Greatest Marketing Campaigns: Radio Ads

1) Dadsong

This ad follows the differing emotions of a mom and dad in regard to their son, who is growing up and apparently soon to strike out on his own. The ad is amusing, but functionally it’s somewhat hard to follow. The storyline isn’t immediately apparent – even after two separate hearings. Much of that is due to the fact that the story is told through song. The sung words are hard to understand at times, especially since the voice actors have to over-embellish their emotive inflections to really drive home their characters’ emotions. Overall I would say this would be a better ad for TV than radio.

2) Missing

The heyday of antivirus software may have come and gone, but Norton Antivirus mounts this profanity-laden ad in order to…what exactly? As far as I can tell, “cybercriminals” – are they Russian? – lurk for the opportunity to leech your bank account in $10 increments over a period of several months. And you’ve got to do something about it.

I don’t see much indication from the data sheet on the advertised product that it can actually alert you of suspicious banking activity. In fact, good old fashioned vigilance might be the most reliable way of detecting that threat. Buying a product like this might create a false sense of security. It took an additional five minutes or so on their website to see the likely threat they were advertising to guard against was a keylogger (that is, malware that records your keystrokes, captures your passwords and sends them to an attacker).

Most people are savvy enough to understand conceptually what a keylogger is with minimal prompting, so that would have been a nice bit of concrete detail to demonstrate the product’s value. However, the ad obscured that otherwise useful detail in a vague narrative that to me came across as somewhat disingenuous.

Most odd is the use of profanity in the ad. That seems to alienate a natural audience for this product: a non-technical older demographic concerned about safely navigating the Internet. The nice old church lady who just wants to check her email and see pictures of her grandkids might find the F-bomb in the ad a little jarring.

Overall the ad fails for me.

3) Common Sense

This is an unusual radio ad in that it is sponsored by Operation Lifesaver, an organization whose mission is to warn people to avoid playing on railroad tracks. Most of the ad is filled with humorous common sense sayings: “don’t tell a knock-knock joke during a eulogy” and “don’t go swimming in leather pants”.

The very last common sense saying is the true message of the ad, as it revolves around playing on railroad tracks. Yet it’s enough of a non sequitor that this otherwise serious warning sounds as humorous and tongue-in-cheek as the rest of the ad. Sure: stay off the tracks – got it, LOL! The humor that ties the ad together actually ends up diluting its central message.

Additionally, the cryptic name “Operation Lifesaver” doesn’t give the listener much opportunity to glean that key message at the end. There is the real risk that the entire ad is lost on the audience because the message is so buried. Perhaps this reveals an interesting insight into ads. If you assume your audience already knows who you are, your ad may prove to be incomprehensible to that audience, and the whole effort is pointless.

4) Learned

This radio ad is from that series of government-sponsored drives to combat school bullying. The content of the ad consists of kids and teens reciting the insults they receive at school throughout their day. On the one hand, the insults are obviously terrible. But in the course of hearing the ad we have no idea whether these are kids reading scripted lines for rhetorical effect or actual life experiences.

At times the ad belabors its point to the extent that the neutral/sympathetic observer can almost find it grating, taking attention away from the message itself and toward a growing wish for the ad to wrap itself up. That being said, the ad is clear-spoken and bluntly stated with no frills, which largely succeeds in underlining the seriousness of the subject matter.

An interesting twist to this ad is that where others are from private companies, this is a government-sponsored program. Perhaps with the knowledge of that, the listener has greater confidence in the program with the resources and backing of the government. This program exists alongside other independent movements like The Bully Project and Bystander Revolution.

5) Henry

To me, this Office Depot ad is the best of the bunch. Henry is preparing to submit his paperwork for a big professional goal, but by forgoing Office Depot’s services, he has no time to find the mistakes within his paperwork that ultimately torpedo the effort.

The voice is clear throughout and the storyline accessible. As such, the target customer is clearer in the mind too. We can see a business or office worker as the natural customer of this service. Office Depot is ultimately selling itself through comparative advantage.


9 thoughts on “Greatest Marketing Campaigns: Radio Ads

  1. Hi Nick,

    You selected some products/businesses that are well known, like Old Spice and Office Depot, but listening to some of these radio ads made it unclear of what their products/services were. Here’s my thoughts on your ads:

    1) Old Spice: You are right, if it was a tv ad, they could have sung it and we would have gotten the message. But as a radio ad, I was a little confused. In fact, I played it first before reading your analysis and I was lost. So, I went back, read the analysis, and then listened to the ad — that helped, but it was still confusing.

    2 & 3) Antivirus and Operation Lifesaver were a bit confusing, didn’t really grab my attention. If I were in my car, I would have changed the channel type thing!

    4) The anti bullying ad — this is a big issue with teenagers and having a 17 year old, I could relate. I listened to the ad with an open heart and found myself agreeing with the commentator, of why isn’t anyone teaching the kids what to do? It def. won me over and it made me feel like I should be doing more.

    5) Office Depot. I loved it, very funny ad. If it was a tv commercial, it would have been even better!

    Thanks for bringing these to our attention, good job!



  2. Nick,
    Great ad selections. Got a little heavy in the middle but I appreciate the diversity in the deliverable. I agree with you concerning the Old Spice-Dad song. At times it was hard to understand what the singers were singing, and you could hear Old Spice intermittently sung throughout. Personally, this ad is more entertaining as a video commercial.

    The Norton – Missing ad was mainly informative, and I agree they are very vague about how they can protect the listener from potential fraud or identity theft. I concur that their overall objective is to get listeners to their website and they probably were successful because the ad put just enough fear to draw the listener in.

    I really liked the Common Sense ad, although, after reading your analysis I can see what you meant. It was extremely funny with some great tips, but you are right that may have watered down the intended message.

    The Ad Council – Learned ad was definitely thought-provoking and serious. Its main objective was to strictly bring awareness to the issue of bullying in schools today. I also agree that because it non-profit ad it might engage the listener even more.

    I actually did not like the Henry ad. I agree with the analysis of the intended target market, but this was my least favorite.


  3. Hi Nick,

    I agree with you on the Dad Song ad. The signing (especially the mother’s frantic tone) really covers up the most important point, that they are advertising Old Spice. Almost every time they say “Old Spice”, the lady goes into high gear with her part. It’s very difficult to hear the point of the ad, although the banter between dad and mom are very funny.

    My favorite of the bunch was the “Henry Ad”. That one was too funny and very effective. I literally laughed out loud, but I like dry humor so maybe that’s why. I also laughed because your writing about the ad set the scene. I was already chuckling at your comment that Henry, “Torpedoed his efforts” lol; you can say that again. Ha! He did a great job of losing the battle. Oh wow.

    Anyway, thanks for the stellar reviews. Really enjoyed the writing style and comments.



  4. I agree with you Nick that Henry the Office Depot was the best of all the ads. It was creative and definetely got the point across. I liked Learned but the first thing that came across to me is whether each child was speaking from experience or reading lines. I do think nonetheless bullying is something that needs to be brought to the forefront more often. In the Missing ad using the f word was no appropriate at all and will defientely narrow the audience/customer that will purchase this. I was not too keen on the Dadsong. It was like overload of examples. I started tuning it out after the first 2 examples. Common Sense was alright but I feel like they could have gotten their point across better if done differently.


  5. Nick
    Dadsong is one I will agree with you. They went for funny but it was a little annoying trying to figure out at first what they were trying to say and hard to understand them. I feel an ad should start making sense right from the beginning. Sad voice made ad unattractive.

    Missing ad was disturbing. When I started to hear profanity and then the f bomb like you commented on I turned it off. To me its like a comedian that can’t get a laugh without every other work being profanity. Not a comedian I will listen to.

    Common Sense ad was interesting and funny at times and stupid at times. The scary thing is that all the stupid things he said I know someone did in real life at some time. Like don’t iron a shirt while your still wearing it. haha So in conclusion I agree that the bottom line message still got lost in here.

    Learned is my lease favorite ad. So much negativity. Nick I agree that it is a serious situation that needs to be addressed. Just don’t like the thought of my child listing and learning from an ad like this.

    Henry ad I agree with your comments. Good ad that brings across a point. Let them help and you will have more time to put out a quality product.

    Thanks for posting there. Good choices.


  6. It’s helpful to see a critical look at ads and see why they don’t work. I think we often forget that probably 99% of the time the ad “doesn’t work” that is it doesn’t cause us to take action and do something. The question then becomes how does one create an add that doesnt fall into the traps that seem to make an ad fail. You’ve hit on many good points. make it understandable, avoid foul language, humor is a two-edged sword, and get to the point. The same is clearly true of writing or presenting. My read of your comment is that even the last ad was a “failure”. I would add “don’t be boring” to the list.
    Nicely done and as I said the critical focus was wonderful to see.


  7. Hi Nick,
    I agreed with a lot of what you said in your analysis. I was so lost in the Old Spice ad that I could not follow it at all. Did they want the boy to use it or was it only for adults? I think your suggestion for a TV ad makes a lot of sense. The Norton turned me right off with the cursing and following a tech conversation on the radio was very challenging. The common sense one was very funny but as you said their message was so late in the ad it was hard to take serious. Plus I had no idea where they were going with the ad. For me the bullying ad was the best of the bunch. It was easy to understand, clear message and I could feel the pain of the students through their voices. I know you liked Henry, but I first heard him on Mary’s selection and found it too slow to get to the point. Perhaps if he was a regular character and I knew about him I might have enjoyed the ad more.


  8. I’ll probably be the only person who likes the ‘Common Sense’ ad because I have ADD and my brain thinks like that most of the day!! I feel like you and I attacked this assignment the same way; say what needed to be said and did not go into detail about things that are obvious. After looking at a few of our classmate’s postings, I see that I need to check all the boxes and present all the material required in the deliverable checklist.


  9. I’ll be honest, none of those ads were effective for me. The Office Depot ad was the most humorous, but it didn’t do anything for me. Listening to these ads…I was just ready for them to be over with before I was halfway through. I don’t think any of them really targeted a specific audience, with the exception of Old Spice (which was clearly for men). The Common Sense and the Bullying ads seemed more like PSAs than advertisements, in my opinion. The Norton ad really drove the point home, but I agree that the profanity was a bit out of place. Had the rest of the ad been humorous or edgy…then the profanity would’ve had it’s place, but even after the profanity the ad went back to “normal.” These ads may have been effective on others, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to learn more about any of these had I heard these ads on the radio.


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