Neurologists and researchers have been studying the effects of sound on the human brain for decades, and they have found that there is longer-lasting retention of messaging with audio versus visual media. Response times are quicker and the emotional impact, whether positive or negative, is inherently stronger as it evokes memories, has the ability to influence moods and allows the brain to create its own visual impact.
Couple science with what renowned futurist Rishad Tobaccowala insightfully stated in 2018 - "the colonization of the eyes is over and now we're going to the colonization of ears."
Indeed, fast-forward to 2021, and consumers are increasingly leaning into audio across platforms and moving off-screen as a result of extreme post-pandemic fatigue. Audio has, once again, become the consumers' go-to content of choice.
Marketers that effectively and successfully use radio across all audio platforms immerse the listener with the true essence of the brand and include the consumer within its story. The power of great radio creative is undeniable in its ability to build long-lasting relationships with consumers.
2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the Radio Mercury Awards, the only competition exclusively devoted to advertising creativity on radio and audio. In the 30 years since the Radio Mercury Awards were established, approximately 2,300 commercials (10 percent of the 20,000 that have been entered into the awards) have been celebrated for their ability to convey strong messages delivered creatively to tell their stories and evoke emotional response.
Through a celebration of "30 Years In Your Ears," this year's Radio Mercury Awards showcased a wide array of brand storytellers, from the iconic Motel 6, to Bud Light's Real Men of Genius. Other memorable winners include Radio Flyer, Coca Cola, Nike, Ragu, Charmin, GEICO and so many more.
As consumer priorities have changed over the past 30 years, so have brand imperatives. The Radio Mercury Awards have evolved alongside these shifts, with the introduction of new categories of excellence to reflect what it takes for brands to succeed in marketing to reflect shifts in that landscape.
2020 and 2021 have been incredibly unique years due to the pandemic, social unrest, political upheaval and then some. Naturally, the Radio Mercury Awards needed to pivot to a virtual format in 2020 and a live presentation for a virtual audience in 2021. New categories for recognition were added to reflect marketing trends.
Amidst the lockdown of the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 the Radio Mercury Awards introduced a DIY category to recognize brand, agency and broadcaster ability to create meaningful work without the traditional resources available in a physical world. Creativity abounded throughout the year with brands like P&G's Tide, who leveraged recognizable songs and brilliant lyrics to drive behavior and regional outreach to make an impact.
One such example is Reboot Colorado, brought to life through a series of spots entitled "It is Okay" and "It's Hard," created by Sukle Advertising for the Colorado Broadcasters Association. These spots used a voice bot to remind consumers to support small and independent business to keep the local economy strong.
In 2021, the Radio Mercury Awards encouraged brands to showcase commercials that used audio to demonstrate action towards public good and addressed social, environmental or public health/safety issues.
Finalists in this category were awe inspiring, including:
- "Bingo Recovery" from Preston Spire on behalf of Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance, which creatively raises public awareness for problem gambling, the stigma that's often associated with it and the help that is available.
- "Widen the Screen" from Katz Radio Group on behalf of P&G, featured 53 local radio station personalities who each organically led one- and two-minute conversations with their listeners to bring awareness to the forefront for societal and racial issues. The campaign, which ran across broadcast and digital radio platforms, was amplified in social media and contributed to broaden consumer perspective and impact behavior for the elimination of racial bias.
- "Extra Dedications" by BBDO Energy on behalf of Mars Inc.'s Extra Gum, celebrated front-line workers and those that needed the most help during the pandemic with poignant song dedications, contextually integrating a key message on broadcast radio.
- "More Than That with Gia Peppers" by dentsu in partnership with General Motors, Kroger and P&G, is a sonic journey across Black America, leveraging conversations between host Gia Peppers and well-known guests about topics impacting and inspiring Black Americans. The show was distributed on 80 broadcast radio stations, replacing existing programming, and was repurposed for podcast platforms.
This year, a new "Insightful Voice" category celebrated advertising that authentically connected with a distinct consumer audience. Winners were radio spots that successfully portrayed the values, culture and lifestyle of the audience they were targeting:
- "Meemaw" by Barkley for Motel 6 provided a solution for the nearly four million babies born in the past year that grandparents had only seen via laptop due to pandemic restrictions.
- "More Lines" by Burrell Communications on behalf of Comcast Universal, featured Simone Manuel, the first Black woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Simone's voice sincerely amplifies feelings of pride and empowerment, while acknowledging the struggle, progress and triumphs of Black athletes who pave the way and inspire others.
In previous decades, categories including integrated marketing, radio innovation, non-broadcast and sonic design have been introduced to recognize radio's changing landscape, the importance of sound and its innovative use, to reward radio's role in a multimedia environment while always celebrating the art and the craft of brand storytelling across platforms. A few examples from now and then remain timelessly relevant:
- Non-broadcast audio celebrates radio beyond the dial, and Walmart Bedtime Stories created by FCB Chicago, and Radio Recliner created by Luckie for Bridge Senior Living, are two campaigns recognized in 2021, not only for their creativity, but for their purpose.
Walmart Bedtime Stories connected incarcerated parents and their children through the power of reading, with the goal to nurture bonds and improve literacy. Inmates recorded themselves reading a children's book, which was accessed by the child through an AR-enabled app allowing the parent's voice to come to life when pages of the book were scanned.
Radio Recliner connected seniors with their families while they were confined to their rooms during the pandemic. Through a digital radio station, Bridge Senior Living residents became DJs who hosted their own radio shows. Resident DJs shared stories and songs from the comfort of their recliners, recording by phone with shoutouts to friends, family and staff. The platform turned dedication radio into a new social media for seniors.
- The integrated marketing category has celebrated work that seamlessly delivers a brand message across media while recognizing that audio must harness the theater of the mind while reinforcing images that appear in visual media.
This year, Postmates, a food-delivery service like DoorDash and Uber Eats, did this incredibly well and broke through the clutter with a campaign created by Mother LA. The ads that brought this campaign to life disrupted typical and traditional TV and radio ads by, not so subtly, inserting cravings for food that all humans experience throughout their day.
- Music has always been part of Coca Cola's DNA, and it has been a major component of its core branding. In 2018, Coca-Cola and its agency Fitzco/McCann were the Radio Mercury Awards' grand prize winners for their integrated campaign "Share an ICE COLD Coke." With the help of a number of partners, Coca-Cola and Fitzco created 1,000 personalized jingles to accompany the (now iconic) first names on Coke bottles.
- The best radio campaigns are the ones that are episodic in nature - those that keep the listener wanting to hear the next one - the ones that are binge-listening worthy. Motel 6's "We'll Leave the Light On For You," Bud Light's "Real Men of Genius" and Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man" campaigns are all great examples of this. Due to their niche targeting, Quikrete, the country's largest manufacturer of packaged concrete and cement mixes, was a lesser-known campaign that won Radio Mercury Awards' Best of Show once and Best Campaign three times.
Their innovative "Long Story Short" campaign consists of a series of radio spots that condensed traditionally long stories, such as those like the Bible or Julius Caesar, into 10 seconds, in order to emphasize the benefit of Quikrete's fast-setting concrete.
- Back in 2012, "The Most Popular Song," by JWT San Juan on behalf of Banco Popular, reinvented the use of radio while uniquely connecting with consumers. The campaign set out to address an economic crisis in Puerto Rico where 60 percent of people were receiving government handouts and it was perfectly perfect not to work.
Through a partnership with the most famous salsa music band in the world, Banco Popular "rewrote history." The band rewrote lyrics to a classic song and presented it and the message via roadblock on every television and radio station in Puerto Rico, bringing the song to the top of the charts and turning the crisis around.
- In 2017, at the cusp of the explosive growth of podcasts, GE was celebrated for "GE Podcast Theater presents LifeAfter, a 10-episode science fiction podcast that cleverly showcased GE's technology, which combined the digital lives of the deceased and used them to communicate with their living loved ones.
Twelve years ago, the Radio Mercury Awards introduced a special award for Radio Marketer of the Year. This award celebrates and salutes the marketers who make radio a key component in their advertising campaigns and have activated programs that leverage radio's core equities to garner results. This honor has been awarded to McDonald's, BMW's Mini Cooper, Chase, Allstate, Target, GEICO, Subway, Coca Cola, T-Mobile, Comcast/Xfinity and Progressive Insurance.
Creating an immersive radio advertising experience has always been about storytelling, stories that draw the listener in, stories that invite participation, stories that embrace conflict, stories that reflect culture and stories that are focused. The intersection of art and science have led to best practices to help shape the execution of a great idea and a compelling story that include:
- Sonic branding and music sharpen the message.
- Tone and consistency matter, and they should reflect the brand's voice.
- Localizing and personalizing increases relevance.
- Timing counts and less is more. The fewer the messages in one spot, the greater the recall.
- Leverage the appeal and trust of radio influencers and podcast hosts.
- Have a conversation, don't shout.
- The first five seconds matter: Say the brand early and often.
- Entertain for emotional gain.
The power of radio creative referenced in this article [www.radiomercuryawards.com] may be used to inspire future creativity.
Brands that take advantage of today's audio renaissance by immersing audiences with the content they crave on the platforms they are consuming are the ones that will be celebrated for the next "30 Years In Your Ears."
Tammy Greenberg is the SVP of business development at the Radio Advertising Bureau. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.