Private Hear: March 2013

Featuring work from Moneysupermarket, Green Flag, Toyota, Macmillan Cancer Support, Time To Change nad The Co-operative Funeralcare.

Private Hear: March 2013
David Prideaux, executive creative director, Publicis ChemistryMike Shackle, executive creative director, Gyro London

Prevailing wisdom is that the best radio ads come from copywriters. No pictures involved, so obviously it’s all down to the wordsmith. I’m not sure this is true. In every other medium, the best ideas come from teams and any decent radio ads I’ve made have always been co-written with my art director. Besides, left to their own devices, writers tend to write too many words.

In the Toyota spot, a man discovers an intruder in his house at two in the morning. He’s prepared to believe that he’s not really a burglar, just the gas man who has come early, but he is absolutely not prepared to believe that he got his Toyota getaway car for less than nine grand: "Do you take me for some sort of idiot?" No, we take you for Stephen Mangan, the actor, comedian and co-star of Episodes. But, even with his enormous talent in the booth, this doesn’t quite come off, partly because man-meets-burglar is too corny by half, partly because mini-dramas are almost always the wrong idea for 40 seconds. Too much writing, not enough art direction.

The next spot is a very gentle demonstration of how Macmillan Cancer Support helped someone get through cancer. It instantly identifies its audience (half the battle on radio) and makes help seem incredibly close at hand. The skill is in the casting, a "real" voice for Patsy the cancer sufferer and, for Bill from Macmillan, a Scottish voice who would score 11 out of ten on a trustometer. Simple idea, well-art directed.

Time To Change starts with the special effects of a rather hesitant actor delaying his start in the sound booth because "When I found out my friend had a mental health problem, I didn’t know what to say". Although the message is simple, the idea’s a bit forced. Maybe more information – and art direction – would have helped?

I think the writer who wrote The Co-operative Funeralcare ad was also on his own. It tells a heartwarming story about Peter helping to make the arrangements for Samantha’s dad’s funeral. It tries to put a kind of aural arm round you, but the story lacks the emotional punch of the TV commercial, where the fishermen on the canal stand up as a mark of respect when the hearse drives past.

The Green Flag ad starts with a fake newsflash telling us that Mae Jones has broken down en route to her pilates class because "We know that, to you, a breakdown is an emergency". It sets up Green Flag’s offer neatly, but I’m not sure the fake newsflash would have got past my art director.

Finally, Just the right amount of words, because it has just the right amount of idea. Better branded than a Texas Longhorn, every millisecond screams response, but it still manages to be entertaining from start to finish. A great team performance.

OK, that’s me done. Now I just need my art director to read it.

A friend of mine was complaining to me once about his wife and her constant moaning. "How do you cope?" I asked. "It’s like listening to the radio," he replied. "You know it’s on, but you’re not really paying attention." Admittedly, one could argue that, if he actually listened, his poor wife might not harangue him so much, but it does highlight the problem with radio in general –

no-one really pays attention any more. Our ears may perk up when a good tune comes on or if the DJ is being particularly cheeky and chatty but, essentially, it’s just background noise to be ignored. I almost pity the radio ad struggling to be noticed among this sonic wallpaper, so I went into this review hoping for the best.

The first ad was for Toyota and featured a quick-witted burglar. I actually remembered hearing this driving home from work the other night. It got my attention at the time, so it did its job, but it’s a gag we’ve heard before and it suffers at the end when the acting hits the "over the top" button.

Next was a spot from Macmillan Cancer Support. It’s well-written and beautifully cast. "Patsy" sounded genuine and I immediately felt empathy for her. There’s a fantastic quiver in her voice, so laden with emotion that it just works. When "Bill", the Macmillan counsellor, appears, his voice pulls you into its warm embrace and really makes you feel everything is going to be OK.

Time To Change had a very similar message to Macmillan, but lacks any authenticity or emotional hook and ends up being confusing and forgettable. I’m really not sure why there is a producer counting in at the beginning or why the talent is nervous. He’s not confessing any struggles with mental health or imparting any private insight. Instead, we get a very dry message of "It’s time to talk". A real waste of an opportunity.

I know I shouldn’t like the ad. It’s cheesy and somewhat reminiscent of an old Budweiser TV spot from the States. It’s nothing short of totally ridiculous, but it knows it’s stupid and revels in that. It made me smile and it’s memorable. A real guilty pleasure.

The Green Flag spot, however, annoyed me more than anything else. I get that breaking down is a hassle, but nearly missing a pilates class is hardly the end of the world. I’m not even sure if the ad was meant to be funny – unfortunately, it just ended up being "blah". There just seems to be so much more that could have been done with the brief.

Last up was The Co-operative Funeralcare. It could easily have gone so wrong and descended into schmaltz and bad taste but, instead, the spot pulls at the heartstrings in just the right way. It seems odd to advertise a funeral service on the radio, or anywhere for that matter, but it did a good job.

So, all in all, a mixed bag. There wasn’t anything that will change the world, but one or two nice executions, as well as a couple I’ll happily ignore when I’m not listening to the radio next time.

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