Set The Frequency – Trends Heard from the 2023 Radio Mercury Awards

Author: Madison Wright, Associate Producer, Radio Mercury Awards

This year’s Radio Mercury Awards, held on June 8 at SONY Hall in NYC as well as virtually, celebrated winners from across the country. Produced by RAB, it’s the only awards competition that exclusively honors creativity in radio and audio since its creation in 1992. Approximately 21,000 commercials have competed to bring home an iconic Radio Mercury Awards trophy, and the ultimate Best of Show award.

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Raising the Volume on Radio Creative

Experts discuss what it takes to create great radio ads.

Author: Tammy Greenberg, SVP/Business Development, RAB

“The beauty of a creative field like advertising is that you are always learning,” says Mark Gross, co-founder and chief creative officer at Highdive Advertising. Gross is the real genius behind the iconic Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” campaign. “Great ideas are a team effort,” Gross says, reflecting on that campaign. “Great ideas for radio aren’t always great ideas for other [media] and you never really know when you have an award-winning idea on your hands.”

For more than 30 years, the Radio Mercury Awards, produced by the Radio Advertising Bureau, have celebrated creativity in radio with hundreds of chief creative officers from a range of agencies and brands listening, discussing, and collaborating to ultimately identify and award the best audio campaigns and radio commercials. Here, a select group of those celebrated professionals share guidance, inspiring campaigns, and best practices for raising the volume on radio creative.

How to Train Others to Create Great Audio

Creating an unforgettable ad requires creativity and a mind for solving business problems; creating unforgettable and effective radio requires a passion for the craft. “While there are things you can train people for as far as craft, there are also things that, as a writer, you need to work on yourself,” says John Fiebke, head of copy at FCB Chicago. “Becoming a great writer requires falling in love with language – and love requires obsession.”

Teaching how to create, regardless of media, is grounded in inspiration, and every creative professional interviewed for this story agrees that when it comes to radio, the first step toward finding inspiration is to listen. Erik Fahrenkopf, creative director at Wieden + Kennedy, inspires his team with examples of the smartest, funniest, and most unexpected radio campaigns he has ever heard. He encourages them to “nerd out” on spots they love and to analyze why they like them.

“Radio,” says Aldo Quevedo, CEO and creative chairman at BeautifulBeast, “is the best way to exercise the craft and push beyond visual crutches.” His advice to writers is to outline the story, turn an ordinary situation into something interesting, invent characters that are central to the story, and see where it goes.

While that process can be frustrating, if not downright scary, Wendy Mayes, creative director and writer at Plot Twist Creativity, suggests it’s just the starting point to learning how to write for audio content. “Go to work with a dozen concepts before writing a 30- or 60-second spot,” she says. “Make sure it sounds solid as an idea before filling out the spot. Then once it is written, plan on re-writing it over and over and over until every single part of it works.”

Dissecting the Best of the Best

When asked about the best radio creative he’s ever heard, Fahrenkopf from Wieden + Kennedy points to Bud Light’s Radio Mercury Award Best in Show–winning “Real American Heroes” campaign. Highdive Advertising’s Gross, who created the campaign, says what made it so special was how the writing immediately painted a picture for the listener. As soon as the announcer says “Mr. Bowling Shoe Giver Outter,” Gross says, the listener gets it.

When Josh Grossberg, executive creative director at McCann Health, was asked about the best radio creative of all time, he likened it to identifying the best dessert because there are limitless answers. However, he says it’s hard to beat the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s campaign created by Devito/Verdi. “The second it starts, you’re immediately in the world of horse racing,” he says. Instead of simply being told how exciting it can be, “[the ad] made you feel it,” Grossman adds.

Chris Smith, principal and chief creative officer of Plot Twist Creativity, points to Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man” as another iconic campaign. “The writing … made me envious,” he says. “I found myself repeating the lines all the time. To me, lines are 85 percent of what you’ve got, and it doesn’t have nearly as much weight in any other medium.”

But for Smith, it was the Motel 6 “We’ll Leave the Light On” campaign that perhaps had the most influence. “It is why I decided to do this for a living,” he says. Prior to founding Plot Twist Creativity, Smith spent 22 years at the Richards Group where he was a creative director working on the Motel 6 account. Thirty-six years later, the campaign, famously voiced by Tom Bodett, is at its core unchanged, but it’s unique and refreshed executions are still as relevant as ever.

Creating the Theater of the Mind

“Radio requires more imagination than almost any other medium. You’re trying to make other minds imagine a world that’s not actually there. With static image-based executions, it’s all there. You see what you get,” FCB Chicago’s Fiebke says. “When the mind is triggered by sound, it imagines something far more amazing than what any affordable video special effect is capable of.” This may be why radio and audio creative, with some exceptions, is often the last box to be checked by brands and their agency partners — it’s difficult to do, and there is no special visual effect to hide behind.

But Quevedo of BeautifulBeast advises brands to lean into that challenge and start with radio when developing campaign work. Dedicate time to the work and create with an understanding that the message will be consumed when people are doing other things, he says. Make it hard to ignore, he emphasizes, and all other media will fall into place.

Plot Twist Creativity’s Mayes makes a similar point to Fiebke’s and Quevedo’s: “Whether it’s radio, podcasts, in-store announcements, or a guy with a microphone and a sandwich board, it needs to be entertaining and grab the listener’s attention within seconds,” she says. “There are no visuals to rely on, so what a person hears needs to make an impact. Don’t wait for a slow build. Entertain from the beginning.”

recent neuroscience study conducted by Alter Agents for Audacy reinforces what Mayes and many of the other experts are saying: In measuring immersion, which the study defines as attention plus emotional connection, before, during, and after hearing a radio commercial with frequency over time, the study shows that the best radio commercials hook the listener from the beginning. Spots with high rates of immersion did a great job of explaining “What’s in it for the customer?” and carrying that message through to the end, the study found.

Creating a spot that builds an entire world for the reader and still drives home the brand’s key message takes a deceptively large amount of work. Editing, the experts say, is key.

“Edit mercilessly,” says Robin Fitzgerald, chief creative officer at BBDO Atlanta. “Cut lines and words, even though you hate to do it. You need to give the idea room to come to life.”


We Are All Ears – Radio and Audio Trends from the 2022 Radio Mercury Awards

Author: Madison Wright, Associate Producer, Radio Mercury Awards

After two years of virtual awards events, on Thursday, June 9, radio and advertising creatives gathered at Sony Hall and others gathered virtually to celebrate the winners of the 31st annual Radio Mercury Awards. Produced by the Radio Advertising Bureau, it is the only awards competition that exclusively honors creativity in radio and audio since its creation in 1992. Approximately 20,000 commercials have competed for close to $3.6 million in prizes.

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Why Radio Is the Ideal Place to Share Brand Stories

Author: Tammy Greenberg, SVP/Business Development, RAB

Consumers have strong expectations that the brands they choose both support and align with the values that are important to them. Recognizing what drives consumers, brands are laser-focused on living their mission, principles, and ethics. As such, brands market their products and services grounded in that mission and the shared values and beliefs between the brand and its target customers.

Giving back to community, lending resources of support, promoting social consciousness, doing what is good for the environment, and inspiring change are just a few examples of shared values in action. Brand messaging articulates both why the brand’s mission matters and to bring communities of people together to advance the values it supports while creating long-lasting relationships and loyalty.

In a recent RAB live online presentation to its members, Karriem Edwards, vice president of development for the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County, referenced Michael Porter, a well-known strategist and professor at Harvard University. Mr. Porter spoke about shared value strategies and how businesses must make local community a part of their business strategy to succeed.

Karriem pointed to his organization’s partnership with the Cox Radio Group in Miami, where community is central to its business strategy. This benefits the organization beyond measure. This is true for radio stations across the country. Community and shared values are local radio’s DNA.

Community, trust, reach, personal, uplifting, authentic, local, enjoyable, essential, lifesaving, relaxing, engaging, regulated, actionable– these are the attributes that brand marketers should find when identifying the environment to share their stories, their mission, and their values.

Nonprofit organizations understand this, which is why their reliance on local radio partnerships is prioritized and delivers strong results, according to Tim Delaney, president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits. For-profit brands that follow the lead of mission-centric organizations will be rewarded with loyal consumers and business growth.

The data and insights that marketers are leveraging to speak directly to their target consumers makes the job so much easier to craft the story that will resonate. However, using programmatic and digital platforms as the primary mechanism to deliver a one-to-one message, may risk dehumanizing the connection that consumers want and expect from brands. It may also exclude potential consumers – future brand ambassadors.

The importance of the environment in which the story is told cannot be underestimated. The context of a message will change depending on where, when and the way a consumer processes it – is it a trusted environment? Is it a believable environment? Is it a local environment? What is surrounding the message? Is the consumer in the right frame of mind? Are there enough consumers there? The answers to these questions must be yes to advance the marketer’s cause and to achieve desired outcomes.

The company you keep matters when planning to disseminate the brand’s mission, purpose and product attributes that make lives better. Radio across platforms checks all the boxes as the right environment and platform to share brand stories.

  • Radio is trusted. It is trusted more than any other media, including over two times more than social media. 
  • Radio is local. It provides the content and information that is relevant to the consumer. In fact, 87 percent of listeners believe that it is the local feel that makes radio stand out among other options. 
  • Radio is community. Radio doesn’t just reach the community, it is woven into the fabric of community. Radio stations bring consumers together and motivate them to act.
  • Radio is personal. There is nothing between a listener and the music, conversation and content. Radio is a friendly voice in the ear and a truly one-to-one experience.
  • Radio is uplifting. Consumers listen to radio for many emotionally based reasons, with mood elevation as a driver for nearly 40 percent of consumers; association with that mindset is gold.
  • Radio is authentically human. On air personalities are the human tissue that connects the listener to the station and to the community. They are the original influencers. They are lead generators for advertisers and are an incomparable asset that can help to build and bridge the connections between brands and the consumers the brands are trying to reach.
  • Radio is essential. Time after time, when disaster strikes, radio stations are “on the ground” and often the first and only source to provide timely information and provide the support to the communities it serves.
  • Radio is a companion. Radio continues to play a huge role in the lives of U.S. consumers, especially as we commute back and forth as part of our daily routine. Radio rules the dashboard, with 75 percent of consumers tuning in to AM/FM radio while in the car, significantly more than any other audio platform. 
  • Radio is actionable. As a truly mobile medium, radio is the medium closest to purchase. Radio drives web traffic, foot traffic, event attendance, fundraising and volunteerism goals, awareness and ROI.
  • Radio tells stories. Stories are immersive; they pull the listener in, making them feel like they are completely involved and experiencing the content. Chris Smith, principal and chief creative officer at Plot Twist Creativity, once said, “Radio is the modern campfire.” Regardless of content format, the power of storytelling with radio has the ability to gain and hold a listener’s full attention. 
  • Radio reaches everyone. Radio is the number one reach medium across virtually every demographic and culture – more than any other media – all screens and all platforms that are available throughout a consumer’s day.

Radio shares values with the communities that it serves and the listeners that spend an average of 11 hours with them each week. The company it keeps speaks volumes for a brand. It associates the brand with a similar attitude, character, ability and personality. To truly deliver on its mission, embrace audiences through an alignment of values; brands can be part of radio’s circle of trust.

Thirty Years in Your Ears – Celebrating 30 Years of Radio Creativity

Author: Madison Wright, Associate Producer, Radio Mercury Awards

Since their inception, the Radio Mercury Awards have honored the best in radio creative and have brought together agencies, productions companies, advertisers and radio broadcasters, all to celebrate radio.

On Wednesday, November 17, the awards, produced by RAB, brought the celebration event to wherever viewers were watching – at home, in their offices, with family or with colleagues, all to celebrate the power of radio and the future of audio creative.

Here are four key takeaways from this year’s awards:

  • Radio and audio continue to be front and center in an advertisers’ media mix. The robust number of entries this year exceeding the previous few years reflects this trend.
  • The caliber of work submitted in this year’s competition so engaged and engrossed the final round jury that it took nearly two full days to deliberate and determine the winning work. Thus, showing that the art of radio creative continues to grow and evolve.
  • As reflected in 2020 and again in 2021, the finalists and winning work specifically produced in the Creative Spot for a Cause: Agency/Production Company/Advertiser, Creative Spot for a Cause: Radio Station or Group and Purpose-Driven Spot or Campaign categories reflect radio’s ability to communicate important and meaningful messaging to and with its listeners and the role it plays in local communities.
  • Audio creative continues to innovate and leverage core attributes including driving emotion, the use of sonic branding and shows how radio goes beyond the dial.

2021 celebrates the 15 winners and is now woven into the rich history of the Radio Mercury Awards. Want to hear more? We encourage you watch the full, encore viewing of the show here.

Alejandro Ortiz, executive creative director, Campbell Ewald Detroit/NY, will be serving as the 2022 Radio Mercury Awards chief judge.

“I’m super excited, I have a lot of history with these awards… this is an amazing festival and the quality of work that comes in every year is incredible. I am really looking forward to seeing what everyone comes with.”

Stay tuned for more information regarding 2022 Call for Entry. Want to stay ahead of the curve? Be sure to subscribe to the Radio Mercury Awards mailing list here.

In Your Ears – The 30th Anniversary
Radio Mercury Awards

Author: Madison Wright, Associate Producer, Radio Mercury Awards

For the past 30 years, radio broadcasters, agencies and advertisers have entered their creative work into the Radio Mercury Awards. Produced by the Radio Advertising Bureau, it is the only awards competition that exclusively honors creativity in radio and audio since its creation in 1992. Around 20,000 commercials have competed for close to $3.5 million in prizes.

When reflecting upon the Radio Mercury Awards, especially during this special anniversary, two things come to mind – the rich heritage of the awards show and how they continue to matter to the creative community as the medium continues to evolve.

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Radio Mercury Awards”