Private Hear: February 2014

Chris Barraclough and Matt Batten are first in this year's new-look Private Hear to review radio ads from the month just gone.

Chris Barraclough, creative director, Beta

Plays and sketches work well on radio – quick, humorous scenes followed by a more prosaic pay-off – and, although it’s asking a lot to write an 18-second sketch that’s witty, simple, relevant and memorable, they predominate in the selection this week. Does this mean jingles – and music – are dead, killed by the "sonic ident"? Shame, if so. Though, in the real world, people don’t sit down and listen carefully, as I did. There is background noise, and ads work best when they are good to listen to.

The Scottish Government threatens drunk drivers with a criminal record lasting 20 years. They do this by counting to 20. Slowly. I’ve no doubt this will stand out among the noise of local radio and at least it sounds a bit different. Whether this is the best way to stop drivers drinking, I don’t know. According to my old law professor, only the certainty of capture, not the threat of punishment, prevents crime.

Freeview’s ad is a convoluted concept. The proposition is: you should get HD to experience what real embarrassment is like. Because when you are watching a film that has "an intimate scene", it will look even more real and even more embarrassing. I know I’m being dull and literal, but that’s a reason not to get HD. Sorry, but I found this one clunky and rather hard work.

McDonald’s follows the brand formula and is a sketch set in a hairdresser’s. This part is nicely written and makes me smile, but I was focusing on the bloke, not the hairdresser, so didn’t instantly connect to the idea, which is about the hairdresser wanting to get away for her McDonald’s. At least there’s the McDonald’s sonic ident to enjoy. That bit is memorable.

The NSPCC is publicising the "underwear rule" – a simple way to talk to kids about a difficult subject that is based on an acronym: PANTS.

It’s smart to lead in a light-hearted vein. However, is a short radio ad the right route for a concept as complex as this? The word PANTS may be easy to recall, but it takes the NSPCC nearly 500 words to explain the rule (with several caveats and clarifications) when I checked online. Which suggests more work could be done simplifying it before putting it on radio.

The Warburtons ad is another sketch followed by a prosaic pay-off. Is making your family more aggressive the angle to persuade mums to buy? I used to buy "half and half" bread for my kids because I believed it to be slightly better for them than white sliced. But I guess that’s reality, so it’s dull. Light-hearted threats win.

Finally, YouView’s "channel hopping" provides a welcome change from the others simply because it’s not another sketch followed by a pay-off. The channel-hopping audio is obvious, but it makes the point effectively. There are six seconds of small print at the end, which is a distraction, but at least there’s some bloody music in it. Hurrah.

As I said, radio advertising works best when it’s good to listen to.

Matt Batten, chief creative officer, Wunderman

Freeview’s "another level" takes an awkward scenario we’ve all experienced (mine was aged 17 alongside my parents with that scene in the original Straw Dogs) and flips it into an anti-benefit – what happens when you push a benefit so far that it shoots out the other side but still seems to be a good thing, somehow.

Delivered by the expected caramel-smooth voiceover,the script is well-written and the creative strategy gives the right amount of punch to a service that, despite being free, has to compete against a paid-for service that is perceived as better.

The idea for the Scottish Government’s drink-driving ad, "twenty", would have looked stronger on paper than it sounds in the final execution, I think. Not that it’s a bad idea – making people bored but hanging on to see what it’s all about to make a serious point. However, I can’t help thinking it would have been stronger as a 45-second spot with Mr Scotland counting a bit slower to drag out the tiiiiiiiiiiime… and effect.

It couldn’t have been easy writing the radio version of the totally visually based television commercial, but YouView’s "channel hopping" is an admirable extension of the idea. But, unfortunately, when I listen to it back to back alongside the other ads – simulating how it would have aired in the cluttered and challenging one-dimensional medium of radio – it just doesn’t stand out enough. Ironically, it feels hampered by the very audio mechanic that makes the script interesting in the first place.

I had to listen to the McDonald’s "hairdresser" spot twice to find the idea. It’s buried right in the middle for just a second between the scenario dialogue and the voiceover – she wants to break for lunch real quick (in case you missed it). And the dialogue, featuring an obvious attempt at creating character f’rough voice, overruns the script, so I missed what the product was in the end.

I’m not sure the gag is right for such a serious issue in the NSPCC’s "conversation – father/son" ad. It might provide a little cut-through to jolt the listener into paying attention to the resolution voiceover, but this may be a case of "if you’re going to have a joke at all, make it a doozy". Still, it’s a nice idea, nice script, neatly delivered. Golf clap.

Although Warburtons’ "tough kid 2" uses the textbook answering-machine technique to deliver a monologue that talks about the product features, it’s well-written and superbly acted. This is one of a pair – an earlier ad features the kid leaving a message for Mr Warburton setting up his dad. I’m glad I was given both so I could understand the context of the dad’s response. It’s risky relying on an audience to have seen/heard one element of a campaign in order for another element to make any sense. But I hope it worked because the dad’s ad is much funnier (in a Lee Mack kind of way). Applause.

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