RADIO - THE CREATIVE GENE: Emma Hall asks adland's radio supremos how to tune in to the medium and get the very best from it

There are several species of good radio ads, but most creatives are

too busy chasing television briefs to pay any attention to them.

Andrew Ingram, the account planning director at the Radio Advertising

Bureau, hopes to remedy the creative community's indifference to radio

with a new book of "top tips" for the medium, ranging from the

elementary ("respect the difference in media - there are no long car

chases in books") to the practical ("use a stopwatch").

These gems of wisdom - collected from the select band of creatives who

take a keen interest in radio as a medium - are aimed at raising the

standards of radio advertising.

And standards can sink pretty low. Ingram cites a doomed script he once

saw where a key direction was: "Bus screeches to a halt but no-one gets

off." How do you convey that on radio?

Such thoughtlessness is exactly what gives radio advertising a bad name.

Ralph Van Dijk, a director of radio at the specialist Eardrum, says:

"Agencies need to invest more time and money in radio and to have higher

expectations of radio advertising. Part of the problem is that it's

cheap to make, so it doesn't get the same care and attention as TV."

The starting point is, obviously, a good script and the right


As in any advertising discipline, this is easier said than done, but

when writing for radio, creatives can be liable to forget even basic

common sense.

The Marks & Spencer spot (see script) is a classic case in point. The

characters seem to be merely reiterating the brief, using stilted and

unnatural dialogue, while the sound effects used - particularly the car

horn - have to have been recorded back in the 60s.

Paul Burke, a copywriter at BMP DDB, points out that writing skills have

diminished as advertising has be-come more visual over the years.

He insists: "You must have natural dialogue - no-one talks about

'class-beating luggage space'."

Van Dijk's best advice is to think visually. "Radio works best when you

create pictures in the mind. In the studio, too, you have to think where

the voices are. A sense of place helps the listener create a mental

picture. We mic up the actors like in a rad-io play so that they can

move around, pick up an item, or point."

Digital recording techniques, introduced about eight years ago, allow

you to blend together the best bits from any number of takes - meaning

that there is less excuse than ever for bad radio advertising.

The practice of giving radio scripts to junior teams doesn't help

matters in the studio or anywhere else. Tim Craig, the creative director

of the radio specialist Radioville, says: "Agencies put juniors on

because they think they can't do too much damage on radio. Too many

creative directors use it as a training ground."

In-house radio station creative outfits - a cheap option for clients -

are also blamed for bad radio ads. Neil Fairburn, the creative services

director at Chrysalis, admits: "When I started in 1983, you got a job

based on whether you could use the equipment. But now we look for

creative people and I'd defy anyone to say 'in-house bad, agency good' -

we run some appalling agency ads."

Radio specialists can also find themselves at loggerheads with ad

agencies, who accuse them of living in radioland rather than adland.

Craig counters: "I take the comment that we're not proper advertising

people as a bit of a compliment. Especially when proper advertising

people can't do radio."

But a bad ad is not always the creative's fault. Clients are often

blamed for using radio as a dumping ground for all the information they

can't fit into any other media.

A retailer may have 15 branches, seven phone numbers and a web address

and insist that all are included in the commercial, which doesn't leave

a lot of time to engage the listener or build a brand message.

Media buying patterns contribute to the overcrowding problem. Many

creatives complain that radio airtime is too inflexible. UK radio

follows the television precedent of being sold in blocks of 30 seconds,

whereas US radio - where advertising is generally perceived to be of a

higher standard - works on the principle of the number of ads per


"You need to let a commercial breathe," Burke says. And as he points

out, the incremental costs of an extra ten seconds are negligible.

So those are the basics: get the language and casting right; don't

neglect production values and don't try to cram too much in.

But, as Malcolm Duffy, the joint creative director of Miles Calcraft

Briginshaw Duffy and chairman of this year's Aerial Awards, points out:

"The principles are not that different to other media. There is a

shortage of great ideas everywhere - even with lots of talented people

in the industry, no-one cracks it that often."

Radio specialists, who create about 25 per cent of the ads on air, have

the benefit of being immersed in radio full-time, so they know all the

cliches and pitfalls to avoid. They help out with scripts, find the

right voiceover artists and guide you through the production


Even for those with talent and experience, however, the only sure-fire

way to create a good radio ad is to be enthusiastic about it.

Joe de Souza, who was a judge at the Aerial Awards and who co-wrote

Mother's "Jimi Hendrix" ad for Q magazine with Sam Edwards, explains the

creative process: "We approached it as we would television. I don't

think radio is a shitty medium. There's a lot of craft in the writing

and the script made us laugh; that's the only criteria we use."

As de Souza is the first to admit, the choice of actor was crucial. The

team had spotted Rob Bryden on BBC2's Marion and Geoff and approached

him about the script. "Rob makes it such an enjoyable performance, he

got into the spirit of things and brought it to life. It's in the

delivery and timing - it doesn't feel like he's reading from a script,"

de Souza says.

Of course, there is no foolproof answer to the question of what makes a

good radio ad, but that doesn't mean we can't learn from the experts.

And those teams who don't take radio seriously might perk up in response

to Duffy's words: "On radio, you have more creative freedom. And you

don't get bollocked for taking risks."


Q magazine: 'Jimi Hendrix'

SFX: Jaunty supermarket musak

BRIAN: Alright? It's me. Bonkers Brian Day and my rock 'n' roll

car showroom where musical and motoring dreams collide.

Just in, Jimi Hendrix's Datsun Cherry.It's a smashing car -

I'm not being funny. He wrote Crosstown Traffic in this

while trying to master the Hangar Lane Gyratory system in

1972.That's in London.

MVO: For a real rock 'n' roll driving deal, get Essential Drive.

21 great tracks by Hendrix, REM, Oasis and more.

Free CD with Q magazine.

BRIAN: Buy now and get 10 per cent off my Marc Bolan car insurance

plan. (Eyes on the road, Marc!)

Creative by Joe de Souza and Sam Edwards at Mother; Producer: Kirsty

Norton; Sound: Emap.


Marks & Spencer: 'pregnant' (1997)

SFX: Traffic noises in background

Dad to be: Everything OK?

Mum to be: Yes. Doctor says everything's fine.

Dad: So. A month from now, you'll be a mum and I'll be a dad.

Mum: Yes. There is just one thing. We need Marks & Spencer.

Dad: Another craving?

Mum: No. For life assurance. We'll need security now we're a


SFX: Horn

Dad: Drivers like that, you can see why we want life assurance.

But ... I don't know where to begin.

Mum: Men! It's simple. Just call Marks & Spencer on

0500 14 14 14. They've cut out the long forms and the

salesman. You don't even need to go into the store.

Dad: Mother knows best. But what's it all going to cost?

Mum: You know what they're like for value. And there's a

three-month, money-back promise with some plans.

Dad: Trust M&S.

MVO: For a free information pack from Marks & Spencer life

assurance call 0500 14 14 14 free, 8am to 8pm weekdays, 8am

to 5pm Saturdays. That's 0500 14 14 14. Regulated by the

Personal Investment Authority.

WWAV Rapp Collins.

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