There’s never been a better time…

…to make your radio ads sound better


Recently, we had to listen to over 300 radio ads. It wasn’t some kind of creative punishment. It was by choice. Well, I say choice…
One Friday, as we were having some after work refreshments, we got a phone call asking if we’d like to judge the radio category for the New York festivals. We were surprised (not a call we were expecting). We were flattered. We’d had some beer. We said yes, we’d love to.

Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Then in the cold sober light of Monday morning, when over 300 ads arrived for our listening pleasure, we started to feel a little bit scared. We rarely make it past 3 ads on the radio without ‘touching that dial’, even though the presenter always tells us not to.

However, it was a joy. The ads were imaginative, immersive, hilarious, hard-hitting, well crafted and brilliantly cast – often all at once. And the really good stuff came from all over: Australia, USA, Germany, Norway, South America, South East Asia. Everywhere, it seemed, apart from the UK.

That’s not to say the UK don’t do great radio creative, we do. You can hear the best of it every month at the Aerial Awards. But hearing even half decent radio creative, day-to-day, in regular ad breaks, isn’t so easy.

Tune into any station and you’ll hear over-written scripts, spurious SFX and what sounds like the same voiceover guy/gals on every other ad. We’ve even heard of some ‘production houses’ that consist of one guy who writes the ads, produces the ads and stars in the ads. You know, like little Dennis Waterman “…write the theme tune, sing the theme tune…” etc.

To be fair, it’s understandable with little local stations/advertisers, where resources are limited. But even some big national advertisers can sound a bit samey, to say the least. On one national sport station, for example, every other ad seems to be voiced by a voiceover pretending to be a circa 1985 sports commentator, a voiceover pretending to be a cockney geezer/northern bloke or Brain Blessed pretending to be Brian Blessed. And when every other advertiser on the station seems to be a builders’ merchant, it gets tricky to tell them apart.

This must be bad enough for real builders. But imagine someone like us, someone who works in ‘advertising’, striding into a merchants in our distressed (but freshly laundered) jeans and ironic T-shirts, placing our silky smooth hands on the counter (then gingerly taking them off in case we get a splinter) and demanding the combi boiler/plasterboard meal deal, only to find out we’re in the wrong place. It could all get a bit Deliverance.

Of course we’re making a massive, misguided, clichéd assumption about builders merchants here. But, to be fair, so are half the radio adverts.

At Row-A we love radio creative. We love making it, yes. But we also like hearing it, no matter who is making it. So here’s our (top of the head) ten tips to make your radio ads sound better – or, at least, not quite so grim.

  1. If you want someone to act, cast actors. Instead of (ex local radio presenter) voiceovers pretending to act.
  2. Vox pops can sound strained at the best of times. So if you want to use them, try using real vox pops from real people. Instead of voiceovers pretending to be real people. Or (even worse) people from the office pretending to be voiceovers pretending to be real people. Nasty.
  3. Finding the right SFX is as important as casting the right voice. And if you can’t find it, Foley it. Don’t just whack on some ropey MP3 made by a guy called bob from his garage in Wisconsin.
  4. If you want to record a conversation, record a conversation – between two actors – conversing with each other, in real time. It’ll sound way better that cobbling together two voiceovers speaking to themselves, from their cupboard ‘studio’ under the stairs.
  5. DON’T SHOUT! No one likes being shouted at. Assume the listener has mastered the volume control on their radio.
  6. “Start a radio ad with a question?” No? Good. It’s a terrible cliché. So is “…there’s never been a better time…” too.
  7. Stick to one single, clear message/offer. Remember, people rarely listen to the radio, they just have it on, in the background: they’re busy working, driving, cooking, picking their noses, pining for the fjords…They aren’t taking notes.
  8.  “Heard the one about….?” If you have, you don’t want to hear it again. So funny ads are good, but be careful with gags, they can get very irritating very quickly.
  9. “My wife/husband/cousin/neighbour Jeremy has a great speaking voice. Can they voice my ad?” No they don’t. No they can’t.
  10. Use Brian Blessed sparingly. Please. And Tom Baker.

We could spend all day playing you some of our favourite ads. We’re sad like that. But here’s a couple of old faves.

An ad for the ‘Life of Brian’

And some ads about radio advertising

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