Seven Deadly Sins of Radio Advertising


As far as radio ads are concerned, we’ve all heard a few stinkers. At work, we have a dedicated folder. It is a Pandora’s Box of radio advertising in which all the evils of radio creativity are contained and certain themes emerge time and time again.

Here are the most frequent radio fails:

  • Phone numbers. You are driving. A radio ad piques your interest. Do you have a pen handy to jot down a ten digit number? Thought not. Numbers on radio can sound garbled and confusing, with more Double 00s than a James Bond boxset. They also take up precious seconds of air time. Mercifully they are less common now – although a forgettable web address will have the same effect. A brand name or a distinctive key word will be enough for listeners to find you online.
  • The spoof radio DJ, mate.  Smashy and Nicey were hilarious in 1995, and 1995 is where they belong. The trope of the hammy DJ is easy refuge for the lazy creative. Taking the piss out of presenters is obvious, irritating and a bit insulting to people who have chosen to tune in in the first place.
  • Now on. Sales in bad radio ads are always Now on. Never ‘now on’, or ‘now on’ or even simply ‘on’. Always the double emphasis, making them sound indistinguishable from other messages and nothing like something you would say in real life.
  • Stephen Fry. Of course I have nothing against Stephen Fry. But using a well-known voice over artist in your ads also smacks of laziness. Cast against type. Work with an agent to find a distinctive voice over to give an extra dimension to the read and make your ad unique.
  • Creative’ legals. Ts and cs exist to protect the listener. They are not an opportunity to show off your creativity. Don’t read them at the front, make jokes out of them, or turn the ad into a self-referencing spoof. Keep your legals short, relevant and unobtrusive.
  • “This is the sound of….” This is in fact the sound of a creative team without a jot of originality.
  • The branded conversation. No-one mentions a brand three times in thirty seconds unless they are reading a script. And real people don’t urge their friends to ‘hurry’ that often either. Apply a little well-judged branding to your scripts and your listeners will hear you. Sonics and music are all subtle and effective ways to pique the interest of your audience and to anchor your brand in the listener’s mind.

Above all, radio advertising is an opportunity for creatives to let loose. Don’t feel hampered by these hackneyed old radio clichés. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and make something you would be happy to hear yourself. Make your ads authentic, entertaining and based on a real insight. Your listeners – and your clients – will thank you for it.

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