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The Secret to Brilliant Radio Ads

Simon Blaxland is one of the advertising industry's leading producers. He started off as a presenter, and then moved up the ladder to become Head of UK radio for COI. Following this he established 'Shell Like', producing campaigns for Pampers, Lexus and many more.

Using classic examples, Simon shares his insider tips on creating radio ads.

“TV gives everyone an image, but radio gives birth to a million images in a million brains.”


“I was always fishing for something on the radio. Just like trains and bells, it was part of the soundtrack of my life.”

Bob Dylan

Radio is in your blood, you listen as an individual, not part of a crowd. Unlike the TV which commands all of your attention, the radio is on in the background, keeping you company rather than demanding that you stop doing anything else.


"Anytime in radio that you can reach somebody on an emotional level, you’re really connecting.”

Casey Kasem

There is a love for, and loyalty with, radio that is unlike any other medium. Change a radio schedule and the complaints flood in. There’s an exclusive relationship, a one-to-one engagement with the listener. Radio programming and advertising forget this at their peril.

Remember too that there is great scope for imagination, for creativity, with radio.

“Television contracts the imagination and radio expands it.”

Sir Terry Wogan

The radio commercial ‘Colours’ for Kodacolor Gold (1987) works on a number of levels. Not least because it could only work on radio:

This plays to the medium’s strengths – it sees the opportunity for a tricky brief, selling colour film on the radio, rather than the obstacles. It takes its time and fits the (admittedly very generous) spot length. The voice casting is spot on, Jimmy Nail’s distinctive accent ensures the spot stands out from it’s neighbouring commercials in an ad’ break. Steven Fry’s endline is knowing without being ‘selly’.

I can’t over stress the importance of voice casting. No matter how good the writing, how impeccable the sound design, if you get the wrong voice in everything will be ruined.

One example of casting being integral to a successful radio campaign is MOD Army Recruitment. Particularly ‘Tank’.

Although I produced this campaign I can’t take any credit for the choice of Rupert Graves as the voice over. The creative team, Nik Studzinski & Jason Fretwell, picked up on his voice watching the film ‘Maurice’ and presented it to the client saying, ‘you’ll need to close your eyes and listen’.

A completely left of field piece of casting was John Lydon for National Trust radio. The creative team, Graham Pugh and Chris Walker, had heard of his interest in history and after much tracking down he was happy to record (this was pre the Country Life TV campaign).

It was a very successful campaign and ran on Classic FM, possibly the only time a Sex Pistol has been on there.

Like the “Colours” voice over it stood out from the programming and other advertising that surrounded it. Being aware of the ‘environment’ that a commercial will be heard in is so important, and so often overlooked. Particularly when presenting a final mix to your client.

How about creating a dummy ad’ break, with your script sandwiched in the middle, to see how your listener will ultimately experience it. One studio used to play your commercial on a loop on a small range radio frequency – then tune in to hear it on an FM radio – brilliant!

“Just sitting in front of the radio and listening, your mind does the rest.”

Clint Eastwood

The old cliché ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ is as relevant to radio as any other medium. The loose structure and the potential to play out close to the airdate means this can be overlooked. The more you can get locked down and agreed before the session the better. The meter is running the moment you go into the studio, and any time spent re-writing the script or discussing last night’s TV is time not spent perfecting the sound design.

A pre-production meeting will help dispel any uncertainty about the tone of voice or direction of the commercial. These are as important to getting the most out of a radio budget as they are to a TV commercial.

Finally, the elephant in the room with radio advertising is that it is still sometimes seen as the cheaper, less glamorous and less prestigious medium to advertise on. I’ve struggled to understand this for some time. Maybe it’s because in the UK (unlike America) commercial radio came into being some time after ITV. Whatever the reason the great thing is that the flexibility and nimbleness of radio means improvements can be made quickly and effectively.

Let’s hope this final quote refers to radio of the past, not the present or future.

“Radio is called a medium because it’s rare that anything is well done.”

Fred Allen
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.
For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.

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