It is OK to like radio ads
A view from Clare Bowen

It is OK to like radio ads

Radio ads don't just beat themselves into listeners' heads, people actually like them. Radiocentres' Clare Bowen has the evidence.

In a recent blog, Dave Trott explained why it's wrong to like ads". He referred to a test for great advertising creativity employed by DBB’s former head of copy, Bob Levenson. Levenson argued that a brilliant ad is not brilliant if you still like it once you’ve taken the product away.

Good advertising presents a product in a brilliant way but it is not brilliant in and of itself.

As the run up to awards season gets underway, let’s put radio to the Levenson test. Radio categories (or more recently "radio and audio" categories) – can be arid awards territory. People who associate radio with hammy jingles, duff voice-overs and cheesy punch-lines would argue that the Levenson argument doesn’t apply to the radio, since creative brilliance in the medium isn’t the point.

Radio is simply a hardworking channel for driving short-term sales by beating its way into your head. No-one "likes" radio ads anyway.

Yet at Radiocentre, we’ve plenty of evidence to suggest people do "like" radio ads in the same way they ‘like’ TV ads and that creative considerations and craft have an important role in optimising their effectiveness.

In fact, good radio advertising works precisely by provoking an emotional response and creative brilliance is crucial for creating that emotion.

If you listen to the conspicuous radio winners at Cannes Lions and D&AD from the past few years, they have all excelled both craft and emotional payoff – KFC "Everyman", Dove "Self-conscious", Lucozade "Conference call", Mars Pedigree "K9FM" – all stand out due to quality production and emotional pull. But do they pass the Levenson test?

Good radio advertising works precisely by provoking an emotional response and creative brilliance is crucial for creating that emotion.

To my mind, KFC and Lucozade do. Although the insights mean that they are still entertaining, it is the pivotal role of the product that pulls the punch. Closer to home, recent Aerial Award winners including Ikea, Harvey Nichols and Marmite also succeed in making the product brilliant as well as being well-crafted creative frameworks in and of themselves.

Our own "See radio differently" campaign by Lucky Generals wouldn’t success if it didn’t have the medium of radio at its creative and strategic heart.

But how about "Self-conscious" for Dove and Mars Pedigree’s "K9FM"? These are two campaigns of the past few years that have given radio creative credibility in an advertising landscape dominated by visual and digital categories.

K9FM picked up a D&AD Black Pencil and Dove won two Gold Lions at Cannes. Both are strong in terms of concept and craft – so much so in fact that if you take away the commercial message, they still stand up creatively in their own right.

They fail the Levenson test. But to my mind, the Levenson test isn’t quite a fair barometer for softer, awareness-driven campaigns that draw attention to a pure cause or brand rather than a product. In Levenson’s day, cause-related marketing was far less common.

In radio, where craft is often compromised, creativity should be made more of a focus, not less. Radiocentre’s ROI multiplier study suggested that within the product-led FMCG category, there was direct correlation between strong craft/creative scores and overall effectiveness.

Yes, an over-precious approach to craft in advertising can cloud the fact that we are in the business of selling and persuading. But in the case of radio, a bit more care and attention around the creative would only help the product shine more brilliantly.

And if they win an award for craft as well as raising profits, so much the better.

Clare Bowen is head of creative development at Radiocentre.