There was a time back at the turn of the century when I listened to a lot of radio, especially in the car. I’d just arrived in NZ and the local stations were a revelation compared to the South African stations that seemed to play nothing but Top 40 dross all day long. Then slowly but surely I drifted away from radio, driven by the repetitious song playback, less-than-entertaining DJ chatter and incessant adverts into the arms of my collection of MP3 CDs.

That’s the way it stayed until earlier this year when I got back from a long overseas trip and found that there was a new station called The Sound that played a lot of my kind of music. So the car radio and the Tivoli in the kitchen were locked to 93.8 FM and I settled in to enjoy some of the old classics – Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Springsteen, Bowie, Zeppelin and the like. 

Ah, life was good. Or at least it was until I started paying attention to the advertising, which was inevitable because there was a fair amount of it being aired and much of it was so abominably bad. Especially the jingles, the endless dreary jingles that all sound so mind-numbingly alike; apparently sung by cloned singers with the voice track voiced over (and over and over and over) by the usual suspects.

David Ogilvy once wrote: “Candor compels me to admit that I have no conclusive research to support my view that jingles are less persuasive than the spoken word. You’d run like hell if a salesman came to your door and began singing at you. Why do it in advertising?” I’m not a total believer in this theory because there’s a time and place for everything and a memorable jingle tied to a clever concept can really fly, but so many ads on NZ radio seem to be nothing more than bad jingles, sometimes aided and abetted with a few spoken words, sometimes not. These ads are the very definition of interruption marketing and the antithesis of permission marketing (one of these is good, the other very, very bad).

I felt much like Colonel Kurtz confronting his horrors in Apocalypse Now but unlike the good Colonel, who was trapped between madness and the jungle, I have an escape. It’s called the station preset button. 

There are five on my Tivoli and as many I could possibly want on the car stereo, so as soon as an annoying ad comes on, I’m out of there with nothing more than the poke of a finger. If there’s another series of ads on the next station, as there often is at about forty minutes past the hour and one annoys, then I just keep changing the channel or I play a CD or I switch to the iPod input. So there are options available to me besides listening to stuff I don’t want to listen to. 

The only time I’m trapped is when I’m forced to listen to the radio, say at a doctor’s office, which is when the bad ads morph from a bother to an annoyance and the current State Insurance spots drive me to an absolute incandescent fury – no adverts in history have deserved to be silenced quite as much as these do and I’m not the only one I know who thinks so – you’d think someone out there in Stateland would know better. At any rate, these occasions are few and far between and most of the time, I’m in charge, just like the majority of radio listeners I’d presume.

What’s the point of this rant? Well let’s look at the whole point of advertising, which is to sell stuff. You’ll find it hard to make a real dent in a competitive market if your advertising is generic and boring but I can darn well assure you that you can’t and won’t do the business if your advertising is silly, annoying, drearily repetitive or even worse, pure interruption. This is particularly applicable in radio, where there are no visuals to distract the consumer from weak ideas, feeble copy and overly enthusiastic singing. 

So before you sign off on that radio advert, test it out on friends and family. Listen to it yourself a few times in a row, pretend you’re the punter with the hard earned dollars and ask yourself if your thirty seconds of advertising glory is actually thirty seconds of churned out, conveyer belt, horse-pucky that’s going to go down like a pile of poo after the tenth time it’s heard in the space of a few days. 

If so, do yourself a favour and put that part of your ad budget in the bin, or give it to charity. That way, at least you won’t be damaging your brand by running bad advertising. Or you could see an agency that can actually come up with something creative – radio done right works and it works really well. Radio done badly on the other hand...seriously, just don’t bother.