Former D&AD Radio Advertising Jury Foreman, Mariana O'Kelly is Executive Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather South Africa.
In this article she challenges us to spend more time crafting ads for radio, arguing that the power of words can conjure up the most resonant images.
A unicorn army from outer space attacks earth with jelly-powered stun guns.
What you’re seeing in your head right now would no doubt rival any blockbuster film out there. But your mind has just done it without Hollywood, and at a cost that would leave the gregarious folk in procurement with smiles tattooed across their faces.
I read an article a while back that mentioned how a couple of clever doctor types discovered that the hearing part of our brains takes up more space than the part where all the pictures live. What that means is that our library of sounds is way bigger than our library of pictures. A single sound has the ability to trigger a distant memory and the wrong soundtrack on your favourite movie can alter the entire experience.
Pretty powerful, right? So why do we forsake this power when it comes to radio advertising? Why do 99% of all radio ads sound like the audio equivalent of an 80’s stock shot image library? I ask you, have we lost the art of telling a good picture?
The screen take-over
Looking around us, it is clear that screens are in the midst of a hostile takeover of pretty much every medium in existence. And with screens come pictures, leaving less and less for our minds to imagine. Perhaps that’s why we are able to consume content so voraciously? All the work is already done; we can flip effortlessly through worlds without ever really engaging with them.
We forget that radio is the only screen-less mass medium left, and perhaps the only one with an innate power to emote. It is here that we are able to fill the visual gap with personal references and make the characters our very own. I once overheard someone say that in a radio recording you’ll never hear a client say, “I don’t like the pictures in my head”.
In order for radio to tell better pictures and engage emotionally, we have to be obsessive about craft. The idea and brand, the writing and production become the happily-ever-after marriage that we are all looking for. Our job is to tell a story, not to sell it. The audience will know the difference and they will either like you or reject you.
Remember to put yourself into the writing – that is what will make it stand out. But it takes courage to do that, courage that will likely be rewarded with an entirely unique sound.
I think that most radio ads attempt to connect with the audience, but what always befuddles me is that when the product is introduced, it’s delivered by an announcer: a voice often void of personality or heart. And just like that, you lose the audience at the most crucial point of the conversation. Using a metaphorical loudhailer to announce the role of the brand won’t make anyone like it or buy it. The two have to live in unison.
The radio challenge
Radio only works if all of the elements making up the story have been meticulously selected and directed to make it believable. You need a writer, a sound engineer and an actor that will be willing to redo one line a thousand times until the emotion delivered is just right. If there’s a cost attached to every second spent in studio, you might be in a spot of trouble. It’s imperative that we have the opportunity to play around and see what works. And it’s equally important to have a client that trusts that playtime and doesn’t demand to be a part of it. So where possible, try and keep this time sacred for Creatives looking to let go of the rational and trust the gut. It’s the only way to discover new ways of using the medium.
The challenge, however, is to not sacrifice the story in favour of breaking the category. We are storytellers, not channel rebels. When people fall in love with a good story they’ll inevitably pass it on, without us having to figure out a way to add a share or like button to a radio spot. That said, let’s explore merging radio with other platforms out there. Let’s look to Google for sounds and Instagram for audio.
But let us never forget that radio, in its purest form, will always be the only medium with the ability to tell a thousand personal pictures. And nothing matters more than staying true to that.
If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.