Marketing: Producing Ads for Radio

By Alexander Hiam

Conventional wisdom says you have only three elements to work with when you design advertising for the radio: words, sound effects, and music. That’s true in a literal sense, but you can’t create a great radio ad unless you remember that you want to use those elements to generate mental images for the listener.

And that means you can often perform the same basic plot on radio as on TV. Really. Radio isn’t as limited as people think — it’s just rarely used to full advantage anymore now that society’s love affair with radio has been eclipsed by its love of TV and movies.

For example, old radio shows featuring that amateur sleuth known as The Shadow: people used to listen to these classic radio dramas repeatedly. Why were these old radio dramas so engaging? Because you could see the action so clearly as it unfolded.

The script and sound effects (SF or SFX in radio lingo) create a string of powerful visual images in your mind as the story unfolds (note that the script tells you what supposedly makes the sound effects to make sure you can picture what’s going on).

“Oh no, the giant black cat is coming toward us! My God, its eyes are glowing!” (SF: Meeeowww. Snarl, snarl.) “Help, it’s backing me toward the edge of the roof of this ten-story building!” (SF: Snarl, spit, snarl.) “Look out, Margo. You’ll fall off!” (SF: Sound of falling, with a woman’s scream fading into the distance.)

You can see what’s happening, can’t you? A dangerous situation creates suspense with dialogue, sound effects, and narration just as well as if you could literally see the situation unfolding.

If you decide to create a radio ad, consider creating a story complete with sound effects, dialogue, and narration because these elements make your ad engaging and entertaining — which means people will listen to it and remember it.

However, don’t try to finalize a script or record an ad yourself. These are specialized skills requiring a sound studio technician. Instead, bring your concept to the staff of a local radio station for production (for local advertising) or to a production company or ad agency that does a lot of radio ads (for national radio network advertising).