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