The phone rang. “We’ve got an ad to make,” said the producer, miserably.
“Great!” I giggled.
“It’s a TV ad. Er…except it’s not.”
“It’s a radio ad…but the writer’s written a (BLEEP) telly ad. Again.” Then the producer said something that not even I can bring myself to write down, mainly for legal reasons.

This situation often arises. Copywriters confuse the medium of radio with the visual nature of television. Oh-so-often I’ll read a radio commercial that says “We have amazing offers! Like this fridge freezer – only £199! And this washer – just £299!”

They’ve written it as if I’m stood in the shop, pointing at the white goods. And the listener can see the products I’m pointing at. But they can’t.

Because it’s radio, see?

That is to say, very much a non-visual media.

So back to the ad in question.

“What’s the ad about?” I asked.
“Financial planning,” growled the producer.
“And what am I meant to be doing?”
“Yes. But there’s no mention of (BLEEP) yoga anywhere in the (BLEEP) script! It’s all about financial (BLEEP) planning! There’s no (BLEEP) hint that you’re doing yoga! You’ve just got to sound as if you’re stretching and being relaxed because you’re very (BLEEP) confident you’ve made appropriate financial provision for your (BLEEPING) retirement.”
“What? Like groaning and stuff?”
“Yes. But don’t sound constipated. Sounding like you’re trying to take a shit won’t encourage the listener to make wise financial plans.”

It was the same story with a different ad last week. That one was about an accident that wasn’t my fault and I was meant to be painting a wall. But there was no clue in the script as to what I was doing, or even why I was doing it. Not a hint. Nothing. Just a plaintive bit of direction from the writer: “SFX: wet paint slopping on a wall, then being brushed with a brush (ie a paint brush).”

To the listener it must sound very perplexing.

Concepts that have been half-abandoned are still hanging about the script in these ads, all phantasmagorical, like The Ghost of Ideas Past.

You get a sense that the raison d’etre of the commercial started with a very different idea to the one you have to make live and breathe on the air.

So this is an appeal to copywriters everywhere: please, PLEASE write radio scripts that will work on the radio.

Try doing an audio mime and you’ll see what I’m getting at.


To hear some examples of great radio ads, click here.


    Tony Harris

    I was a studio engineer for many years in Soho, and have been presented with radio scripts that said:
    SFX: Young couple on sofa.
    SFX: Burglar’s footsteps.
    and my favourite
    SFX: Village covered in snow.
    On the RADIO?

    June 3, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      Hahahhaaa! My other favourites?
      SFX: Car interior. Driver indicates left.
      And the all-time classic:
      SFX: Sunshine

      June 3, 2015 at 2:35 pm

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