ’It would

be interesting if the radio advertising industry showed that it could

work across a broader range of conventions. I would like more ads that

are not necessarily funny,’ she says.

PPP’s Rhodes is pessimistic about a glorious future for radio


’Radio has to demonstrate its value in agencies,’ he says. ’As for it

ever being a serious contender to TV, I doubt it. In the way that the

media is developing, radio will not gain in status but TV will lose some

of its status.’

Rupert Garrett, the head of radio at BBJ Media Services, believes radio

will always be TV’s poor relation, albeit a useful one. ’Radio is always

going to be a secondary medium,’ he says. ’It’s always going to lose out

when compared, because it’s starting from a much muddier field. People

are doing things when they listen to the radio but they concentrate when

they watch TV. I would never encourage my clients to use radio as a

stand-alone medium, but all the big players are using radio as part of

the marketing mix.’

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