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Radio gaga – by TBWA\RAAD’s Simon Raffaghello

TBWA\Raad’s head of copy, Simon Raffaghello, says that while technology has transformed the industry, a good radio ad is still just that. And so is a bad one

Everything must have ‘legs’ and ‘scalability’ and ‘stickiness’ and be holistic. It must be approved by a Himalayan-thick multiverse of blue-sky thinkers. And then you get AED 300 to pull it all off.

Except radio ads.

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Nobody cares about radio. Art directors don’t care. Client servicing doesn’t care. Clients don’t really care. The audience really doesn’t care. And, sadly, neither do copywriters.

But therein lies the beauty – the opportunity. Everyone can come up with an idea, but not everyone can write a good radio ad. And so the challenge begins.

I’ve seen portfolios with award-winning, tres ‘scalable’ digital platforms with neon stripes going across the page that belch ‘look at me (please)’, but, come on, is there anything more Monica Bellucci or Adam Driver than a beautifully written radio ad?

I have been asked to write a piece about the future of radio (or ‘audio’, as Cannes puts it). But I’m here to tell you that the future of radio differs little from its past – nothing will ever be able to replace a good idea. Not even quinoa.

The future of creativity in (all forms of) ads will remain founded on the same principles it has always been: connection, the element of surprise and reward.

We are conditioned to believe that bells and whistles will give an ad more meaning, more dimension. But all it really does is provide a place for inconsequentialness to hide. Simplicity is the hardest thing of all, especially in our line of work.

Radio provides no hiding place for lack of originality or thought. Innovation, production and the Morgan Freeman-sounding VO will raise some eyebrows, but they will never turn a bad idea into a good one. One that provokes a reaction.

You’ll always remember your grandparents’ bedtime stories. You may not remember the content, or the fact that they probably fell asleep before you did, but you’ll never forget the way those moments made you feel. A brand that evokes a feeling is no longer just a brand, it’s a part of one’s life. And radio can be emotive, just like any other medium.

Arguably, some of the world’s most ‘sticky’ marketing creativity is in the annals of radio.

The more we divide creativity the more diluted it becomes. We redefine then sub-categorise everything so we can place a price tag on it and turn it into cash money. We come up with new terms so that we can create hype. But you can’t do this with radio. It is what it is. Radio is ugly. It is hard work, not sexy and nobody cares about it. But what makes it resilient is that no amount of surgery can make it less so.

It’s elemental. It’s just the writer and the audience. It’s the only medium that could still work after a matrix meltdown. (Freddie was singing about analogue gaga, by the way.) And it’s the truest test of a writer’s capabilities.

Being able to write and craft a radio ad reveals a lot about a person’s creativity – their understanding of people as well as the art of selling.

It’s imperative we accept and cherish the value of creativity in all its forms. Good ideas are good ideas, regardless of medium. And bad ones are just that.

This is probably the only page that mentions radio ads in this edition. Digital advertising spend accounts for more than two-thirds of global adspend. I understand why the focus is on redefining, repositioning and repackaging the digital space. I know you can’t do this with radio, and this is why it’s been left to rot. But this is the only modern revolution that cannot be televised.

So, writers, the next time you get a brief with radio as an afterthought, treat it like an afterthought. Do the activation first, ‘coz that might get you a medal (which gets you the opportunity to spend time making-then-posting-then-self-liking an ad just to promote the fact that you’re doing your job. Do not forget to mention how humble you are, twice). Then, 10 minutes before the client pres, write the radio ad. Quickly, mind. It will be terrible. But that’s great. ‘Coz, when compared to yours, mine will sound and feel even better.