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Radio advertising: Of spoofs, gags and wisecracks

By , agencyfaqs! | In | September 22, 2003
Humour-based advertising seems to be the dominant trend on radio. Does it run the risk of becoming too much of the same thing?


Scene 1: A sardarji calls out to his pet dog: "Tommy... Tommy…"

Tommy refuses to heed his master's call, choosing instead to growl at the man.

Voiceover booms: Tan ki durgandh ho toh Tommy pass kyun aaye? Lifebuoy use kijiye.

Scene 2: Tommy is frolicking in his master's arms. The reason? Sardarji has busted body odour with a bar of Lifebuoy.

On paper, this ad may seem a tad too lifeless. On radio, Lifebuoy's Tommy-Sardarji spot has had its listeners in splits because of the actor's voice modulation.

"For all practical purposes, radio advertising today is all about getting a listener into the ha-ha mode," comments a Mumbai-based advertiser. A spoof here or a joke there, maybe, a funny little cracker - like the one built around the affable Tommy who plays hard to get when body odour gets to him - humour-based advertising seems to be the dominant trend on radio. Advertisers, agencies and stations alike seem to be working overtime to tickle the funny bone of the listener.

"The reason for this trend," explains Aditya Patwardhan, station director, Mumbai, 93.5 Red FM, "is that humour normally works with the audience. It caters to the largest common denominator, which is why it is used so often. Apart from that, a really funny ad aids in recall, which is imperative for a brand."

Agrees Sameer Soni, station head, Mumbai, Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM, "Nothing appeals more to a human being than humour. In our humdrum existence, where everything is under constant scrutiny, getting a listener to laugh or enjoy a light moment is a challenge and radio does that with sound."

For KV Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India, the dominance of humour in radio advertising is a result of the medium not being taken too seriously. "It is the easiest route possible to crack some jokes or spoof or initiate a funny dialogue between two people. Creatives do not have the inclination to produce something imaginative because there is hardly any money pumped into the medium. Outdoor, for instance, went through a similar phase when spends on the medium were low. The moment advertisers started showing interest in the medium, the quality of creative work dramatically improved."

Sridhar's take on the indiscriminate use of the humour on radio is seconded by Josy Paul, head of rmg david (which has a radio cell called Radioactive), "Radio is about the imaginative use of sound," he says. "It is not necessarily about voices and music. I don't think the medium has been explored enough, which is why there is not much thinking that goes into the creative."

He cites the example of a spot for a burglar alarm, which he created three years ago while at Lowe. "We had simulated the voice of a man from the underworld claiming that he was watching you and the manner in which it was delivered sent shivers down the spine of listeners."

Sridhar, on his part, cites an interesting example of a 30-second spot for Bajaj KB 125, conceptualised a few years ago. "The voiceover announces zero to 60 in six seconds. What follows next is the sound of the bike taking off. The voiceover then says, 'Enjoy the silence'. The remaining 24 seconds of the 30-seconder is complete silence. This ad was executed so imaginatively that it won awards at the New York Festival and was appreciated by one and all."

Rensil D'Silva, creative director, Mudra Communications, would like to believe that spoofing of film stars as well as the endless rip-offs of Hindi film songs, dialogues and such other inane wisecracks on radio are on the wane. "We are getting beyond this stage," he says. "Advertising is moving into narrative-based spots, as in well-told stories with a humorous twist to it."

D'Silva's cites his spot for HP Cruise Engine Oil as an example of a narrative-based ad with a funny twist to it. "A woman calls up her doctor to find a cure for her husband's loud snores. The driver picks up the phone and she states her grievance thinking he is the doctor. The man on the other side of the phone replies by advising her to use HP Engine Oil, which has helped him get rid of the noise in his car. 'Aap doctor hai ya hajaam?' she asks. 'Main doctor ka driver hoon,' pat comes the reply," elaborates D'Silva.

Despite furious attempts, there is still much ground to be covered in terms of 'serious' advertising on radio. "The dominant trend is to spoof movie characters or play on the cultural lingo by mimicking the accent of people from different regions," says Jardin Lobo, content and creative head, WIN 94.6 FM. "There is still a fair amount of turnaround ads, as in spots with a humorous twist, and there is need for evolution. Right now, the use of a background score or underlay in advertisements is very prominent, which is not the case abroad." Lobo squarely lays the onus of innovation in radio advertising on the advertiser. "Advertisers need to allow for experimentation rather than adopt the conservative approach," he adds. © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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