Private Hear: November 2011

November 2011: Featuring work from Audi, Autotrader, Barclays, Natwest, Ocado and the Bank of Scotland

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Russell Ramsay, executive creative director, JWT London

Paul Burke, writer and producer, AMV BBDO

Making radio commercials is very easy. Get hold of a voice-over artist and get him or her to read out the brief. Then lay some music behind and stick a small gag at the end. Simple. This strategy sums up 80 per cent of radio ads made today.


Another 19 per cent is made up of someone singing the brief instead of reading it out. Get a well-known song, then change the lyrics to incorporate the brief. This strategy is popular on TV as well as radio. (See Go Compare,, Sheila’s Wheels etc - insurance companies are particularly fond of this technique). Then there’s the final one per cent where someone has tried to do something new and different. Maybe it’s just that the expectations for radio are too low. Get the information over. Do it quick, and everybody’s happy.


So let’s see if any of this month’s entries have managed to do something different.


First up is Autotrader and yes, someone reads out the brief with a piece of music behind - Land of Hope and Glory, I think. Except it’s different because it has several people reading out the brief in an array of regional accents: West Country, Scottish, Geordie. They tell me that there are great car deals in my area. They mostly sound like they’ve never been north of Watford.


Three banks up next. Radio ads for banks can often get bogged down and drawn out with a whole raft of legals stuck on the end. These legals can be buried away on TV in a wall of unreadable text, but, on radio, it’s loud and proud. Investments can go down as well as up etc. But they’ve all got away with it this time because they’re talking about things other than money, like opening times and helpful staff, so the regulators can’t touch them.


We’ll start with Bank of Scotland. The ad begins with a series of sound effects - phone rings, baby cries, car horn beeps etc. - then a gentle Scottish voice tells us that Bank of Scotland know you’re busy during the week so they’re opening on Saturdays. It’s clear, simple and makes its point, but nothing new here.


Nat West is the same format. Sound effects at the beginning - alarm clock, train, typing etc. This one is more rewarding. It cleverly condenses a typical day into about 8 seconds. Then Paul McGann tells us that Nat West have opening hours that fit into my life. No corporate colours or logos possible on radio so a little musical sting from the TV ads aids branding.


Then we move onto the Barclays ad for student accounts. It sounds like something from the early 90s. In fact I remember Nat West ran almost exactly this ad in about 1994. It’s patronising and cringe-y. Can’t see this one connecting with the student population. Why, oh why, didn’t they use Stephen Merchant who they use for their TV ads? He’s probably the most entertaining voice-over on TV and would have translated brilliantly to radio. He could have got the same point over but with comedy, wit and charm. He’d also have been much better for branding.


Now for Ocado. A boy band sings the brief. Much like the new Yeo Valley ad, or the Go Compare ad, or thousands of other ads.  Somehow the message just gets lost. I remember the tune but not the words. Not sure who they’re aiming at with this one at either.


Last of all, Audi and a brand that’s close to my heart. Simon Callow reads out the brief with some music behind.

"I’m a creative."  Isn’t that a ridiculous thing to say? And only in advertising can you say it without being laughed at. In the real world, people think "creative" is an adjective rather than a noun. So "I’m a creative" is a bit like saying, "I’m a clever," or "I’m a sexy". Self-regarding. Grammatically suspect. And yet we’ve grown accustomed to it.


However, when it comes to radio, it’s no good being a "creative";  you need to be a "writer". So why are so few people in creative departments willing to declare themselves "writers"?  Is it because, having been recruited from art college, their talents were always more visual than verbal?  I hope not, because I’ve worked with some excellent radio writers. Though I have to say, like heterosexual air stewards, they are few and far between. Fingers crossed that their talents are evident in at least a couple this month’s batch. Deep breath. Press "Play".


First up is Auto Express, but there’s precious little evidence of writing skill here.  Instead, I detect the stale whiff of old chestnut as once again we hear One Message Delivered by Different Accents. It’s a trusty old favourite, but if you’re going to fall back on it, you really must ensure that all the accents are authentic.  These, quite simply, aren’t. If the bloke allegedly from Fife really is Scottish, then I’m one of the Bobo people of Wagadodo.  Which, oddly enough, I’m not.


I was brought up in Kilburn with four sisters, one of whom was always very particular about clothes. I used to hear her on the phone to her friend Tracy making sure they didn’t turn up at the school disco wearing exactly the same skirt.  If only the creatives who wrote the NatWest spot had made a similar call to those responsible for Bank of Scotland, they might not have turned up on this page with exactly the same idea.  How embarrassing, especially as it’s another old stalwart known as Sequence of Sound Effects to Denote Busy Day. NatWest is slightly worse because, not content with an over-used idea, they’ve added an over-used voiceover. 


Barclays, thank goodness, has been a touch more original with an ad for its student account written in Yoofspeak and it’s very nicely done.  My only niggle is its unwitting suggestion that students who bank with Barclays may enter the workplace needing to learn a few more words like: "Do you want fries with that?".


Ocado have turned I am the Music Man into I am the Ocado Man using a synthesised voice which would have made I am the Ocado Alien slightly more apt. This anodyne little jingle would normally wash over me but, listening carefully, I discover that our smutty little alien is spouting all sorts of nudge-nudge innuendo. Dear God, this must be how it feels to be propositioned by one of the Smash Martians.  I now wish I’d just let it wash over me. 


The futuristic impression conveyed by Audi is so much better. Well-written and featuring a clear, Teutonic voice whose precise delivery is perfect for the brand. He explains that the new Audi is lighter and more efficient, though I do think the creative team have done something the legendarily efficient German football team would never have done - they’ve missed a sitter.  The voice should have sounded quite heavy at the beginning and been subtly lightened along the way.  So please, for me, go back into the studio and tweak it. You’ve done the writing part admirably, you now need to be a bit more ... "creative".

Audi 'lighter' by BBH

Creative team: Daniel Schaefer and Szymon Rose

Creative director: Nick Kidney and Kevin Stark

Producer: Sam Brock

Editing House: The Mill @ BBH 

Sound: Ian Lambden

Autotrader 'UK poem' by HMDG

Creative: Paul Shearer

Agency producer: Jenny O’Connell

Production company: Wave Studios

Engineer: Tom Heddy

Voices: Matt Wilkinson, Lucy Montgomery, Paul Dodds, Tom Heddy, Fred Fernandez

Barclays 'sound da big ting' by BBH

Creative team: Mat Joiner and Matt Powell-Perry

Creative director: Matt Doman and Ian Heartfield

Producer: Sam Brock

Editing House: The Mill @ BBH

Sound: Ian Lambden

NatWest 'opening hours' by M&C Saatchi

Creative team: John Peacock & Paul White

Producers/Directors:Mary Fostiropolous, Estella Alvares & Simon Blaxland

Studio: Angell Sound

Engineer: Nick Angell & Crawford Blair

Voices: Ciara Janson, Richard Teideman & Paul McGann

Ocado 'baby it's time' by Verbal Identity

Creative Team: Chris West

Producer: Simon Blaxland

Studio: Mcasso

Engineer: Mike Connaris

Voices: Sean Rumsey, Jake Connaris

Music arrangement: Mcasso

Bank of Scotland 'sleepy' by RKCR/Y&R

Creative Director: Damon Collins

Creative team: Anna-Marie Holub & Cassandra Yap

Music Production Company: The Works

Composers: Mike Austen & Dan Corbin

Sound Studio: Factory

Sound Engineer: Dan Beckwith

Producer: Dan Neale