IT’S MY DREAM CAREER
It’s surprising how many people have ambitions of carving out a career for themselves in advertising – usually as either a creative or in the account handling side of things. Well I can’t claim to be qualified to offer very much of value from the suits’ (account handlers) point of view. But putting on my copywriting hat for a short while, I thought I’d trot out a few not too serious personal thoughts on working in the creative department.
In my view it’s the greatest job in the world. One of the very few where you can be observed every now and then to be leaning right back in your chair, perhaps have your feet up on the desk and your eyes closed, and still genuinely claim to be working. Maybe that’s being a bit flip, but you get the idea.
Creatives are usually expected to be capable of producing work ‘through the line’. That means anything from the kind of unsolicited stuff that drops through your letterbox and is all too often recycled to the rubbish bin within a few seconds of arriving, right through to TV commercials with the budget of a minor Spielberg epic. Sure, almost everyone in the business wants to work on gigs like these, but if you’re a wet-behind-the-ears newbie in the creative department, don’t hold your breath. You’re far more likely to be paying your dues on something like the rubbish bin fodder for a goodly spell before you get even the faintest of sniffs at Saving Private Ryan Part Two.
My favourite medium
Naturally, there are a lot of other options in between these two extremes, including posters, press ads, and gigabytes galore of online stuff like virals and plain old website copy. But the one medium I’ve always enjoyed working in more than any other (unless there’s a TV shoot in some tropical paradise going begging of course) is radio.
Why is that? You can find out in the following tongue-in-cheek article concerning the creation of a radio campaign. Although the beer in question here is entirely imaginary, almost every creative will acknowledge pretty much everything else as being real life experiences. In fact, the entire piece is based very, very loosely on my D&AD award-winning campaign for Staropramen Beer. The voice-over on these is Cliff Parisi, who is fondly remembered by millions for playing Minty in the soap Eastenders. You can hear all three ads by clicking the ‘Play Radio Ads link on the right of this page.
RADIO GA GA
The door to my little creative haven opens just as I’m about to write down the headline of the century on my layout pad. It’s that new guy from Traffic. He plonks a brief on my desk directly in front of me.
“This one’s urgent,” he says. “It’s a sixty second radio ad.”
“Urgent eh,” I repeat, glancing briefly at the five other briefs also crowding for my attention. Funnily enough they are all headed in the same ‘Must be done yesterday’ manner.
Traffic Man catches my reaction. “No – forget those. This one really is priority. Dave needs to see something first thing tomorrow.”
He means Dave as in ‘Creative Director Dave’.
I know that it’s pretty standard practice to work with a partner in the advertising game, but apart from getting temporarily teamed up with the occasional freelancer who comes into the agency, for some reason or another I usually find myself working alone. Could it have anything to do with the fact that I’m a West Ham supporter?
Anyway, despite what it might sound like, I’m not really put out by this interruption. Sure I’ll play up being the overworked martyr a bit, but the truth is I love working on radio briefs. There are no limits see. To hell with those location costs, you can set your ads anywhere you flipping well like. Timbuktu – Transylvania – or even halfway up the North Face of the Eiger if you really want to go there. One recording studio fits all!
Traffic Man departs the office. It’s time to take a closer look at this latest adventure into imaginary places.
A good brief tells you everything you need to know in order to write a successful ad. In its simplest form it includes a profile of the target audience; the product’s main benefits; and most important of all, the single-minded proposition. This is the one message that, above all else, should clearly come out of the ad. For example: product A will wash more dishes – help your pet live longer – or keep you totally sweat free even in the most embarrassing of situations.
OK! So what’s on today’s brief?
It turns out it’s for some beer I’ve never heard of before. Also, the name is just about unpronounceable, and the proposition is: ‘Enjoy the great taste of Wales’.
With all due respect to the planners and account bodies involved, I’ll be polite and say that I’ve heard better propositions in my time. And what about that product name? Maybe not quite as hard to get to grips with as that Welsh railway station with about 127 syllables in it, but still pretty daunting all the same. To make things easier, for the duration of this article we’ll just refer to this beer as the ubiquitous Brand X from now on.
A thought suddenly occurs. If Brand X is a name so darned difficult to remember and pronounce, chances are people are going to end up drinking the wrong beer. And if that happens, then they’ll be missing out on the great taste of Wales. And once they start missing out on the good things, well, it can lead on to all kinds of other complications and misfortune. Before they know it the lives of these tragic people could easily start falling utterly to pieces. Total ruination may be little more than a heartbeat away. In a humorous, wacky kind of way naturally.
It’s an angle worth exploring. I start writing.
Two days later
Creative Director Dave liked my initial ‘missing out’ ad. “Write some more,” he said. “Make a campaign of it.”
So now there are three scripts, and I’ve just heard from the account team who presented them all to the client this morning. It’s a big thumbs-up! The man from Del Pontypool, he say yes.
Let’s just hope the RACC say the same.
Doing the rounds
The RACC exists to officially clear all radio scripts prior to broadcast – and before any recording takes place as well unless you’ve got a bottomless budget. Later that same day word comes through. Two of the scripts have been deemed OK, but in the other one I’ve mentioned the inflammatory phrase: ‘buying a round’. You know, that simple action that ninety percent of everyone who ever steps inside a pub does automatically. It’s good manners, isn’t it? Besides, not buying your round is a great way of losing friends. And in some cases, even a few teeth.
But according to the powers-that-be, basic pub protocol has to be airbrushed out on the grounds that: ‘Any mention of buying a round could easily encourage binge drinking’. I re-submit an identical scenario, now with the wording: ‘buying another’.
This time the script is accepted.
Sometimes you’re lucky! Sometimes you know exactly who it is you’d like to cast as your principal voice over. The ad is made for them. After that you find that your chosen one is immediately available. And yes, they are quite happy to do it for the right price.
Sometimes happens a couple of times a year if you’re lucky.
So, taking the more common route, you’ll most likely find yourself listening to endless audition pieces either online or courtesy of the mountain of CDs that have somehow accumulated and taken over a vast corner your office.
A shortlist evolves. This soon becomes even shorter when you discover that some of these (usually the ones you most wanted) are not available. This could be due to anything from a bad throat to the ‘I won’t do that kind of ad’ syndrome.
Apart from the numerous full-time professional VOs, up-and-coming TV actors waiting for their big break are another great source of talking talent. For the Brand X commercials I eventually settle for a guy I’ve seen on the box a few times. It was probably as an extra in The Bill. It seems that just about every wannabe in the business has this credit lurking somewhere on their CV.
“That was great! Exactly what we wanted. But would you mind doing it just once again, this time with a little bit more ….. ”
Of all the things that a writer or producer might happen to say to the hired voice over during the recording of a radio ad, this surely has to be one of the most commonly heard.
A little bit more of what though? You name it! A little bit more passion; more pace; more bounce; more authority – in fact more of just about any characteristic you care to name. Unless of course you’re after a little bit less of something. But you get the idea.
The thing is, everyone has their own idea of how the ad should be read, so quite often the first couple of takes are no more than a starter for ten. It’s not just how the finished product sounds either. It has also got to fit neatly into the allotted time slot. And no matter how carefully you run the stopwatch over your ad while reading it out aloud yourself, it’s amazing how often someone else can lose or gain five seconds when it comes to their turn.
Fortunately, timing wasn’t a problem during the Brand X recording. And after several takes, every single bit of the scripts had been read perfectly. Unfortunately, these perfectly read bits were scattered around like so much free confetti. The opening bit from take two – a couple of sentences from take four – the strapline from take five. You know what I mean.
His one hour booking time up, our voice over left the studio.
“Thanks a lot. That was perfect,” we tell him. Well, he was a really nice guy.
A bit of keyboard magic
Is this going to be a re-cast, I’m now asking myself? I should have known better. Our sound engineer Terry is magic. I’m not adverse to a bit of cut and paste myself when working in Microsoft Word, but this guy is something else. His hands flying over a massive control panel, Terry splices together three perfect ads for us in next to no time. It was incredible just watching him. At one point, even a couple of single words were cut and inserted into the middle of another take. And just like Ernie Wise’s famous syrup, you couldn’t see – or in this case, hear – the join at all. Amazing stuff!
But it’s like I said earlier, there are virtually no limits in radio land. It’s the place where you can make virtually anything happen. And at a mere fraction of the cost of most other mediums.
Video certainly didn’t kill the radio star in my book.
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Note: Nasty rumours that the Welsh beer Brand X doesn’t actually exist are entirely true. However, the process described is a real indication of how a radio advertisement might be produced. Only the names have been changed etc. Also, I did genuinely write a three-ad campaign with a very similar theme for another rather awkwardly named beer from the Czech Republic. Want to hear those ads? Just click HERE or the ‘Play Radio Ads’ link on the top right of this page.