Here’s a lecture I’m giving with radio producer Tim Lofts of Scramble for the DMA next week. You’ll have to imagine the sound effects! If you want to hear the radio ads, just email me and I’ll send them over.
Art Directing radio advertising
So last night, I got in my car
(SFX opening and closing car door and ignition firing: little car, little engine)
– a, big fast car
(SFX change: big throaty engine)
– that’s better – and I was just pulling out of my drive when I crashed into a scary alien
(SFX tiny alien noises)
– no, a really enormous, ferocious, scary alien.
(SFX: enormous roar, very dramatic)
I called the fire brigade
(SFX fire engine)
(SFX: a tank)
I asked for an RAF fighter
and I grabbed myself a sword
(SFX: ching noises)
no, a light sabre.
(SFX: Star Wars light sabre)
The terrible monster made an even more terrifying roar
(SFX: monster roar)
and lifted one of its feet to crush me. In the split second before we all opened fire and sent this fiend to kingdom come, I spotted a tiny drawing pin stuck in the monster’s foot
(SFX: tiny ping noise)
I immediately told everyone the battle was off
(SFX: tutting and sighing with disappointment)
and reached up to extract the problem pin.
(SFX: huge sigh of relief from monster) (SFX: monster says ‘thank you’).
After treating my to a quick pint
(SFX: pub noises)
in The Lamb and Flag to show his gratitude, Eric, the monster, took me up to space in his rocket
(SFX: blast off)
landed on Zoob, his planet, and introduced to his little alien friends.
(SFX: tiny alien noises – as before)
I was crowned their new king
– all ceremonies sound alike – and I would have stayed too but I had to get back to London
(SFX: Big Ben striking)
to give this morning’s lecture on art directing radio commercials. So Eric zoomed me back, landing on Tower Bridge and fell into The Thames
(SFX: crash and big splash)
I quickly hairdryered myself
(SFX: slow jog)
(SFX: fast running and heavy breathing)
here, arriving just a few minutes ago. And if anyone doesn’t believe me, I brought Eric along so you can see him for yourselves. He’s at the window now.
Actually, he’s at the window in my head.
The joy of radio.
With a few simple sound effects, I can take you back in time, into space, to the bottom of the ocean, inside someone’s head, to the Amazon, to a carnival, to India, to The Stock Exchange, Glastonbury main stage, the centre of the Earth, etc, etc.
They say a picture tells a thousand words well a sound effect creates a thousand pictures. Everyone’s idea of a key turning in a lock is ever so slightly different. Like every snowflake, every picture created by a sound in your head will be different to the one created in someone else’s head. This is the sound of a blue car (SFX: car driving along). This is the sound of a yellow car with purple polkadots (SFX: car driving along – same sound). The only difference here is that I told you what car you would be hearing. And that’s how you can use words and sounds together to describe a scene, to paint a strong visual picture in sound alone.
(Heineken Mime artist ad)
Often, when you want to put someone in a place, a few simple aural pointers can achieve this very quickly without you needing to say it. For example, think about the noises you might hear if you were in that situation. At home, you might hear a ticking clock – it’s important to know what sort of clock though. In an older person’s house, it might be a grandfather clock for instance. Perhaps there’s a radio on in another room or there’s some sounds from outside that are barely audible inside but help give some kind of atmosphere. We are rarely in situations where there is no sound whatsoever. Ambient noise is often used to help distinguish somewhere from nowhere.
Sometimes, there’s no need for sound effects at all. You simply want a strong voice to carry the ad without any unnecessary noise.
(Imperial War Museum ad)
When you get to work with talented people in a sound recording studio, you’ll be amazed at how versatile many of them are. Often, they can change accents, age, sex even species. If you want a talking frog in your commercial, you’ll need someone who can act a voice that will make people picture a talking frog. And acting it is. Often, you’ll find that many of the great voice over artists are also great actors. They have spent their lives understanding characters and scenarios to be able to analyse a script and ‘hear’ the voices required immediately. After all, they’re paid by the hour so are usually booked for as little time as possible requiring them to get it right very soon into recording.
Before you commit to any actors for your radio ad, you must listen to a number of voice tapes to ensure the actor has the right sound for your script. A Brummie accent is unlikely to be right for Rolls Royce commercial, a middle-class Chelsea voice probably not right for a cut price car dealership in Newcastle. Unless the creative idea demands it. This is obvious. But the subtleties in different people’s voices also help develop a picture of who they are, what they wear, how old they are, what sort of lifestyle they have, etc.
Regional accents are an interesting way to make a point about the characters in your ads. There are stereotypical views of people from different parts of the country and different parts of the world. Whether or not there is truth in any of these stereotypes is irrelevant – perception is reality. For some, a soft Scottish accent can be perceived as trustworthy. Welsh accents are sometimes used for comedy. Often, non-descript, clean read-throughs are all that are required. Sometimes, there is call for a very powerful theatre voice which can add gravitas to your script. These voices can change a good ad into a great ad by bringing their years of experience and talent to the recording.
Sometimes you want the people shouting, sometimes a whisper is right. Silence can be a great way to get people to listen, although there are restrictions as to how much time can pass without any noise. You don’t want a million drivers looking down at their car radios to see if there’s a problem and they’ve stopped working or need retuning…
It is rare that you will get the exact performances required on the first take.
A great thing you can do relatively cheaply is to get some music or a tune composed for your commercial. Quite a few years back, I worked on an ad where we needed to use the X-files soundtrack. It would have been prohibitively expensive to hire the original so we commissioned a soundalike. Via an ISDN link, you now have access to voiceovers, composers and sound effects from all over the country if not the world. Last year, I needed someone to play drums and bagpipes really badly. As people used to say about Les Dawson, it’s actually very difficult to play badly effectively. It actually took quite a few takes to get the desired lack of talent!
(The Times ad)
Sound production effects
With stereo, you can use this to your advantage, moving from one place to another if it helps as part of your concept. There are many ways to alter the intensity of a voice or sound to create the desired effect. You can make someone sound like they’re inside something big or something small, outside or inside, up close or far away, moving or still plus many more techniques.
(COI Army tank ad)
What do you call a Teletubby who’s been burgled? Tubby. What do you call a Teletubby who’s been burgled? Tubby. What do you call a Teletubby who’s been burgled? Tubby. What do you call… I think this proves a point. Heard once, a joke can be funny, but on repeat hearing, does it still have the same impact? Some people say keep away from comedy in radio commercials. For me, it’s not just about quality but quantity. Even the funniest joke told over and over wears thin. If you can have a series of ads that rotate (the more the merrier), then you stand a chance of entertaining without irritating.
Audio signals mean that you don’t even need to listen to the ad for it to register which company has just been advertising. This is aural branding. Think British Airways, Direct Line, Intel, Lloyds Bank. These aren’t jingles though.
(British Airways piano/sitar ad)
A jingle is something sung to a tune and these days, they seem to be the lowest form of life for ad agencies. Anyone can write a little line and set it to an upbeat few musical notes. They aren’t particularly clever but can be immensely memorable due to their annoyance factor.
Worst of all is when a whole commercial is sung to a well known tune. Whoever produces these must think that borrowing the positive associations of recognisable tunes must be worth shelling out the cash for the usage fees.
This morning, I listened to an entire radio ad set to the Nestles Milkybar ad theme music, but this was about a place that fits tyres and shock absorbers. They rhymed every line and ended with the telephone number sung at the end. Cheesy? Way beyond. But they must think it works. These days, I wonder if it is enough to be memorable rather than relevant. Relevancy is a personal thing. If you are in the market for something, you tune in – literally. For example, if you need a loan, you hear loan ads. If it’s a holiday in the sun you want, you hear the travel company’s commercials. And if you need new tyres for your car, maybe just maybe you’ll think of the Nestles Milkybar kid who’s grown up and now works down your local garage as a grease monkey.
Again, this morning I had a poor Elvis impersonator singing me a telephone number at the end of an ad. Why? Mr Presley must be turning in his grave.
What I find odd these days is that we are told how long we’ve got to do the ad. This means that the media dictates the creative. Imagine the media agency booking only black and white press for the Sony Bouncing Balls press ads. I have had the argument that the script we’ve just written would work best as a 40 second commercial. The media company says it must be 30 seconds to get the number of repetitions required to hit the audience. My retort is always been – ‘isn’t it better that slightly fewer people listen to a great radio ad rather than more people listen to an average one?’ I have never won.
When the RAB produced a top 40 Hall of Fame radio advertising CD, only 5 were 30 second ads, only one a 20 second ad. The longest ad was 2 minutes 40 seconds but is a masterpiece. I wonder if they’d be able to produce this now.
(Red Cross ad)
Too many words
Many clients want every box ticked when it comes to radio advertising. They think that by simply speaking faster, you can squeeze in more. If they looked at a press ad that contained as much information, it would be a dog’s dinner. But because it’s ‘just words’, they want to get everything in there. If you throw someone a ball, they’re likely to catch it. Throw them 20 balls and they’ll catch none of them. It’s the same thing with messages. Keep it simple – one message, one thought, one direction in your ad.
(20/20 Opticians ad)
Call to action
I’m not convinced that anyone really remembers a telephone number or a web address when mentioned in a radio ad. Only with repetition do you get that number into people’s heads and that costs a lot of money. Nobody sits by a radio with a pen and paper ready to jot down the contact details from a commercial. I believe these days that the best way to get a response is by integrating radio into a wider campaign where it is one of the media choices in a mix of digital, press, DM, posters – in fact, whatever the budget will allow.
Do not rely on one media channel to deliver you the best ROI. It really is a case of 1+1=3 and 1+1+1=5.
Another way to achieve a cost effective response is buying Google adwords. The more unusual, the better (i.e. cheaper). For a short term burst, if your whole ad creative is based around a theme, chose a word or words that relate to the ad and bid on the keywords to get you higher up in the search rankings. Few people remember a phone number or whole web address but they’ll key in ‘flamingo ad’ into Google if they were genuinely interested in the funny flamingo ad for that insurance company they heard about this morning with the special offer.
Or, launch a microsite a few weeks beforehand and hand it over to some search engine optimisation specialists who’ll help get it up high in the natural search rankings. This takes a little time but can be very cost-effective. Again though, it demonstrates a more rounded (I’d say ‘holistic’ but hate using clichéd words!) approach by using different media.
If there is a shop or somewhere to visit, tell people.
(COI Army Twig ad)
The message I’m preaching these days is ‘recognition’. Something I’m calling ‘Participation Advertising’. We have a great power as commercials producers. We can actually involve people in our work. This form of inclusion helps build brand advocates and brand evangelists. Rather than simply talking at people, why not talk with them? Better still, let them talk for you. This is not just a testimonials approach. And it’s not about getting people to do their own ads.
Everyone loves a bit of recognition. From your postman to your landlord, the restaurant staff to your local shopkeeper, your Lamborghini dealer to your yacht builder… Wherever you choose to spend your hard earned cash,
When you are listening out for you on the radio, those few seconds of ‘fame’ start to make up the fifteen minutes you were promised by Andy Warhol. Are there ways of encouraging people to phone in to give their voice to something? Is it a pledge of support, a chance to show off a talent, give advice, or simply to say ‘hello mum’? Give people the option of contributing and you may well find your loyalty without screaming out money off discounts and free giveaways.
There have always been and always will be people who come on air through phone-ins on every radio station. The draw of not only hearing your name on radio but potentially hearing your voice too can be very seductive. Giving this option to your audience – i.e. getting the chance to be involved – encourages two way communication, surely the best thing for any relationship.
(Marie Curie Cancer Care ad)
For more information
For quick reference on radio advertising, copywriting, creativity and participation advertising, call Chris Catchpole now on 07595 030 131, email him at [email protected] or go to www.chriscatchpole.com. Or for radio production, speak to Tim Lofts, Sound Designer at Scramble Soho, 8 Portland Mews, London W1F 8JH T 020 7479 4400 or email [email protected]
With Sharpen Up, the Art Direction Workshop and judging the Awards ahead of me, I’m going to be with my DMA pals a lot over the next month or so. I always enjoy talking about copywriting, this time is a bit different as it’s going to be a panel session.
The Art Direction Workshop has me and Tim Lofts from Scramble (Radio production company) lecturing about art directing radio ads – great lecture that should be with sound effects and great ads included.
Judging has been a passion of mine for years now. Best Launch Campaign, Best Creative Solution or Innovation and Best use of Mobile are my categories over the three days in October. Always good debate. Always some cracking work. Click here to enter.
Off to write Domain’s entries now before my New York trip to Smile Train, one of our biggie clients, for a presentation next week.
Here’s the brand new microsite we’ve created for the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. In keeping with my ‘Participation Advertising’ philosophy, here you can add your own favourite memory and donate to the campaign. And the more memories we get, the bigger the site grows. Today we had our first foreign language addition plus we added a few more celebrities too. Backed by a DM piece that mailed today and a fully integrated on and offline PR campaign, we’ve loads more activity to come up to the end of the year and into 2010.
Click here to see the site and add your memory. If you can donate too, they’ll be delighted. ART say they’re just 5 to 10 years away from making a real breakthrough in terms of treatment. The more money they get, the more hours of research they can fund.