Ad revenues are plummeting, which should see a rise in shorter, pithier, more imaginative advertising — but we’re not and it’s because the money-people at companies have stopped listening to the creatives.

The financial crisis is seeing everyone trying to market better, but companies have also become more demanding and are more likely to use their own staff in ads — and the lack of experience always shows — or to tell scriptwriters and even camera people what they want.

Too many ads preach instead of entertain. Or if they try to entertain they may offend — DStv and Nando’s ads have recently generated controversy. Advertisers tend to, on average, spend more money on TV ads because everyone wants 30 seconds of fame on the box, but radio has the greatest capacity to cater to the imagination and print ads stay around longest.

Too few see radio ads as an investment or advertisers fail to interrogate their brand and which of the plethora of radio stations out there would bring them the best return on brand. If the marketing manager listens to Highveld or KFM and so does the CEO, then that is the station they are most likely to go for without questioning too closely ad spend, listenership (their target audience may mostly be listening to Ukhozi or East Coast Radio) and whether that radio station is the best fit for their product.

This quick check-list is for those new to radio advertising:

  • Advertising during drive time is best because people are at their most attentive for the latest developments in news and traffic reports. Drive time times are 6am to 8am and then again 12pm to 2pm and finally 4pm to 7pm. Anything after those times, especially 2pm to 3pm and after 7pm to 6am, falls into radio-listening dead zones, unless there is a particularly popular presenter or programme on during that time. The weekend tends to be a low listenership time unless it is a niche programme people love — always be guided by the latest Radio Audience Measurement Survey figures (
  • Identify which DJs resonate best with brands to ensure the authenticity of a promotion.
  • Do not offend or insult. Steer clear of anything that could be construed as racist, sexist or stereotyping a group.
  • Clients tend to believe that if you repeat something loud enough people will listen and that has created predictable and dull radio. A whisper more often forces people to listen.
  • Don’t use popular voices, go for a voice or sound that is different and encourages people to listen. The voices of Isidingo, Generations and Sevende Laan stars are over-used; take the time to listen for a fresh voice that can belong to your brand, not a pre-existing brand (the soapshow).
  • People tune out during ads if it’s hard sell, rather have a conversation with the consumer. Be careful not to preach or lecture, it should be a dialogue between equals, anything condescending is a switch-off.
  • Match your brand to the LSM (Living Standards Measure) level of your listener.
  • Match your product to the station or programme. For example, if you are advertising a product that requires thoughtful listening avoid a station with a strong voice (from the broadcaster) and music content; your ads will get lost in the general “noise”. Rather look at thoughtful stations with high income and well-educated listeners and place ads in current-affairs programmes or drive times. Such stations include SAfm, Classic, Lotus, RSG, Jacaranda, Kaya, Ukhozi, Lesedi and Metro.
  • Radio and TV are vanity media best suited for strong economic times. The advertiser loves the fact that his or her spouse and friends come up to him or her and say “oh I heard your company ad” — but too many fail to evaluate whether this is actually resulting in sales. Rely on a radio and TV presence from the free advertising you do ie through publicity.
  • Remember too that unless your ad is brilliant, people have low recall of ads on radio and TV; we are attuned to “tune out” when we hear advertising. The advantage of print (paper or web) is that it is available for ages, in magazine racks, bookshelves, doctors’ consulting rooms, the web and it most often has multiple readers. If I read something interesting I can tear out (or print) the article, scribble down the name or phone number and contact you later.
  • Consumers usually listen to radio in the car and lack access to a pen and by the time the next news item or music comes on, their mind shifts gear. Television is most often watched in the living room while relaxing; consumers need repetition or an incredible (often high-cost) ad to remember it.
  • Have synchronicity between public relations and ads. It is a big mistake to go for mainstream publicity and confine ads to trade publications, as an example.

Times are tough, suppress ego, and go for value for your ad buck.


  • Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author and media consultant. She has had 14 books published, one of which was shortlisted for an Alan Paton award. Television documentaries for which she has worked have also won awards. She has worked as a broadcast journalist and radio-station manager. Smith's areas of expertise are politics, economics, women's and children's issues and HIV. She lives and works in Cambridge, USA.


Charlene Smith

Charlene Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist, author and media consultant. She has had 14 books published, one of which was shortlisted for an Alan Paton award. Television documentaries for which...

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