Thursday, March 29, 2007

Tips from radio creatives

A rather bizarre experience the other day. We had one of the creative teams from a national radio network come and present to us.

Mostly it was preaching to the choir - lots of earth-shattering revelations about how radio commercials ought to be simple (Gosh, really?) and you ought not to talk down to your audience (who'da thunk it?).*

That said, there were a few nuggets worth repeating:

1) The world is not chopped into 30 second sections
They played us a bunch of quite good ads that were 5, 10 or 15 seconds long. Compressing the length has the dual benefits of forcing you to think outside the tired "two people talking -> announcer read -> two people talking reprise" format, and preventing the client from jamming their laundry list of product benefits and contacts from wall to wall.

Apparently most radio stations are keen to get outside the 30 spot as well. I guess it's up to us to suggest alternatives.

2) Maccing up your ideas works on radio too
If an idea is truly novel, it can sometimes be a bit of a hassle to explain, even if someone actually listening to the spot would instantly get it.That's why they had got a number of their more adventurous ideas across the line not by presenting scripts but by going out and recording them first. Admittedly, it's easier for them, being part of a rdio station and all. But it shouldn't be too hard to convince your agency to invest in an m-box, protools and a half-decent mic.

3) They presumed an extrordinary degree of cultural literacy on the part of their audience
Assuming your audience isn't a pack of idiots is one thing; assuming they actually know stuff is quite different.

I've always been a champion of the former, for a fairly conservative reason: an ad that patronises you is infinitely more likely to alienate you than an ad that goes over your head is, so I prefer to err on the side of the latter.

But I've always been wary of assuming too much general knowledge on the part of the consumer. TV shows like the Simpsons may be laden with pop, high and mass culture references, but very rarely do you have to "get" the allusion to understand what's going on.

In the compressed, single-minded environment of an advertisement, we rarely have that luxury.

Yet these guys had quite a few great spots that required knowledge of external events to understand. One ad referenced a five-year-old news story. Another was narrated by a D-grade celebrity who remained unnamed, despite the fact that the whole ad relied upon people recognising her.

*I pointed out to the director of planning that we were perhaps not the most appropriate audience for the presentation,that it would be more useful if given to suits or, ideally, clients. He responded that, in his experience, trying to get clients excited about effective communication was "like casting seeds on concrete".

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