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Steve England

| 06 Oct 2003

Radio builds brands just as well as TV or posters. Like all other media, on radio also you just need the right commercials for them to have the right impact

Steve England, touted as guru of radio advertising, has spent nearly 30 years in the radio production business producing ads for radio stations and advertising agencies in UK and abroad.

At present he is running “S2Blue”, a company that produces Radio commercials, Radio and TV jingles, Custom music production and Soundtracks to TV commercials.

England has an excellent perspective in directly working with agency creatives to create radio advertising that sells product. He has conducted many lecture series, seminars and workshop on the same. He is currently in India, addressing audiences in workshops on effective use of radio as a medium – Radio Works -, being organised by Radio Mirchi.

In this conversation with Ritu Midha of exchange4media, England talks about radio advertising vis-à-vis TV commercials and the reasons why radio works well as a communication medium.

Q. Are you familiar with ads on FM stations in India? How do you rate them vis-à-vis radio commercials in US and Europe?

Well, I'm waiting to come over and hear them - we have some Asian stations in the UK and they are always interesting to listen to.

Q. Do you believe that jingles created for TV can work on radio as well? Or, do you need a completely new set of commercials for radio?

It is possible to run the TV soundtrack on radio and people will do a "visual transfer" of the pictures they saw on TV - however it's a bit like taking a blind man to the cinema - he would get something from it but it wasn't made for him and there will be a lot missed. Radio ads are better if you dramatize the product or its benefits.

Q. Most of the radio professionals in India be it radio stations or advertising agencies, have graduated from television. Do you think it is impacting the quality of programming and ads? In what way?

In a way it's a shame there was commercial TV first. This is what happened in the UK as well. We had commercial TV in 1956 but it was the 70's before legitimate commercial radio began. Interestingly, we had some commercial radio on pirate radio ships during the 1960's .It took ages for the advertising industry to latch onto the powerful benefits of radio. Many stations found it hard going at the very start but radio business is booming here.

Q. Most of the radio commercials today bank on humor. Which other genres work well on radio?

Any kind of real human communication works…humor, appeal to sympathy and emotions, and also a straightforward message that hits the spot. It all works if the foundation upon which the proposition has been based, or the offer, is attractive enough.

Q. What is your definition of a good radio commercial and that of a bad one?

It is really very simple. A good one is the one that works and a bad one is the one that doesn't

Q. And what differentiates a good radio station from a bad one?

A good radio station has a big loyal audience who think of the station as extended family.

Q. Comparing it to television, do you feel that radio programming is a far bigger challenge, considering that you have to depend on one sense only?

You can do things whilst you listen to the radio - and people do! And I do not consider it to be a negative at all. Radio reaches the places other media can't go for example while driving the car, whilst you are working, in the bath. Radio makes your imagination work, TV is much more passive. People record TV and skip the break. They make a cup of tea or go to the toilet when an ad comes on. With radio they hardly ever hit the retune button or go away from the radio.

Q. RJ's while presenting the shows promote a lot of brands. How much of brand salience does this create?

I don't know what an RJ is - but I guess it's a disc jockey. Wouldn't you rather have a friend on the radio tell you about a product, rather than a stranger?

Q. Do you think radio renders itself well to all product categories? Which are the categories best suited for radio?

I don't think there is anything you can't sell on radio. You can even sell TV.

Q. Would you say radio is a good enough medium for brand building? It is usually considered to be a reminder medium.

Radio appeals especially to the active young who don't spend a lot of time sitting watching TV. The active young are your new customers for tomorrow. Radio builds brands just as well as TV or posters. Like all other media, on radio also you just need the right commercials for them to have the right impact.

Q. Radio stations somehow are not able to market themselves forcefully. Would you have any suggestions on that front?

It's early days in India - it will happen. Competitions, bus sides, using other media all help. Stunts work well too and they are free advertising. The audiences will grow and it’s usual for there to be less regulation and taxation when the radio industry is established and finds it's voice as a pressure group.

Q. Tell us about some of the most memorable radio commercials created by your company. And why do you think they are a class apart?

We did a great series of ads for BHK flooring that really increased their traffic using Penelope Keith, very distinctive upper class voice relaying news about her family life - nice memorable jingle to round it off. It worked a treat. I don't consider my work to be very special - there are lots of really good radio writers and producers in the UK. We've had commercial radio for thirty years and people have grown up with it and love it.

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