In the past five days, I’ve driven about 1,300 miles: down to Indianapolis, over to Columbus, back to Chicago then a round trip to Grand Rapids. It was a vast wasteland.
No, not Indiana or Ohio or Michigan–I’m talking about FM radio and specifically, the endless and indistinguishable :60’s that clog it. The work I heard was so uniformly uninspired and instantly forgettable, you got the sense that the creatives responsible considered it with as little regard as the eventual listening audience. How sad.
About ten years ago, I judged a radio awards show in Chicago. The inimitable Mike Sheehan and I were charged with reviewing work from the financial services sector. After enduring a dozen or so monologues touting leveraged risk debenture asset funds, our ears were glazing over. But then, something magical happened: a spot came on that sparkled with an idea. It had a strong premise and it proffered highly personal musings about the future with delightfully engaging language and a rich tapestry of sounds. It was so remarkably fresh…up until it too took a hard turn into the flat, soul-crushing boilerplate of leveraged risk debenture asset fund talk. At that point, Mike shook his head and said “They had it going good, then they went and dropped the meat in the dirt.”
Mike’s expression is good radio writing; pointed, colorful and memorable. Yet this kind of individuality rarely exists on air and that’s a damned shame. Think of how few accents you hear on the radio, or the paucity of regional expressions and offbeat verbal deliveries. It’s so bad that when a brilliant radio ad comes along, you can’t miss it. Consider the spectacular “The Most Interesting Man in the World” ads for Dos Equis: between the antsy-Phillip-Glass-resolving-into-a-Zihuatanejo-boat-party music bed, the ludicrous thunderclap and of course, the pants-wettingly funny writing, you simply can’t ignore these ads. The announcer’s latest deadpan line “If he disagrees with you, it is because you are wrong” is so pitch perfect, it made me flat out jealous. Similarly, consider all the comedy that Bud Light’s mined from their “Real Men of Genius” work. That work’s been remarkable for years.
Actually, it may surprise some but I do like one financial services radio campaign very much. From the moment I first heard it, the Lenox Financial work made me pay attention. Founder Jon Shibley talks turkey with his Georgia accent, crowing about eliminating closing costs for mortgages. And he does this with a zealot’s passion, signing off with something no other mortgage company would dream of saying: “It’s the Biggest No-Brainer in the History of Earth.” Wow. That’s writing. I mean, a lesser person might say “Biggest No-Brainer In History” but adding the entire planet as a qualifier? Brilliant.
Radio should be joy for creatives; it’s cheap enough that you can rework and revise it until your spot sings, plus you can get more intimately involved with the production process than with any other medium. Not to mention that at any one time, a major portion of your audience will be driving I-65, hoping you’ll be interesting.