Why Most Radio Spots Suck

Listening to radio doesn't have to hurt.

Listening to radio doesn’t have to hurt.

I’ve judged many ad award shows, and judging the radio category is an experience as pleasant as slowly driving knitting needles into your ears.

Why is radio advertising so awful? Because most agencies treat it as an afterthought. The typical hierarchy of attention-paid-to-medium is as follows: TV, video, digital, print, social, flag semaphore, smoke signals, windshield flyers and finally… radio.

It comes down like this: everyone is working on the new campaign when suddenly someone says, “Hey, apparently there’s some radio in the media buy, so I guess we’ll need some spots. Quick.”

Off the assignment goes–– to the most junior writer (because the senior ones are off on shoots or in edit suites). Giving a radio job to a junior is like placing a loaded gun in a playpen. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.

Radio is the ultimate writer’s medium; there’s no place to hide in creating theatre of the mind. Poor writing is enunciated, stupid gimmicks are amplified, and bad jokes fall on deaf ears crashing to the floor and causing fingers to dart in a frantic scramble to change channels.

But when radio is well-executed, when the concept, writing and production all work toward being interesting and entertaining, well, that’s a slice of heaven. Ear candy. A spot that entices, intrigues, entertains and commands attention and engagement.

Those spots are rare, which is a pity. Great radio is magical, it plays differently, perfectly on every listener’s stage. That’s the thing about radio, the listener is an active participant. She/he does the work of visualizing the entire spot, which is why the creation of a radio commercial is so critical.

Please, marketers, give radio spots the attention and respect they deserve. If not for your brand’s sake, then for the sake of humanity. (Or, at least, award show judges.)