Listening to one commercial station can give a misleading idea of what radio advertisements are like. But can the 12,000 ads on the Radio Advertising Archive give us a clearer picture of the way radio is used?
Unlike some archives, the Radio Advertising Archive is not your typical dusty attic full of obscure boxes and files, or run by an old man with a pencil behind his ear. Set up in 1994, it is entirely digital, and uses hard disk technology to record, store and retrieve over 12,000 different radio commercials.
Not all historical ads are on it, as the collection only began in 1994, but the archive aims to have all the better material from previous years – award winners from the UK, US, South Africa and Australia, for example. There are also some excellent spots which have been collected by enthusiasts over the years.
But contemporary ads are the main part of the database. The archive is added to daily, as ads are sent round the country, principally feeding off the satellite distribution system operated by SMS, which delivers ad copy to the various radio stations.
Commercials are coded according to several different criteria: use of humour, use of celebrities, style of writing (dramatised scene and so forth), use of music and response mechanisms.
As Chart 1 shows, straight announcements are by far the most common style of radio advertising. This means the listener being told something in direct speech – although announcements are often accompanied with music or have other minor creative devices added.
Second most common is the dramatised scene, although levels of dramatisation vary widely. Some of them feature those telephone conversations between people who are insanely happy about a sale; but there are also compelling dialogue spots such as the Apple Tango ads.
Writers could be missing a trick here, as the Capital Radio Impact Study of 1987 calculated that announcements were not the most memorable form of radio commercial.
In only a year, the proportion of ads which use a telephone response mechanism has jumped from 17 per cent to 26 per cent (figures for ads in other media, if they were available, might look similar, given the current advertiser preoccupation with generating customer dialogue).
But which advertisers are using telephone numbers? The brands most likely to be including phone numbers in their radio ads now are in financial services (some through legal obligation, but the rules have not changed in the past 12 months).
The Radio Advertising Archive was set up in response to a demand from advertisers and the creative community for a resource which could be tapped into to find out what rival brands have been doing on the airwaves; or simply to hear examples of high quality radio advertising. This raises the question – what is being requested from the archive, and who’s asking for it? (Chart 2)
Perhaps the biggest and third-biggest categories should be no surprise. It makes sense that people in advertising and marketing will ask for something specific which they may have heard of ( rather than conduct a search by style or cate gory), or for the very best ads on the archive. But the second and fourth-biggest categories are interesting – are the advertisers in finance and motors keeping an eye on each other’s ads?
In analysing who is asking for copies of ads, it’s interesting to note that agencies place nearly three times as many archive requests as advertisers. Perhaps account managers are simply doing the job on their advertisers’ behalf.