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Wits End

ROFL with radio ads


The tepid inauguration ceremony of the latest season of the Indian Premier League was highly forgettable, but people will definitely remember the sharp but sublime humour of its radio ads.

In one of the radio spots, an old couple is reminiscing about good times. The old man tells the woman how he appreciates her sacrificing her music career to tend to the kids and asks her for one wish. She wants his IPL ticket. And the man retorts, "What you did was your duty. And why should I give you the ticket? Honestly, you sound like a crow, thank god I got deaf with age. "

But it isn't just about the IPL advertisements. Compared, on average, with television or print ads, for-aural-pleasure-only ads are way funnier, more creative and nuanced. Take the example of the Saffola ad that features an annoying hawker who chases a potential customer to sell him everything from a good family to a healthy life or the Bajaj blender ad which has features a perfect cowbelt accent "mixing" up tens of Hindi movie references in one minute.

Though you still get to hear some grey gutkha and toothpaste ads, you also get to chuckle over some really eccentric, witty ones - limericks, fake qawwalis, tongue twisters and faux commentaries for example. Just imagine the radio equivalents of Akshay Kumar's deadpan expression, Rajpal Yadav's many accents and Boman Irani's cracks.

The use of sassy, contemporary humour is certainly a sign of evolution. "Ten years ago, radio advertising was full of Gabbars, sholays, Sanjeev Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan. They exist now also but in irony. I think it is people who got bored. The audience for good humour has always been that way;after all, who doesn't like humour?" asks O R Radhakrishnan, creative director, McCann Erickson, India. He adds that radio ads will only get sharper and smarter in the next six months as, according to the number of licenses issued, 800 new stations will be launched.

According to a TAM Media Research Pvt Ltd survey, between 2010 and 2011, FM listenership in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata went up by 65 per cent. This has also meant rising emphasis on regionspecific humour.

"Radio humour is now very rich in using regional context and authentic voices given the very nature of the medium. Radio, being a personal brand conversation medium, can speak to the listeners in their lingo. And radio can do that better and more effectively than any other ad medium, " says Manohar Nayak, managing director, Lingo India Pvt Ltd, a leading consultancy for radio and television commercials /jingles, language supervision and casting of voices for dubbing.

The common urban perception of radio, much influenced by Western media, is that people listen to the radio in cars. "But you would be surprised - our interaction with radio might be in cars but most FM listeners listen to it on mobile phones. The delivery mechanism for radio is varied from mobile to car to houses. It is a medium which cuts across every thing, " said Abhijit Avasthi, national creative director, Ogilvy & Mather India.

The recent IPL ads were Avasthi's brainchild, who says that this year IPL's advertising focus was on filling stadiums for matches. Last year, the focus was on driving the point that an IPL ticket was the most important ticket, more than say, a train ticket or a political ticket.

Avasthi remembers past instances of experimentation on radio: the time a mixer-blender ad used two different beats simultaneously on two radio channels and listeners could play DJ by quickly switching between the stations.

There was also the Fevicol radio spot that didn't even mention the brand once.

Most agency creatives call radio scripts the true test of a copywriter. And the quirkier and funnier, the better, says Shreyas Jain, senior copywriter, Leo Burnett India. "Radio is a difficult medium because you don't have any visual support (compared with TV and print). But it is interesting because when you hear radio, you start visualising it. For instance, in Mumbai, everyone listens to it during transit, out of boredom and the attention span is super short. They want songs and not ads. It is a challenge. If you are quirky it helps you a lot in grabbing attention. Every line has to be crafted well, " says Jain who won the Voice of the Year award in 2010 for his qawwali jingle for Bajaj exhaust fans.


Scripts and sound effects apart, what makes a lasting impression in a radio ad is the voice and the dramatics. So finding the right voice for the right character is all important.

Mahohar Nayak, MD Lingo India Pvt Ltd, a leading consultancy for jingles and voice caster, says, "When radio speaks, you hear. And when you hear, you see. So voices are the lifeblood of a radio commercial. The doing and the undoing of the spot rests on your casting ability or the lack of it. "

Getting the right voice can mean, for instance, finding the right kid's voice for a Surf ad with street children or getting real-life paper raddiwala for a recycling radio spot.

Nayak understands this critical need and spends considerable amount of time and effort into finding the right voice. He remembers how for a "Balbir Pasha ko AIDS hoga" ad, they struggled to find a rustic tone for a chaiwala's character and finally got a real tea-seller when the professional artiste failed.

Companies usually have a pool of voice talent, sometimes hundreds of them, including regional voices. Though rates for such artists differ a lot, for regional voices, there is more or less uniform wage of anything between Rs 4, 000 to Rs 20, 000 per voice per spot. Choice of the voice can depend on the kind of personality, the tone (baritone/deadpan/funny/ dramatic) and the kind of message to be delivered.

Not that silence isn't important even when speech is the only medium. "At times, a well-measured pause is everything. If a pause communicates, it's music, " says Nayak.

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