The often execrable sound of radio

For some unfathomable reason South African ad agencies have earned a reputation of being among the finest radio spot practitioners in the world.

Occasionally we win big global accolades and then pontificate about the art of storytelling, trotting out tired old clichs about optimally using theatre of the mind. Truth be told we’re pretty horrible at the craft and with a few notable exceptions, the work that ethers its way in morning drive through our car speakers is bland at best and unlistenable and swerve-inducing at worst.

The secret of good radio advertising is simple – you need a well voiced, tightly written, thought provoking narrative that evokes emotion. In recent years the Mercedes Benz brand has achieved this though clever plot driven stories about hidden attributes of its cars; FNB has created a hapless character who works for an off-the- pace rival bank. But the plot lines are getting a little unbelievable right now and it might be time to put the character out to pasture.

The insurance company has also bucked the trend with a dry and droll campaign telling listeners that death is inevitable but the company will pay benefits. Then I’m afraid my inspiration well runs dry.

This week in a drive time commercial break, one radio station ran an ad for Indwe Risk Solutions – a cacophony of people shouting Yeah Yeah Yeah seemingly in celebration of something no one in their right mind would celebrate with such gusto. That segued into a spot for Hortors Stationary which saw a cringe worthy mock court case play out with a dull intoned voiceover; and after that a company called Exutrain that relied on a fake American accent to push its pointless point across. Straight after that another financial services company spot that relied on a child reading the script in some sort of annoying faux baby talk.

"Enough!", I cried to the driver on my right and enraged, I leaned across and went from FM mode on my car radio to CD and to the opera La Serva Padrona by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, which ironically tells the story of Uberto an elderly man who is angry and impatient and who wants someone to bring him chocolate.

Radio in SA is a growing and confident medium, generating over R3.6 billion in revenue last year and with a potential reach of just over 60 million ears (that’s 30 million people by the way). Advertising spend by 2017 according to the consultancy PWC, is expected to account for 12 percent of all spend within the next four years. So the medium is booming and that’s good.

Now can those that use it catch up and put some heretics-fork pressure on their agencies to deliver something more that the execrable and shrill verbiage we so often hear. And agencies themselves would do better to invest in and train real copywriting talent. Good luck.