Get Great At Writing Radio And You’ll Probably Always Have A Job.

As long as there are carpenters, lifeguards, and cars, there’s gonna be radio.

Even if the day comes when the internet gets wired directly into our brains, anybody who can write a great radio spot will probably have a job somewhere in this business.

I love radio. And starting today, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite radio campaigns here on heywhipple. com. Let’s start with the famous campaign that London’s Leagas Delaney did for Phillips Electronics (TVs and VCRs).  The work is now some 25 years old, but the spots still kill me to this day. I have included a few of them here for your review. (Go to the tabs at top or side, labeled Radio Campaign of the Week.)

Listen first to the spot called “Phirrips.” (And if you’re wondering, my answer is no, I don’t care that it’s politically incorrect. It’s funny.) Back in ’99, London’s Campaign magazine named “Phirrips” the Best Radio Spot of All Time.

In this spot, an idiot walks into a store insisting on Japanese technology and the salesperson makes fun of him. (Would any client anywhere do this today? I hope you’re out there.) From there, the campaign marches off in all directions.

• Two idiots talk about Phillips in fake and fractured French.

• Two idiots accuse Phillips of being a faceless corporation pushing their products on a helpless public.

• A salesperson beats around the bush about how expensive a Phillips TV is.

• Two burglars announce they’re stealing Phillips TVs exclusively.

• Two Phillips spokesmen peal with evil laughter at their competitors’ sinking sales.

• Two guys talk about Phillips products for sixty seconds, never once mentioning what the brand is or the product is.

• An idiot tells a customer not to buy a Phillips VCR because all electronics will be obsolete within 2 weeks.

• And in the spot called “You’re So Clever,” the two idiots go on and on about … God, I can’t begin to explain how stupid and cool this last spot is.

If there’s a concept behind the spots listed here, well, I don’t see it. Listen to them and you may agree there’s no campaign superstructure; no “big idea” such as, say, Bud’s “Real American Heroes.” Still if you listen to the spots one after another, their common lineage is apparent.

If they have any “platform,” I guess I’d call it the ol’ Two Guys Being Funny gig. Yes, there’s a common sign-off treatment; and the voiceovers are similar. Other than that, all that’s going on here is two guys being funny; not so much a concept as it is an executional architecture, right? Yet because of the consistent brilliance of the writing and the extraordinary comic timing of the actors (Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith), these one-off’s are indeed very much a campaign.

I have this theory about radio, one I’m pretty sure no one will buy. Because the idea runs counter to everything I’ve learned about how advertising works in every other medium. It’s the idea that radio may be the only medium where one-shots aren’t such a bad idea. I know, I know, branding heresy. I mean, who’d suggest stringing together a bunch of one-off print ads and calling it a campaign?

Yet in radio, I have no problem simply doing the funniest or most interesting damn thing I can, “campaign structure” be damned. Yes, when you’re brilliant enough to create a campaign with a portable reusable structure like “Real American Heroes,” by all means go for it. But to insist that every radio campaign have this same sort of repeatable campaign structure, I could argue that’s a case of good getting in the way of great.

I’m probably wrong about this but I have to tell you, not only do I love this Phillips stuff, the best radio campaign I think I ever wrote worked pretty much the same way — a bunch of one shots that all hammered home the same one or two key points. I’ll post that campaign soon. When I do, you may think I’m kidding myself about this or you may just think they suck.

Yet in spite of my misgivings about this heresy, I stand by this thought.

Radio is just … different.

Do Not Tolerate Brutal Creative Directors.

“Life Is Too Short To Accept Brutal Creative Directors.”

In which we have a short but vigorous discussion about creative directors who act out on their childhood issues by brutalizing and traumatizing other creative people. I myself have been fortunate to have had a long career and never been abused by the caprice and arrogance of a brutal creative director. But they are out there. Please join me in my fervent hope that a print-out of this column finds its way onto every one of their polished marble desktops.

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The creative director enters the room. Finally.

His untroubled gait belies the fact that he’s fully 35 minutes late. After setting down his mocha-decaff latte he begins to stare grimly at the ideas tacked up on the wall. He brushes his pony-tail off of his shoulder. He sneers, rips an idea off the wall, crumples and drops it to the floor.

He then dispenses what he calls creative direction. To his little clutch of scribblers he gives this helpful and articulate re-direction.

“It’s crap.”

Now he’s working his way down the bulletin board and the campaigns begin to die like soldiers in front of the guns of Gallipoli, in wave after wave. Accompanying the death of each idea comes similarly helpful creative advice:

“Crap.”

“Bitch, pleeease.”

“Like I’d do that.”

And finally the wall is bare. No ideas are good enough for his majesty. As he takes leave, over his shoulder he quips, “I’ll know it when I see it, people.” No discussion about what was right about the work, what was wrong. And though his title is Creative Director, there is no direction given to creative.

As Stephen King said, it’s just a shame the things you see when you don’t have a gun handy.

Okay, this Latte-Ponytail Guy, he’s just one kind of brutal creative director but these dickheads come in different flavors. The worst ones actually berate and browbeat creatives, bludgeoning them with words that serve to improve neither the work nor morale.

And when their words do in fact improve the creative, these guys will defend their behavior by describing it as “brutally honest.” Unfortunately, all that the employees remember is the brutality, not the honesty.

Imagine how stupid this kind of brutality would look if we could see it in some other venue.

CUT TO McDONALD’S MANAGER DRESSING DOWN A NEW EMPLOYEE.

“Hey, I didn’t get to wear this red paper Manager’s hat by makin’ milkshakes as crappy as this!”

Why advertising creates so many of these tinpot dictators is a mystery. What pray tell warrants any kind of arrogance at all? Dude, this is advertising. You’re not pullin’ babies out of burning buildings. You’re not curing cancer or making peace. You make commercials for cry-eye. Websites. End-aisle displays. Jesus.

If I could get one of these guys alone, my speech might go like this.

Dude, sit down. And toss that fuckin’ latte. Listen, I don’t care …. I said zip it, Pony-Tail. … I don’t care that you were once on a “big Volvo shoot” with Robert Goulet. I don’t care you won an award that one time. I don’t care that you wear sunglasses indoors. The thing is, none of that crap gives you the permission to treat people poorly. Somewhere along the line, dude, you seem to have gotten the idea that establishing a high bar means you can whack people with it.

In a recent post about good creative directors on the Denver Egoist, I read this:

“You don’t get people to want to work harder for you by shouting, … abusing and humiliating. Motivation comes from a place of respect and trust. Good creative directors will want you to do well for you, not for them. They instill in you the kind of passion and drive that makes an eight-hour day become a 13-hour day. If your CD’s idea of motivation is to threaten you with pay cuts, demotions, crappy accounts or losing your job, you don’t want to work for that CD any more. … Sure, you’ll work for the asshole for as long as it takes you to find another job, but word will soon spread that the CD is a raging dick, and the agency will find it more and more difficult to hire genuinely good creative talent.”

My advice?

If you work for a dick-tator, drop a dime on him or her and let H.R. know. If you can get another job, do it and do it fast. And on your way out, spread the word. This isn’t gossip. You’re providing a valuable service to your creative brethren by putting up a warning sign: “Steer Clear. Toxic Dickweed Ahead.”