The Radio Room

LISTEN UP!… Creative Advertising and good radio ads matter more than you think!

“Hi Mary, nice windows! – “Thanks Margaret, we just had them fitted by The C-Thru Window company! All done in just one day and they even took the old ones away!” “Wow Margaret, sounds like I need to give them a call! “Margaret, it couldn’t be easier! Just visit…” blah blah yadda yadda silly punchline at the end etc etc."
Conceptual image of brainstorming, innovation and creativity

Sound familiar?  Mary and Margaret just made me want to throw my radio out the window.

You’ll remember the ad alright… but for all the wrong reasons. I would much prefer to recall the ad for being smart, speaking my language, grabbing my attention, and making me want to react. 

As someone who has worked in radio for many years, creative advertising is a subject that comes up time and time again.  We all know the impact radio can have on your brand. However, it is imperative that the importance of good creative ads is not being brushed under the carpet… alas, this message is taking a long time to translate to the airwaves!

Here’s what happens more than we would like: A client books a fantastic airtime campaign on radio; but doesn’t appreciate the importance of the actual ad, or put the time or investment into getting the right ad to the listener. The ad does not match the quality of the campaign. In turn, the message is weak and the tone is unclear. The campaign hits the airwaves with excellent reach and frequency. But even with all this, by the end of the activity, the client is a little underwhelmed that the ad didn’t perform optimally – in other words, ‘move all their boxes’.

Of course this happens now and again no matter what medium you try; but it’s so important not rely on the airtime alone to do all the work! Radio can take a horse to water but we can’t make it drink. The airtime is just one element of a radio campaign.

What ads do you recall hearing? More importantly, what ads do you remember? What ads made you want to react?

I have my own thoughts on the subject but to get a really qualified voice, I spoke to Cathal McLysaght at Sound crater…

What is the most important element in a good radio commercial?

A great voiceover, music selection and production values can make an ad sound great but the script is the most important ingredient in producing an ad that sells.

Hook the listener with a strong opener. Have something interesting to say and deliver it in a way that stands out. Have one simple message and end with a call to action.

Easier said than done but that’s the key to branding success!

What makes an ad memorable in your experience?

It’s hard to beat an ad that moves you emotionally. The Barry’s Tea Christmas ad encapsulates everything that is good about radio. It is brilliantly written and voiced, emotive, creative, and the product shines through.

Radio being “the theatre of the mind” is bandied around a lot when people want to promote the power of radio – sadly these days, you can listen to many ad breaks and not hear one example of this.

Phone numbers in ads. Discuss!

One word… NOPE! Generally speaking. I’d make the exception for a catchy free phone number.

Very few people will take the time to remember a number when they know they can do an online search. Even if your call to action is to get the phone to ring I still don’t think people will try remember the number when they have a smart phone in their pocket. Also, including a phone number will also use up five seconds of your ad which could be used to say something interesting, so in the words of The Streets… or the inimitable Dell Boy… LEAVE IT OUT!!

When do conversation ads work well?

Conversation ads have a bad rap because they are generally stuffed with unnatural sales speak and come across as very corny. Personally, I think we tend to tune in to a conversational ad more than a message read at us, so a good conversational ad can be very effective.

It’s important that the conversation is natural and believable. That means a client will get a lot less sales points in so it’s harder to get over the line.

How many times should a brand be name-checked in their ad?

I always try to think about the ad as if it were my business. Creatively it is nice to have less mentions but three is the magic number for a standard 30 second ad. The web address will usually be the third mention. Two mentions in a 20″ ad.

What are your thoughts on good v bad creative? What’s the difference? What impact can it have on a brand/ activity?

Good creative will keep you involved in the ad and keep you listening to the key message. Bad creative immediately becomes wallpaper and our mind tunes out; or we just change channel.

Good creative is like a deal between the advertiser and the listener. Let me tell you about my product and there will be something in it for you! Whether that’s being entertained or the opportunity of a great offer. Simple.

What’s your favourite ad?

It’s impossible to pick a favourite but I like the Northern Tool and Equipment ads. “Purse” “Snuggle Muffin”. These ads ran as a campaign in the US.

In 2018 they are probably a little bit un-PC but they’re still funny, relatable and well-acted. This is a good example of how a sales message and entertainment can work together. When the phone is answered you know what it’s for, the sale is naturally brought in to the conversation which keeps it believable and the tag drops in the name again.

Have a listen for yourself HERE (Purse) …and HERE! (Snuggle Muffin)

Is ad length important? 

Absolutely. I generally produce 30/ 40 second ads. It’s hard to do a short ad well but if they are well written and produced, a 10-second ad can be so effective. Short ads often fail; but only because people try to cram too much in. Less is more. My advice if a business is not sure: Speak to your agent or production studio; they will get an idea of what you want to/ need to say, and will make a well-educated recommendation from there.

I would also try to avoid a 20″ ad that wants to be a 30″ ad.

A creative or conversational type ad would generally need 30-40 seconds.

If you could give one piece of advice to brands when they’re looking at a radio ad, what would it be?

Try to be a little different.

Even one word used in an unusual way can become the difference. Look what Mr. Kipling achieved with the word “exceedingly”. His cakes are not just ‘good’…

 You can contact Cathal at Sound Crater – Creative Audio Production (

Thanks for reading! That’s the first blog post done and dusted. No excuses now for less-than-brilliant radio ads! Feel free to leave a comment or suggest any things you would like me to cover in future posts.  

Until next time…



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