The resurgence of radio

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor of BITE


BBC Radio 4 - The Today Programme
BBC Radio 4's The Today Programme Ph. BBC

There is an age old saying, what goes around comes around. In our industry, nowhere is that more true than radio, which has seen a resurgence in popularity partially thanks to the advent of the podcast, its digital millennial sister.

Radio listening in the UK is at a record high and smart brands are taking advantage of this. According to Radiocentre, there was an unprecedented 5.2% growth in advertising spend on commercial radio from 2016 to 2017. This exceeds predictions made for the sector.

But how can brands transform their visually-led, instagramable world into sound? When we listen to a story our imagination builds images, characters and entire worlds. It is this visual power that brands can draw from as they create a radio ad. It is what has made podcasts so brilliantly successful.

In the same way we would create a brilliant TV ad or piece of social content, we want to reach an audience through radio, tell them a story, create a spectacle. Draw them in and captivate them so that they’ll listen until the very end.

Listening to a radio ad creates an intimate, particular moment between brand and listener, especially if they’re wearing headphones. We must be cautious when intruding into this personal space. People like what they know and they know what they like so, as a brand, remember that the listener can choose when to switch on or off.

If your ad is going to interrupt their listening, make sure you’ve made it worth the interruption. For this, capturing the imagination through sound is essential. Ensure your ads aren’t relegated to mere background noise and keep listeners tuned in.

For Counter Terrorism, public intervention aids prevention

The beauty, and often the struggle, of a radio ad is that you do not have long. Your slot is short and your listeners’ attention span often shorter. As with all ads, you need to grab people from the beginning and hold them there for the duration.

This is what AMV BBDO did in their work for the National Counter Terrorism Policing HQ, Multiple Bombings. The radio ads urge the public to report suspicious behaviour because you never know what you might help prevent. In fact, figures released last year reveal that information from the public assisted counter terrorism police in a third of the most ‘high-risk’ investigations.

most high-risk investigations helped by public info

The ad is designed to sound episodic, like a takeaway from a larger story. The listener is only given a brief insight, leaving you wanting to know more. The disconcerting music and genuine voices highlight just how real the problem is, while the visceral image of the steam train smashing through an office conveys the destruction and devastation of an act such as a bomb.

From the murmured, background conversations to the intense police voiceover and the woman on the phone, the ad examines the humanity at the heart of both the terrorist act and its prevention.

Multiple Bombings is part of the larger awareness campaign, Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) launched by the UK’s most senior counter terrorism officer last year. The radio ad also serves as a plug for a podcast series Code Severe. Hosted by Mark Strong, it reveals previously untold stories of terrorist attacks from the UK Counter Terrorism Police files.

Agency: AMV BBDO, London


No fairies and certainly no tails in McDonald's burgers

Flash back to when you were small. Your imagination ran wild and the books you read, the shows you watched and the stories you heard were wonder-filled, magical and mystical. This is the feeling that Leo Burnett’s work with McDonald’s, Beef Fairytails, captures. Part of the larger Trust campaign, the ad is a glorious fairy-tale complete with evocative music, storytelling voiceover and a succinct brand conclusion. It’s a fairy-tale about beef burgers and about all the ingredients that definitely don’t go into them.

Agency: Leo Burnett, London

Go on an adventure with Great Western Railway

Playing on the nostalgia of an audiobook, adam&eveDDB created Waiting for Aunt Fanny for Great Western Railway. The ad weaves the brand narrative into that of the stories of the Famous Five’s great adventures and misadventures. The characters are busy exploring the countryside, riding their bikes and discovering hidden caves and the ad’s message is that you should be too.

Agency: adam&eveDDB, London

GWR - adam&eveDDB

BeGambleAware's voice in your head

A whining, child-like voiceover pleads with the listener. Needling, imploring, it is seemingly the voice of an adult playing child, until all of a sudden it becomes a menacing, overpowering aggressor. This is the narrative arc of 18 Feet & Rising’s radio ad for BeGambleAware, Nuisance. Listening to this ad, you would have no idea it was about gambling. And that’s clever because it keeps you listening. Nuisance focuses on the idea that when people behave badly or are led astray, it’s often because of the voice in their head, directing them down a darker path.

Agency: 18 Feet & Rising, London

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