Now I’ve won a few awards in my time. Just a handful. And I don’t like to talk about them. But I’ve always said, the best award is when a client tells you the campaign has worked and you’ve made a difference to his or her business. And I mean it. It’s still nice to get a nicely framed certificate you can stick on a wall.
A couple of stations I worked at were very skilled at getting radio awards. One method was to look at the client list, think of some creative ideas, produce them and broadcast them in the middle of the night so they qualified to be entered as broadcast commercials. It then didn’t really matter if the client had approved them (although they were always consulted and told what was being done).
The weekend just gone saw the Vox Event in the UK, and the Vox Awards. These awards were set up because radio stations and production houses were producing excellent work, but many couldn’t afford the entry fees for some of the international awards (for example it’s about $300 to enter a single radio ad into the New York Festival). While I was at GWR we entered the Vox Awards and won many of the categories. We saw it as important to encourage a raising of standards. We wanted there to be a healthy competition in terms of producing better work.
I am sad to say that many of the larger UK radio groups didn’t enter much into this year’s Vox Awards. It’s a shame, because the likes of Global and Bauer (who did win some categories) consistently produce high class and award winning radio which should be showcased. It’s encouraging to a writer when the company enters their work. It’s a great feeling when your work is recognised by your peers.
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In the first year of my radio copywriting career I was sitting in a restaurant in Crewe, Cheshire. The people sitting on the table behind me were talking about my radio commercial. I got a very good feeling of pride initially. They almost described the commercial word for word. It was a joke, a play on words. Then I realised that they didn’t once mention the name of the client. Actually the joke could have been applied to ANY client. The joke stood by itself and didn’t even need the clients name to be mentioned, and didn’t reflect in any way the benefits of the client’s product or service. As an advert it was a failure. An ad that was once voted the top radio commercial in the UK of the previous decade, advertising video recorders (OK that dates it a bit), made people laugh, including numerous awards panels. But the client said they didn’t sell a single unit as a result of the campaign
I listen to a lot of award winning ads and have even been invited to judge some radio advertising awards. In the humour section I quite often find very funny and brilliantly conceived commercials. One which I could only hope to do as well. But these brilliant ads, the ones that work, are the ones where the humour springs out of the brief after careful thought. In Kenya there was a great series of commercials for a washing powder… the situations were humorous. A blind date, the guy finally finds the woman and says “I thought you said you were wearing a red dress?” she responds “It IS a red dress!” The result, she should have washed her clothes in this powder that “washes out the dirt, not the colours”. There is no “joke” but a humorous and eidetic situation. The series went on to other situations… and because there was no “joke” or “punch line” people didn’t get tired of the ads and still remember them with affection.
On another occasion I was called into a radio station where a local solicitor was running Personal Injury ads. The ads he had been running were funny, demonstrated the product, but he wasn’t getting any response. But then if you had been in an accident like the people he was targeting I am sure you would not find the situation funny. I wrote a series of very straight, single voice commercials voiced by the very talented Nick Jackson. The client said when they ran on the radio station it was like turning a tap on, with dozens of calls coming in every time it aired. The message was no different, but the delivery was.
Humour is very dangerous when handled wrong. If there is humour in the product or service it will come out in the scripts, but forced humour is bad and you can tell a commercial where the client has been bolted on to a funny idea the writer has been trying to get on air for months. You do not want a funny ad, you want an ad that sells product.
The secret is to ask the writers to come up with some ideas from a very clear, and very brief, brief. Make a compelling offer or reason to do business with you. If that can be delivered in a humorous way, that’s great, but don’t make “getting people to laugh” the objective of your message. Otherwise you will leave the listener with the question… “Great ad…. what was it for?”
Have you ever sat down and tried to do some creative writing? It’s not easy. The hard bit is getting started… “Once upon a time…” no too cliched… “it was a dark and stormy night..” already done. The problem is not that we can’t write something, it’s that we’re not sure what we are actually supposed to be writing about.
Writers block comes when the author just can’t make a start. They have the writing skills, the lexicon, the ability to create. But they are not certain what they are supposed to be doing. If there’s no plan, even getting that first sentence out is a problem.
To help you to create your message most radio stations, and some Advertising Agencies, have dedicated radio advertising copywriters. At Radio Africa I’m privileged to head up a team of extremely talented creatives. Writing a radio commercial is 95% brief and 5% inspiration. I don’t actually believe there is such a thing as writers block when it comes to creating radio advertising. The only time I get stuck is when I don’t know what I am supposed to be writing about! If the brief is good enough there is generally no need for the writer to see, hold, touch and feel the product.
But effective advertising comes when you allow the listener to “test drive” the results of the product. Your writer can get a better feel of that if you allow them try it. If you are promoting a coffee, send them a sample. If you are advertising a line of clothes, send them a garment. If you are advertising luxury scuba diving holidays to the Galapagos Islands… then you can contact me at Radio Africa.
On one occasion a car manufacturer gave me 10 days worth of driving in theirs range of new cars. You can imagine how much more time I dedicated to that client. But also I could write about how it felt to drive.
The writing of a good radio commercial starts with an excellent brief. But give your writers a little help. Let them touch, see feel and experience the product.