Sunday, 20 December 2009

A good year for radio adverts ?

Well let’s face it, it’s been a bit of a surreal year.

The radio commercial production industry has had some big highs and it’s fair share of lows.

On the high side, it was great to see (what appears to be) more radio station Commercial Production departments getting the recognition they deserve. I was particularly pleased to see Global Creative up there with the mighty agencies in this year’s Aerial Awards. Generally, Aerial prize winners come from the agency sector, so it was terrific to see a representation from the commercial radio industry.

For me, the news that the Sony Awards is finally recognising the craft of the Commercial Producer was one of my yearly highlights. I really hope station commercial producers embrace the chance to win a Sony. Not only would it prove you’re an excellent Commercial Producer, but also you know your stuff about radio too !

For proddies, ‘Vox’ was an excellent get together. Not only was it great to catch up with old colleagues, but it was interesting to find out how people were doing. Numerous voice artists told me that in 2009, their earnings from radio commercials had plummeted. That was in the spring. Let’s hope things are now showing some improvement.

Another new thing to hit the web this year was Global’s In effect, it’s DIY radio. Book the airtime online, choose a commercial online. I have mixed feelings about the concept. Yes, it’s convenient. But 26 years of experience has taught me that every campaign has it’s own nuances. A generalistic approach to buying radio will not be the ideal solution for every customer.

How has the year been for me ? With a recession, I didn’t expect things to be normal. The early to middle part of the year has been odd. Some great months and months that left me scratching my head wondering ‘what the hell happened there ?’ A lot of clients have opted for ‘safer’ commercials. IE, ads that simply tell it as it is, rather than longer more ‘creative’ campaigns. However, since around September, regular clients began asking for Airforce to develop new exciting ideas. As for new business enquiries: Without doubt, they have been higher than they have been for a long long time.

2010 won’t be the year everyone gets out of the recession, yet there definitely is an excellent feeling of optimism. The work is out there, but all of us have to work a little harder to get it. I’m up for it.

To all readers, thanks for sticking with my rants and opinions. You may not agree with everything, but at least it gives everyone the chance to debate the issues.

Happy Christmas !
Visit the Airforce website here.

John Calvert

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Who's the voice of choice ?

Client-read radio commercials are like buses. You don’t have them for what feels like an age and then suddenly you get two through at the same time !

I get worried when a client wishes to ‘participate’ in the making of his or her own radio advert. Radio Commercial Production is one of those areas where some clients believe they are somehow better qualified to voice a radio ad than a professional voice. After producing thousands of radio ads over a 26 year period, I have only found that belief to be true on only one occasion.

Last week I had two clients who insisted they made an appearance in their radio ads. And have you noticed it’s always the clients who have a voice that is dull or (forgive the slight political incorrectness here) has a voice that has some kind of irritating trait to it ?

But how to persuade an advertiser not to have his or her voice in their radio ad ? If you work for a radio station and you have a client who’s making the suggestion, it’s quite simple: Have a ‘no client voices their own advertisement’ policy.

Oh, and have a policy ready for when the client says he or she knows someone famous to voice their commercials. I recall two events when I was a station Commercial Producer. The first awkward moment was when the client was best mates with a very famous British comedian. Trouble was, unbeknown to the client, the comedian was dyslexic. We ended up re-recording everything with a professional voice.

The other occasion was when the client knew a (then) very well-known sports commentator. The client got this commentator for free on the understanding the commentator could plug his own insurance company at the end of the ad. “And by the way, if you’re looking for good car insurance, call Xxxxxxx Xxxxxxx Insurance on....” went the ad. It was all very cringe-worthy stuff.

Pick your famous voices carefully as well. Just because a voice is a well known actor/actress or TV presenter, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are good at voiceovers. I was once asked to direct a very famous British actress. Although the timbre of her voice was amazing, I quickly discovered she couldn’t read scripts for toffee. I recall we did about 50 edits in a 20 second commercial to make the end- result sound reasonably decent.

In order to avoid incidences like that again, I often listen to ‘personalities’ voice demos very carefully, particularly when I hear them read commercials. A good clue to knowing if they are ‘proper’ voiceovers is to time the commercials they are reading on their showreel. If you hear a full-length commercial that lasts 26 seconds/14 seconds/35 seconds, it means it’s likely their ‘read’ isn’t a genuine commercial. Also note the brand they are reading about. Does the tone, music etc match all the other commercials you have encountered for that brand ?

I am noting many personalities are now jumping on the voiceover bandwagon. The majority of them are going to give you a great read. But because it’s not uncommon for many to charge a ‘minimum’ of say, £3000 for their services, make sure that investment will genuinely bring something great to the commercial.


Wednesday, 11 November 2009

How Cliche is your Christmas Radio Advertising ?

Regular readers to the Ad Vantage column in the Radio Magazine will know that for what feels like an age, I have been banging on about the lack of recognition for Commercial Producers in the Sony Awards.

But if you don’t know already, the organisers of the 2010 awards have announced 4 new categories; 3 of which allow Commercial Producers to flex their creative muscles. The new categories are: ‘Best Use of Branded Content’, ‘Best Single Promo/Commercial’ and ‘Best Promotional/Advertising Campaign’.

I don’t know what finally persuaded the organisers to add these categories, but this is truly excellent news and I really hope that radio stations everywhere will submit loads of their best work. You can get details at

In the last 2 weeks, I’ve noticed an upsurge in demand for Christmas radio ads. Good news for producers and radio stations alike ! When I worked in station commercial production departments many years ago, the demand for Christmas commercials was massive. So much so, it wasn’t unusual to actually run out of Christmas library music !

Things have evolved over the years. Over the last couple of years, the feeling I got from many advertisers is that “listeners know Christmas is coming. They’ll come without being invited”. This year, things feel different. It’s not desperation either. It’s the feeling that advertisers are A) feeling a little more confident about things and B) Know they can only get out of the slump by getting off their arses and start advertising !

Christmas radio advertising though is often predictable. There’s nothing wrong with having Santa in your ad, but the dialogue usally resembles an audio version of a till receipt rather than something that’s actually Christmassy. As I indicated in my last Ad Vantage article, there’s more to a brand than it’s price. This Christmas, I think commercials should be doing a couple of things:

1: Perhaps we should gently draw listeners attention to Christmases past. Not necessarily idyllic Christmas card-like snowy scenes such as Victorian children skating on glittering frozen ponds and all that sickly stuff. What I mean is Christmases past when we were younger and had less responsibility and commitments. Many psychologists suggest that in ‘difficult times’ we get comfort in remembering the days when life was easier. For brands and businesses with a heritage, this kind of stuff is gold.

2: Let’s make Christmas cool ! Over the years, numerous bands have released songs that don’t actually sound Christmassy, yet they encapsulate the cultural tone of the year the song was released in. Christmas music in radio ads usually feature musical church bells, sleighbells and choirboy samples. Hardly ‘today’.
How about some electric guitars ? Ambient pads, sound-scapes or some really cool drum loops ? By doing this kind of stuff, advertisers are presenting a new and original offering for Christmas. Far more inspiring than the cliché Yamaha DX7 approach.

Oh, and when Christmas Day is over, pull the Christmas ads. Many advertisers continue with the same ads after Christmas Day. But from December 26th, the sparkle of Christmas fades really fast. By all means keep on advertising, but instead focus on the next big thing.

For radio adverts that are far from everyday, click here.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Hurrahh ! The Sony Radio Academy Awards announce a category for Radio Commercials !

For as long as I can remember, I have been incredibly puzzled about why the Sony Awards have never recognised radio adverts.

I have written numerous articles in the Radio Magazine about this anomaly, but now things have finally been rectified. Click here for details.

If your station makes radio ads, go for it !

John Calvert

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Don't cut your prices. Increase them !

Seen the new ads for Marks & Spencer ? They say “quality worth every penny”.

Hooray ! At last, an advertiser selling products for their true worth !

To be honest, I’m getting really fed up with advertising that repeatedly tells listeners they can save money. In the Anne Robinson Watchdog age, even ordinary members of the public can work out brand owners cannot genuinely slash their prices all of the time. The public are also aware of how expensive advertising can be. Many will be saying: “Why do advertisers spend millions of pounds telling me they have cut their prices ? It doesn’t make sense !”

Advertising price cuts during a recession is obviously tempting. But as I have said many times before, people will only buy a product or service if they have a genuine need or want for it. Sure, price cuts can speed up the process, but they are not 100% responsible for creating that feeling of want and need.

I have just come back from a meeting with an old client of mine. Like many other companies, life has been tough over the last year or so. But he said to me today that at last, business was nicely picking up and that his company would definitely be stronger as a result of advertising heavily during the recession. Furthermore, throughout the slump, my client never promoted a single price cut. In fact, he didn’t cut his prices ! Words like ‘value’ made an appearance on the odd occasion, but ‘special offers’ were an absolute no-no.

The new M&S strategy, “quality worth every penny” shows that good things are still worth paying more for. In times when treating yourself is good for the soul, people will always spend a little more for a comfort fix. Perhaps that’s why sales of make up have actually increased during the recession ? (Incidentally, I love M&S including the word ‘penny’ in their new line. The perception is that their products only cost a few pennies more, rather than many pounds more !)

So how many radio adverts actually exploit the value of a product or service, rather than the price ? How often do advertisers focus on the huge emotional dividends the product or service will bring, rather than how much it actually costs to buy ?

A quick plug here: Go get yourself the book ‘Buy-Ology, How Everything We Believe About Why We Buy is Wrong’ by Martin Lindstrom. It covers the science of Neuro Marketing and how brands are discovering it’s not conscious logic that effects how and what we buy. It’s something a lot deeper. To find out what, read the book. It’s fascinating stuff and has confirmed to me that ‘price’ only has a small part to play in our purchasing decision process.

I really really hope that many radio advertisers start to wake up to the fact that there’s more to their brand than just price. A brand can be made priceless providing effort is invested in creating the perception that’s it’s worth...Every single penny.

John Calvert.

For radio commercials that really are the business, contact Airforce here.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Recover from the Recesssion faster: Advertise !

Every business should advertise. I am often perplexed when company owners say "we don't need to advertise".

Really ? Well Mr Businessman if that's the case, you know something that other businesses would pay you shedloads of money for. Trouble is, because you don't believe in advertising, no-one will ever find out about it. Ah well.

Because I am constantly telling businesses to spend their hard-earnt cash on advertising, it only feels right Airforce should do the same too !

2009 has seen us spend more money on marketing and publicity than ever before. The next phase is a regular appearance in the Radio Magazine. In addition at Christmas time, a publicity campaign that started in the spring comes to a climax. At a time where 'feel good' stories get more prominence, our PR company will be making sure that Airforce gets a share of the column inches, airtime and web space allocated to these kind of stories.

Spending money during a recession is scary. But it's been proven that maintaining a public presence during a down-turn helps to keep the wolves away from the door. The fact is, just because there's a recession on, it doesn't mean the whole world has stopped spending. Consumers are still spending on stuff they want and need. Radio advertising has that wonderful ability to sell an idea to a highly-influential public. And as we all know, once that seed has taken root, the mind will work overtime to find a way of buying it.

Want to recover from the recession faster ? Talk to Airforce about making radio commercials, radio adverts and jingles that get your tills ringing. Visit our website here.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Radio Adverts: Create that new habit !

This is a typical Wednesday in the Calvert household:

I get up at 7am. I go downstairs to feed our cat Archie with a special food to stop him getting even fatter. In the office by about 7.20. I download all emails on my HP PC and print off the scripts on my Epson printer for an ISDN voiceover session I regularly do every Wednesday with the BBC. I could get up later, but if I do, I think I sound slurred. About 45 minutes is enough to fully wake up and catch up with things that need my attention.

After the session, the wife is usually awake. Dan, my 3 year old son will be tucking into Coco Pops and a drink of Tomato Juice. (It’s the only thing he’ll drink other than water.)

After tidying up the kitchen, it’s back to work. My wife drops Dan to Pre-School and returns to work on the accounts for our two companies.

I work solidly without any break to about 2pm. It could be anything from scriptwriting to recording voices via my Audio TX and mixing commercials on Pro Tools. From there, I gather some documents and jump into the BMW and head to a meeting. I always stop at the Esso station in Wootton Basset to buy a pasty and a can of ‘V’ energy drink.

At the meeting, I present the document and play audio from my Bose Acoustic Music System. In my opinion, nothing sounds better.

After the meeting, I check emails on my Iphone. On longer trips, I bring a small hard drive of all the radio commercials and music Airforce has ever recorded in the last 3 years. Then it’s off home. In Lyneham, I will usually stop at Tesco to buy wine for me and the missus. I drink white, Mrs C drinks red. She used to drink Rose, but now after drinking just one glass of Rose, she’ll get a migraine the next day.

It’s back into the office until about 6pm. Then it’s family time. Having said that, I keep the phone on because I know a few clients may call after 6. Dan will have had his tea, (he loves pasta) and will watch Waybuloo on C Beebies. Me and the wife will be discussing some business (She co-owns Airforce) while we crack open the wine.

Later, I will bath Dan. He likes Matey bubble bath, but we wash his hair with Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. Dan will then rest on the sofa with some milk and usually drop off. At 7.30ish, I will cook dinner and then watch TV on our Samsung TV. Later, I check emails on more time, then it’s off to bed.

So what’s the point behind me telling you my daily routine ?

We all have one. Every day, we go through the same routines, rituals and habits. You may not be aware of it, but you’ll have superstitions as well. You’ll do things in a certain way because you’ll believe your day will be a better as a result doing things ‘your’ way. You may avoid walking on cracks in the pavement. You may never walk under a ladder. You won’t buy a pastry from the bakery on the street corner because you heard someone got food poisoning there. You may think that if you buy a Lottery ticket with a specific set of numbers, you stand a better chance of winning. You will stick religiously to certain personal hygiene products because you believe they are more effective than others. You will always park in the same area every time you visit your local supermarket. You may think Christmas isn’t Christmas without a tree and a Turkey. The list goes on and on.

Our days are dominated with routines, rituals, habits, beliefs and superstitions. Some will be very subtle, whereas others you will be completely aware of and apologise to others for them. We carry them out to make us feel comfortable and in control. Many national advertisers know this, so they create products that help to maintain and enhance that feeling of well-being. Think about it. For hundreds of years, the human race survived perfectly without mobile phones. Today, if we leave our mobiles at home or the battery runs out, we feel vulnerable. The mobile companies have us where they want us.

As for local advertisers, I think they are missing out on a trick. They too should be encouraging listeners to create new habits and rituals with their product bang-slap in the middle of everything. So today, as you sip your daily Starbucks Frappuccino (because you believe it’s the only way to wake you up), think about making your advertisers products and services a way of life, a comfort zone, a ritual or dare I say...

...A pleasant and welcome addiction.

Fof help on making your radio commercials tap into the minds of your audience, visit

Friday, 2 October 2009

And the winners are...

There’s a great ad kicking around at the moment. Having a dig at John Lewis, it reads: “Step into middle England’s best loved department store, stroll through haberdashery to the audio visual department where an awfully well bought up young man will bend over backwards to find the right TV for you.

...Then go to and buy it”

It made me chuckle and instantly gave me one of those “I wish I had written that” moments.

The above is a press ad. Yet thinking about it, I can’t understand why there isn’t more comparative advertising on the radio. Many business love to hark about how good their prices and service are. But if we are new to a brand, it is hard to gauge just how good the prices and service is. Comparisons are a great way of doing it and providing you’re 100% accurate on the facts, you should go for it.

Nowadays, we are seeing major supermarkets comparing each other’s prices. These companies yield great power and in many respects this gives smaller businesses a licence to play the game too. However, many local advertisers feel reluctant to go up against their national rivals, but I think providing no one exaggerates the truth or berates the competition, the audience will love the banter. Experience has also told me that many national companies won’t change their pricing and marketing strategy just because one independent local business is saying they are better. There will be exceptions of course, but generally local businesses will always have the upper hand.

Changing the subject, you may have noticed the results of the Radio Advertising Awards. I was thrilled to see that the event wasn’t 100% dominated by ad agencies. The category ‘Best Use of Radio to Drive Awareness’ was won by Global Ideas Birmingham for ‘Death Calling’. Congratulations to all involved.

The Grand Prix winner was for ‘Search’ by the Department of Transport. A great commercial with a very simple message. Well worth a listen at the RAB website.

My favourite was for ZSL London Zoo. Winning the ‘Best Sound Design’ catagory, there isn’t a wasted moment in this commercial. A Clear, fun, clever and compelling message. Great stuff.

The Radio Advertising Awards prove that there is still some great work out there. Though I know many Commercial Producers working on more ‘local’ campaigns will feel frustrated that many of their good radio scripts have been let down by their client’s insistence to include phone numbers and other meaningless twaddle. Hence there is a reluctance to enter the work. On the odd occasion, I have heard of producers creating two versions of the commercial. One a ‘client-friendly’ version complete with the twaddle and another which is the ad as it should be: A finely-crafted piece of radio advertising. If radio stations could persuade more of their clients to run the latter for a short while, then I reckon we would see more radio stations winning in the Radio Advertising Awards.

My only niggle about the Radio Advertising Awards ? On the impressive list of judges, there wasn’t anyone who works full-time in a commercial radio station or radio group. The inclusion of such a person would add another interesting perspective on the proceedings.

Regular readers to the Ad Vantage column will know my other awards niggle is the organisers of the Sony Awards not including a Station-Produced Radio Commercial category in their awards list. The UK broadcasts millions of hours worth of radio ads (more than promos AND there’s a category for them !), yet radio adverts have been completely ignored.

2010 Sony Awards perhaps ?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

This is not great.

Cringeworthy and completely un-realistic. Surely there must have been a better way to do this ?

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Give your Radio Advert an idea !

Let’s face it, a fair chunk of the local commercials broadcast on radio consist of 30 seconds worth of prices and special offers. Above that, there are radio commercials with some kind of ‘idea’ or thought that the advertiser is wanting to tell you. And above that, there are a small handful of commercials that when you hear them, you really want to buy that product.

Yesterday I encountered a commercial for a particular brand of coffee. At the end of it, I had no idea what I was supposed to feel or indeed do. It was a TV commercial, so we have to assume the campaign was an expensive one. So what a waste ! If a commercial simply shows the product and really doesn’t tell you why it’s good for you, how is anyone expected to know what to do or feel after the commercial has ended ?

Advertisements for products like coffee, make up, cars etc have to reach out and touch you. The brand has to show it can make a great contribution to your life and somehow, things will only be second-best if you choose not to buy it.

To be honest, I find few radio commercials to be aspirational. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve head radio ads for skip hire companies telling me I can hire a bloody great skip for only £50. Fantastic if I need a skip, but if I am not told why they are good for me, I am going to ignore the commercial completely. I have heard radio ads for half-price sofas. But I will be only interested if I am in the market for buying a sofa. I have heard commercials for cheap diamond engagement rings. But if I had a girlfriend and was not sold the idea of popping the question, the chances of me buying the special-offer ring won’t increase. In all 3 cases, the advertisers could have sold us ‘the idea’ of their products and services. Just like a ‘serving suggestion’ illustration on a packet of food, radio adverts would attract a larger amount of interest if the commercial had some sort of ‘lifestyle suggestion’ or better still, clearly show the positive outcome buying the product/service would bring.

Too many advertisers believe that ‘just telling’ will somehow turn on a metaphoric tap allowing a torrent of new business to come their way. In reality, it’s more likely to be a trickle. No one will buy anything unless they want or need it. The ‘special offer’ should really be treated as the final incentive to buy.

This week, I am off to take a brief from a brand new client. He’s dabbled with radio in the past, but never done anything (in his words) ‘serious’. His business is in a very crowded sector, but in our initial conversation on the phone the client said “People don’t buy our products on just price alone. There’s a lot more to it than that. People buy our products because the lifestyle it gives them is absolutely second to none.”

Fantastic. By cutting out all the price-related crap, there’ll be ample room to get listeners salivating with desire. Sure price, is important. But all of us know that when we see something that really ticks all the boxes, the mind has an uncanny knack of finding a way to make us buy it, regardless of what the price may be.

For a free consolutation, visit

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Put some 'Joy' in your radio advertising !

For as long as I can remember BMW, the makers of ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ have presented us with superbly art-directed images of the cars. Every past TV commercial showed us a beautifully lit car. The announcer’s words were short, sharp and compelling. It’s was all highly-aspirational stuff and has obviously sold shed-loads of cars.

But have you seen the new ad for BMW ? We’re outdoors ! The commercials feature people ! They are happy folk smiling and laughing ! The music sounds like ‘Sense’ by the Lightning Seeds ! And the wall-to wall copy from the announcer (Patrick Stewart) says “At BMW, we don’t just make cars...We make joy !”. See the ad here.

This is a big creative turnaround by BMW. For the first time in ages, they’ve put emotion into their marketing. It could be argued that the slick moody ads of the past were ‘emotive’, but the new approach is a darn-site more blatant.

It is said that only 5% of all purchases are only made on logic. The remaining 95% is made on emotion. Be it clothes or anything else, thoughts such as “I’ll look good wearing this”... “It’s my colour”... “I look the part”... “It’ll make me happy”... “It’s a treat”... all make major contributions in the buying process.

So although there are lots of radio ads out there that make us laugh or make us think (IE Road safety), how many are there that actually tap into our minds and take advantage of our emotional vulnerability ?

We need to start thinking more about the stuff that makes people tick. In BMW’s case, associating ‘Joy’ with their cars is in my opinion, a great move. Compare ‘We don’t just make cars...We make joy ’ with Toyota’s ‘Today Tomorrow Toyota’ and you begin to realise that BMW is now miles ahead on the emotive stakes.

I think many local advertisers think certain aspects of advertising are out of bounds for them simply because they ARE local. The reality is, clever emotive advertising isn’t just for the big brands everyone can have a piece of the action. My next task after writing this article is to take a brief from an advertiser who sells cookers. Each one costs in the region of £32,000! I am astounded at the cost, but in an initial conversation with the client, he tells me you just have to look at one of his cookers and you’ll A) Fall in love with it and then B) Want to buy one. “The mind always find a way to buy what it wants” the client added. The job of the radio advertising will be to start that process and effect an introduction between the cooker and the listener.

I am really looking forward to working on this project. And today, I hope radio sales people will not only encourage their advertisers to play the emotion card in their radio adverts; but also use emotion to sell more radio airtime !

Put some joy in your radio advertising. Get in touch with Airforce now !

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Who's best to produce your Radio Adverts ?

I spent a day with the sales team at a radio station this week. It’s something I have done for a number of stations who don’t have their own in-house radio commercial production department. Basically, I am theirs for a whole day either taking briefs, presenting concepts, advising advertisers on how they can improve their creative or imparting thoughts and guidance to members of the sales team.

Throughout one such meeting, the Sales Team told me they ‘are obliged to use selected production companies for their commercial production needs’.

Do I have a problem with that ? No actually. Providing each specially selected company has something different to offer. However, from the feedback I am getting is that the companies some stations contract their com prod to have pretty much the same offering. The only perceptible difference is the sound of their showreels !

There has always been a debate on whether radio stations who don’t have in-house commercial production should only work with one production company or a number of them.

But I’ve never been a supporter of radio stations having just one contract Commercial Production and Music provider. “You would say that wouldn’t you ?” You may say. “You’re the owner of a production company and you want some of the work !” Too right I do, but from the radio station’s and advertiser’s point of view, production companies are going to work a little bit harder when they know a gig could go to somebody else. In addition, if an advertiser knows he has lots of people working for him, then he’s likely to put more faith in the station who is recommending all these companies.

The reality is, many stations have a roster of production companies working for them. There is no doubt that having a choice of providers helps a radio station have an interesting spectrum of commercial output. This is one of the reasons why I like radio advertising so much. You never hear of a local newspaper putting one of their client’s creative out to tender. “The person who comes up with the best visual gets the gig.” In radio, pitching is alive and well and my opinion should happen (with firm rules set down) more often. Stations and advertisers get better work and it keeps Production Companies on their toes.

But how far should creative pitches go ? Demo’s have always been a bit of a grey area. In my view, no client should demand a recorded demo unless they are prepared to pay a fee set by the production company for it. The reality is that providing you explain the script and the concept clearly to a client, you generally don’t need to record a demo. If the idea is good, it will leap off the paper with little to no effort at all.

Not only that, too many good creative ideas have stopped at the first hurdle because someone has written at the bottom of the brief: “All commercials must be 30 seconds in length”. I touched on this in a recent article.

But there’s a proviso to being a roster commercial production to a radio station. If radio stations ask you to pitch on price, then you have to question in who’s best interests is ‘the best price wins’ pitch is for. So many good ideas have been ruined or never got off the ground because someone ‘wants a deal’. Perhaps if people focussed on ‘wanting radio advertising that works’, I think everyone would reap the benefits a lot more. I know of companies who make radio ads for stations for £75 each, £50 each even £40 each ! How anyone can produce a half-decent radio ad AND pay for good writing talent, voiceovers, recording kit, running costs etc for £40 really is beyond me. A station exec told me yesterday “It’s all about bulk, if they have lots of jobs then they can make it work. ” That’s fine until the station or group decides for whatever reason to not renew the contract. This kind of thing happens and it makes me think: How many companies that rely hugely on Contract Commercial Production actually have a Plan B ?

Myself and many other proddies have been in the business long enough to see that the debate on contracting out versus in-house commercial production raises it’s head every so many years. Commercial Radio is currently going through ‘one of those phases’ where things are once again being shaken up. One station exec recently told me that management are now encouraging their sales team to get radio ads written and made by the station’s Promo Producer. I have also heard stories of stations asking Jocks to make commercials when they are not on air. I also know of station MD’s making radio ads !

The above examples are by no means widespread, but never the less, still worrying. The fact is, a radio advert can make or break an advertiser’s commitment to a radio station. As one of my agency clients always says to his clients: “If you’re going to advertise on the radio...Try to advertise brilliantly !” He’s absolutely right. So if your station has in-house or contract Commercial Producers, give them the right environment to make as many of their commercials absolute crackers. Above and beyond everything else: If the advertising sounds good and works, a station will flourish.

Want your radio adverts to sound good ? Visit our website at

Thursday, 13 August 2009

This 'Airforce' makes radio commercials !

With a company name like 'Airforce', you can't blame folks to think that we're something to do with the military. We're definitely not, but if you're here thinking we are, best click here.

Over the years, we've had shedloads of emails, letters and phone calls from people asking us how they can become a fighter pilot. In addition, we're often asked for recordings of military music. Recently a lady emailed us and asked if we could forward her some military tunes so they could be played at her late husband's funeral. We sent a nice email back saying that we couldn't personally help and included a link to a brilliant web site that would be able to help her.

3 years ago, Airforce HQ re-located to Wiltshire. We are a few minutes drive away from RAF Lyneham and the town of Wootton Bassett. You will have heard these names on the news. When a British solidier is killed in Afganistan, they are flown into RAF Lyneham. From there, they are taken through the small town of Wootton Bassett where literally the whole town stops to pay it's respects.

On returning from client meetings, I have passed through Wootton Bassett just before or after a repatriation ceremony. On one occasion, I witnessed about 8 hearses coming out of the town. It was hugely moving.

Although we just make radio adverts and have nothing to do with the military, it doesn't mean we're not interested in the military. In the last 7 days, I have been a guest of The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

An officer of HMS St Albans invited me, a colleague and some friends to spend a day on board a proper war ship. We went to Portsmouth, boarded HMS St Albans and went out to sea. We pretty much had complete freedom of the ship. We went to the bridge, met the captain, saw an amazing helicopter flypast and even went into the Ops Room. (Where they launch the missiles !)

Few folks get to see and experience what we did and on so many levels, it was a huge eye opener. See the pics below. They show Yours Truly with mates, colleagues & our host, the Missile Silo and life on the Bridge.

From there, we went to Lyneham as guests of the RAF. The Red Arrows made an appearance and we toured huge Hercules planes and helicopters. Again, a real eye opener.

My thanks to Duncan and Gaz for giving us 2 amazing days. Much respect to you and everyone who defends our country and our freedom.

John Calvert

PS: If you're here to find out how to get great radio adverts made, visit

Friday, 7 August 2009

Don't think all radio adverts should just be 30 seconds...

This week, my company was involved in a client pitch.

The presentation of radio commercials went well and after taking the potential new client through the document, I asked if there was anything that needed clarifying.

“The ads are longer than 30 seconds”, the client observed. I explained that the brief didn’t specify any preference for any specific length.

“We ONLY have 30 second ads” the client replied.

In my years of making radio adverts, I have always been concerned by this obsession with radio ads having to be 30 seconds ! It is a dreadful duration, namely because the length allows little-to-no time to set a good scene for the brand/product/service, promote the benefit and then close off with the call to action.

I know I am not the only Commercial Producer who has problems with this. In my capacity as a Voice Over, I am often sent 30 second scripts that struggle to be engaging in any way. There is an idea in there, but often it is undercooked because of the limitations of the duration.

I often wonder what life would be like if the ‘standard’ length of a radio advert was established as a 40 seconder ? Of course, there would be advertisers who would exploit this and broadcast ads that were packed to the rafters with easy-to-forget twaddle; but hunch tells me that many script writers would breathe a sigh of relief and create ads that would be far more engaging and so, more effective.

I know some stations are struggling with selling 100% of their airtime inventory, so I am wondering if they have nothing to lose by offering new and existing clients 40” commercials at the 30” rate on the understanding that their creative is given a thorough overhaul ?

Changing the subject a little, I am keen to hear what everyone thinks of Global Radio’s new initiative called ‘Radio Runner’. Recently publicised on the Radio Today website, Radio Runner is an application that allows advertisers to buy and create their radio advertising online. Currently, it’s only available in East Anglia but the objective is likely to be rolled out across the UK.

At the time of writing this article, my PC was unable to connect to But in an earlier visit I discovered that ‘buy and create’ are the two main buzzwords. You log in to a website, choose the station(s) you want to advertise on, select the advertising package and then pick from a selection of pre-written radio scripts the ad that most appeals or is most relevant to you. From there, you then fill in the gaps with your company name etc.

This initiative from Global is in more ways than one a real-eye opener and I would really love to know if whether you are for or against this kind of approach.

No doubt we’ll be returning to the subject of Radio Runner in the weeks and months to come.

John Calvert
Visit the Airforce website here.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Did you see Top Gear ?

Last night Top gear excelled itself.

Clarkson & May were set a task to make a Volkswagen ad. Of course there was a lot of jolliness along the way, but if you like creating radio or TV ads, VW's agency (DDB) dispensed some great pearls of wisdom. The main one being "At the heart of all good Volkswagen advertising, there is always a product truth."

Hear hear.

"Truth" isn't what you believe. Because what you believe isn't necessarily truth. It's just what you believe ! So the 'truth' you promote has to be an undeniable fact and nothing less.

It's something I completely support and if you'd like your radio ads to contain truths that the audience will embrace with open arms, contact us.

In the meantime, here is what I believe to be one of the best VW ads ever made. It's years old, but I adore it's simplicity and compelling proposition. See it here.

Friday, 24 July 2009

We couldn't agree with this more...

Watch this.

Want your radio to have just as much recall ? Lets talk now.

John Calvert

Advertising Radio Advertising on the radio: Is your station doing it right ?

It was many moons ago when I wrote an Ad Vantage article about many radio stations needing to adopt a more strategic approach to promoting their medium as a great place to advertise.

The world is a different place now. At the time of publication, the recession and Credit Crunch was not even a tiny dot on the horizon. Everything was fine.

Today, the media (rightly or wrongly) is telling us that life is tough and all of us have to fight for every last penny. Revenues from advertising in all media have suffered big downturns, so more than ever before radio has to fight back....NOW !

Forgive me if I am covering old ground here, but I really do think some local commercial stations need to up the ante when it comes to promoting themselves as an advertising medium. Sure, they go some way to promoting their wares by means of Advertiser Testimonials, but there’s a lot more that could be done.

I have always been in the opinion that local commercial stations could increase their own customer base by establishing a more structured approach to the way they promote their medium.

When a radio station books a long term advertiser, they generally ask their Commercial Producer or contract provider of production to come up with an idea that has legs. In other words, a framework that can be built on as the weeks and months of the campaign unfold. Yet when a radio station promotes itself on the radio as a good advertising medium, all that thinking goer out of the window. Locally-based campaigns promoting radio advertising are often sporadic, fragmented, predictable and not hugely inspiring. I’m not blaming the Commercial Producers for this either. From what I hear, some Proddies aren’t even given the opportunity to create a campaign. The messages are often produced by the same people who make the station promos.

Advertising is everything to a commercial radio station, so it seems only right that a station should invest significant resources in promoting itself as an advertising medium. Consideration should be given to allocating a percentage of airtime to promoting radio advertising. Not only that, a proper campaign structure should be established – just like stations do with paying advertisers. In addition, the Commercial Producers/Production providers should be given proper money to devise and create a comprehensive series of spell-binding radio commercials.

Radio advertising on XXXXFM should be turned into a brand. A ‘brand’ is defined as many things. Some have said it is "a name, sign or symbol used to identify items or services of the seller(s) and to differentiate them from goods of competitors.".
Others define a brand as "a set of assets linked to a brand's name and symbol that adds to the value provided by a product or service..." I could go on and on.
But we all know brands have a huge influence on us. So let’s use these values and make it relevant to radio advertising.

Radio stations already know that if their clients adopt consistent, engaging radio advertising, the clients will be successful advertisers. So if a radio station does the same thing by regularly promoting itself as great advertising medium with an engaging and consistent campaign, it is inevitable that they too will enjoy great success.

Using the above approach with a message that’s relevant to your TSA will only do good for your station. As far as I see it, you have absolutely nothing to lose. So do it !

Let Airforce create a plan for you. Get in touch now. Contact details are at

John Calvert

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Are your radio commercials getting a fair play ?

Many thanks for the great interest in my short guide ‘The 11 Most Common Mistakes Made in Radio Adverts’. As recently posted in the Airforce blog

The fact is that just because there’s a recession on, it doesn’t mean the core principals of radio advertising should be ignored. In fact, more than ever, radio advertising campaigns should be planned with meticulous detail. Even down to the scheduling.

Scheduling. Now there’s something that I haven’t spoken about for a while. In this context, I am not referring to day-parts and the like. I am referring to the tone and texture of a commercial break. I have always had the feeling that many ad breaks inadvertently let a station and it’s advertisers down.

A Programme Controller will be very much aware of how much better a station sounds when songs are scheduled in a certain way. For example, in ‘normal’ programming it may not be a good idea to put a number of dance songs together. For other stations, that’s a great idea. But whatever the format, a PC will always ensure that the sequence of songs flows smoothly and logically.

I am wondering how much attention is made to the actual commercial breaks themselves ? On regular occasions, I hear radio advert breaks that can be simply described as ‘lumpy’. A bit like driving a car with an iffy gear box: Irregular momentum and no smooth transition from one gear to another.

In addition I often hear ad breaks that just feature solo-speaking voices. Because many stations broadcast commercials so tightly together, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish when one solo-speaking ad has finished and when the next one has started. The final effect therefore is one long confusing message that the human brain just can’t cope with.

Then there are product, offer and brand clashes. Breaks that feature more than one furniture store or home improvement company. Breaks that feature more than one 0% interest free credit offer. Breaks that feature more than one public service message. The list goes on. Of course there are times when clashes are unavoidable, but at all times, attention should be given to exclusivity. Exclusivity in a break instantly gives the advertiser a brighter light to stand under, so giving them a better chance to lead the listener’s mind in the direction we want it to go. 2 similar products, services, propositions or brands in a break simply dilutes the impact of all the ads and confuses the listener.

Yonks ago, I worked with a brilliant Traffic Manager called Brian Lee. Although his scheduling system was completely computerised, he still took the time to ‘listen’ to ed breaks just to check the commercials sounded good together. If there was too much or too little contrast, Brian would shift things around. In certain commercial breaks before the top-of-the-hour news ident, Brian would end the break with an ad that wouldn’t have any topicality clash with the news or ensure that no ad would undermine the importance of the news. At times when a break featured a mix of good and bad ads, Brian would schedule them in a way that didn’t undermine the prestige of radio advertising. The list went on.

No matter how sophisticated commercial break scheduling software can be, nothing, but nothing beats a Human Being lending an ear to the break before it is transmitted. Successful radio advertising isn’t just about how good the ad is and where it is scheduled it’s also about how it’s broadcast.

John Calvert is Managing Director of Airforce. One of the UK's most prominent creators of radio commercials and radio adverts. For free stuff, visit the website at

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Friday, 17 July 2009

We're doing it for the kids...

Airforce has been hitting the news quite a bit. And in both cases, it's because we've hooked up with schools to get involved in some worthy projects.

First up: Ian Axton, owner of the radio station Andover Sound asked us to get involved with an initiative called 'Andover Vision'.

School pupils were asked to come up with a multi-media advertising campaign to encourage folks to not litter the streets. A cinema ad, press ad, bus back and radio commercial were all to produced by local schools under the supervision of mentors.

Airforce was asked to mentor the radio advert production.

After a talk to the pupils, they came back with a demo ad. Considering they had never done anything like this before, the demo was pretty good !

From there, we set out to record the ad . Everything was written, voiced and recorded by the pupils at Harrow Way Community School. My job was to 'tidy up' things in the recording and post production and turn it into a nice neat package.

Here's an article from the local paper...

Another project we're working on is something extremely exciting. Airforce is currently in the process of creating a radio commercial that contains more individual speaking voices than any other radio ad on the planet !

Currently, there is no set record. But our aim is to set the benchmark for others to follow.

We're working with Tanbridge House School in Horsham. The finished radio commercial will be for the school itself, with the all the voices provided by the pupils. The epic 90 second script has been co-written by pupil Tristan Smith aged 13 and 2 Airforce writers.

We are currently in the process of recording the pupils at the school. So far, we've recorded about 100 different pupils individually reading the script. Once I think we've got enough, we'll be editing all the reads to create a rado ad that features dozens and dozens and dozens of INDIVIDUAL speaking voices.

To get as many voices in the ad as possible, some words will be split into individual syllables; Therefore allowing more voices to appear. I am dreading the day when I will have to fire up Pro Tools and start this long, laborious editing process !!

When the ad is complete (probably late summer), the paid-for ad will be broadcast on Mercury FM in Crawley.

The attempt has generated loads of publicity for the school (and for Airforce !). Countless newspaper articles, web presence, even a radio interview so far. And this is BEFORE the ad has been made !

Here's a clipping from one of the many articles published...

John Calvert
July 17, 2009
Find our website at

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Your radio commercials may be wasting thousands of pounds of your money ! Revealed: 11 of the most common mistakes made in Radio Adverts.

John Calvert is Managing Director of Airforce: One of the UK's most prominent names in Radio Commercial Production. Here he reveals how your business may inadvertently be throwing thousands of pounds down the drain by adopting poorly-constructed Radio Adverts.

With revenues approaching the £600 million mark, Radio Advertising is proving to be an extremely popular advertising medium. However, not all the businesses who advertise on the radio will enjoy success with the medium. This could be down to a number of reasons, however a key point in the failure of a radio advertising campaign may well be down to the commercial itself.

Businesses often pay handsomely to broadcast their radio commercials. However, many commercials are inadvertently sending out the wrong messages. The result ? Confused and irritated listeners. For the advertisers: Vast amounts of money wasted.

In times when local and regional radio advertisers need to make every second (and penny) count in their radio advertising, it is vital we get back to basics and indentify the small things that could cause radio advertisers big problems.

Communication is all about creating the right response in the mind of the radio listener, so here are a few of the things that can make a radio advertising campaign fail.


We've all heard lines like: "Thinking about buying double glazing ?" Or "Will you be coming to the big car sale this weekend ?" Or "Need new carpets ?".

If your listener answers "Yes", you stand a chance of converting them. If your listener answers "No", it's unlikely the remainder of your commercial will be not be listened to. And because it's likely more people will subconsciously answer "No" than "Yes", the money you spent getting the commercial produced and broadcast will be wasted.

Another commonly-used statement in advertising is the phrase "Why not...?"
"Why not come to the furniture sale..?", "Why not treat yourself". The line may appear to be suggestive and helpful, but actually on closer examination these sentences are leading the mind in the wrong direction.

Question "Why not come to the furniture sale ?"
Answer: "Because I'm busy". Or "I don't need any more furniture"

Question: "Why not treat yourself ?"
Answer: "I can't afford it".

Phrases like "Why Not", "Why go anywhere else ?" and "What's stopping you ?" simply bring to mind all the things that remind folks why they shouldn't be buying a particular product or service. The result ? Businesses spending a ton of money inadvertently inviting listeners to think of a reason for why they shouldn't buy their products or services.

Oh, and what about this cracker of a line: "You'd be mad to miss these special offers". The 'You'd be mad....' phrase is such a commonly-used line in advertising. Yet telling your audience they are one wave short of a shipwreck is not a good way of winning their hearts.


I am noticing a trend where many advertisers want to talk about 'recession-busting offers and deals' in their commercials. Again, care should be taken here. Reminding your audience about recessions and the like only re-enforces their belief that perhaps they should not be spending their money. If listeners are reminded of that fact, they'll be more reluctant to spend their money with you and you've wasted a few more thousand pounds.

By all means be topical, but convey the current economic climate in a softer way.


Some business-owners love to voice their own radio commercial. Just because you own the company does not mean your voice should be the ambassador for it. Some of the most embarrassing radio commercials ever recorded are the ones that are voiced by the company's owners. The result will be a production that conveys a company as highly amateurish and on some occasions: An absolute joke. We all judge people on their appearance and radio is no exception. Remember, you're not saving money by using your own voice, you're actually spending more.


Saying you offer the best service, products, quality etc is incredibly arrogant and presumptive. At the end of the day, the only people who can say you are the best are your customers. What listeners want are benefits, not boasts. Tell your listeners what they want to hear. Don't waste money on broadcasting an ego trip.


Thousands of local radio advertisers admit their commercials and jingles are irritating, yet they remain happy to continue broadcasting their ads. If you know your commercial gets on people's nerves pull it off air, NOW ! For all the people who somehow manage to tolerate your sound believe me, there'll be thousands more who won't give you business because they simply can't stand you. Good quality jingles cost more, but you'll get a significantly higher return on your investment.


In this day and age, it's tempting to ensure the listener knows as much as possible about your offering. If you're doing this, much of your money is going down the toilet. If you're paying to broadcast ads rammed full of facts, figures and information, give the money to charity instead. It'll be better spent that way. The human brain can only take in limited amounts of information in one go, so stick to the 'one commercial - one thought' policy. A single, clear message will work much much better.


It is highly common-place to put phone numbers in radio ads. But hang on, how many do we actually remember ? Try this. Write down the phone numbers that were broadcast in the last three radio ads you heard.

Can't remember them ? So what's the difference with your phone number ? You may know it off the back of your hand, but it's unlikely anyone else will. Don't waste valuable airtime promoting something most folks won't remember.

There are very few radio-friendly phone numbers. So don't waste money promoting them. Instead, promote an easier to remember point of contact, like a web address.

But hang on, even web addresses can cause problems !

Web addresses such as '' are a no-no in radio ads. On air, it sounds like 'jonesFORcars'. And if you don't have the 'jonesforcars' domain name, you're wasting your airtime because fewer people will get through to your site.

In addition, avoid domains that have hyphens in them like ''. To make sense of it on air, the voice will have to say 'jones hypen cars' or 'jones dash cars'. There's more for the listener to remember and some people will (amazingly) type the word 'hyphen' or 'dash' when searching for you on the web.

In addition, examine your business name carefully. If it is in anyway odd or could be spelt in a number of ways, register as many domain names with these differences and direct them all to your main website. If your company name is really hard to spell, use a domain name that is relevant to your business like '' or something similar.


As a business owner, you wouldn't dream of shouting at any of your customers on your business premises. It is regarded as insulting and at worst, threatening. So there is no excuse to do it on the radio. Shouting more than your competitors on air won't mean your offering is anymore better or exciting than anyone else's. To the listener it simply means you're an irritant and therefore they will turn your ad down to a level so low they won't be able to hear it. Well done, you've just thrown away another few thousand pounds.


How many times have you heard radio ads that give directions to the business ? IE: "We're on the second turning after the railway bridge, west of Hardwick Street". Giving directions not only wastes airtime, but by giving directions you're suggesting that your business is hard to find.


I've never understood why radio advertisers constantly spend millions of pounds telling listeners they have cut their prices. If a business does nothing but tell people their prices have been reduced by 50% or more, the audience will eventually begin to not believe you. Yes, price is important. But so is your brand and all the wonderful things that people love you for. People will only buy if they A) Like and trust you and B) Have a desire for your product or service. If you're promoting just prices, you're wasting money on just preaching to the converted. To get more business, broadcast commercials that attract new believers.


Yes, having a commercial that's engaging is vital. But when 'Creativity' clouds the main message, you're wasting a pile of cash.

Ever listened to a funny radio ad and then say to someone "Have you heard that advert for...Whatsisname?" Being creative is good, but the point of you paying lots of money for a radio advertising campaign is for you to do more business and get richer. Things like humour, clever writing, scenarios and the like are welcome, but they should not be more important than your core message. Get it the other way round and you're paying to make people to laugh and not remember you.

For a free, no-obligation consultation about your radio commercials, call John Calvert at Airforce on 01249 821679 or visit

Welcome to the Airforce Blog

July 2009.

Hi, and welcome to the brand new Airforce blog. The aim of this section is for you to catch up on the latest news from Airforce along with opinions, the odd rant and some past Radio Magazine articles.

Keep coming back. More and more stuff will appear as the weeks and months go on.


John Calvert