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And Now a Few Laughs from our Sponsors

This book opens with the defining short paragraph 'I have radio in my genes'. This immediately tells the reader we are taking a trip to the planet Radio: they do things differently there, they eat, talk, sleep and dream radio. And if you work in mainstream advertising, that's probably enough to put you off, writes Andrew Ingram.

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And in truth, this isn't really a book for people in mainstream advertising. It's a very affectionate and thoroughly researched chronicle of some of the great campaigns from the last 50 years of American radio advertising: the ones everyone remembers, the ones people still talk about after all these years. It won't be on the reading list at Watford or Bucks.

But maybe it should be - there is some valuable stuff in there. The writer, perhaps a little unwillingly and at the publisher's insistence, has included the "top tips" from the many acclaimed radio writers he has interviewed - these make illuminating reading.

The same kinds of thought come up repeatedly. "Write the way people speak" is a favourite: too often we hear dialogue that is only ever heard in radio ads. Another is to find a writing partner who can help you develop dialogue - this means a "talking buddy" not a strong-but-silent type.

Another top one is to "be true to why you are selling the product". It's notable that all these ads are celebrated for being effective as well as creative, and the key appears to be unapologetically brand-centric scripts. The ads are all about the product and its message - not all about the opposite of it, or all about something similar to it, or all about something else which is funny. For my money, this is the top tip for young agency writers today.

What else do we learn? I learned how boring it is to read descriptions of radio ads (actually it's not just radio ads - it's boring to read descriptions of TV ads). Luckily this book comes with a CD of the good stuff.

We learn that some of the great radio campaigns of the past were just one team's brilliance, way off-brief and counter-intuitive - but successful mainly through force of personality linked to money, trust (and/or incompetence) and a good idea. So radio is like telly really.

We learn that some of the great radio campaigns bombed in early research, that is, some of the respondents thought they were cheesy, or silly, or lightweight or whatever. And they turned out to be belters. Pah. I always remember being told that no one's written a book that everybody likes.

The book is full of radio scripts which demonstrate the point beautifully that you can't judge an ad by the script (luckily the ads are all on the CD)! Why do we keep giving clients scripts to authorise? It's like giving people a written description of a drink, to see if it makes them feel thirsty.

Final thought. You know when the junior client insists on a completely ridiculous unpronounceable marketing-speak brand name which MUST be said precisely in the ad? At this point, most agencies give up, go home or get cynical. Well, listen to the ad for "AntStop Orthene FireAnt Killer, from Ortho" (it's on in the radio ads archive - it's called Instant Death). They found a way to just march through that stuff - and the ad won the $100,000 first prize in the Radio-Mercury Awards.

Andrew Ingram is account planning director at the Radio Advertising Bureau.

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