313. Radio Mercury Award Winners.
Sep 29, 2010 at 12:02PM

One of my favorite award shows - and one that I have been fortunate enough to win - is the annual Radio Mercury Awards. The show highlights the best and most creative radio spots across the country in several different categories and might just be one of the more difficult awards to come by. (The trophy, below, is certainly one of the coolest.) Whereas most award shows have hundreds of categories and sub-categories, the RMAs only give out about ten awards. They also give out cold hard cash to the top prize, $100,000 which was split by two teams for the first time ever this year. I like the format of radio because it is stripped down, bare-bones storytelling at its best (and worst) and there is simply no where to hide a bad idea. You have to be able to get the audience to buy into your narrative almost immediately and hold their attention using 1/3 of the tricks you can on television or online.

Our Very Cool RMA Award from 2008 for Clemson University:

This year's RMA's were held at The Nasdaq MarketSite in New York on Monday and like usual, flew a bit under the radar even within the industry. Radio is difficult and requires a lot of craft to do well and a lot of times isn't given the love within the agency world itself. So, I thought I would highlight the best of this year's show, doing my best to shine a bit more light where it is well-deserved.

The first winner in the general category comes from MINI via Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners and is titled Colonoscopy. When your whole life is out of whack, it helps to have a fun car to drive. I feel like this spot kind of sneaks up on you. By the time you get it, you want to hear what they do with the concept next. You most likely would be driving when you heard it which might contrast nicely with your comparatively un-fun car and making the spot that much more effective.

Lapiz, a self-titled Hispanic marketing firm that used to be the Hispanic arm of Leo Burnett, produced a winning spot for Bounty paper towels called Battle. This spot is a good example for using the medium for what it does best: great sound design. It is immediately interesting even if it takes awhile to figure it out. Most importantly it rewards that attention. It should be noted that this spot also won two gold lions this year at The Cannes Advertising Festival in both the radio and sound design categories. Not too shabby. (Of course this spot also won for the Spanish version, Batala which I actually find to have more entertaining voice performances.)

Craftsman tools were represented in this year's general category by a spot from Y&R called, Universe Diarama. On the surface this concept is a really dumb story, but it does a good job putting you right into the absurdity and the production value carries it until the end. I'm not sure this is exactly one of my favorites, but you can see how the storytelling nature of radio really comes through on all of these pieces.

Twin Cities agency Preston-Kelly (Ad Age Midwest small agency of the year) produced a campaign that featured a nice mix of outdoor and radio for the Y called fatpants. Fatpants became a rallying cry for the people joining the gym and they donated their old fatpants to the cause to be used on the outdoor boards. The radio is fairly standard but the fatpants concept really made all the pieces come together for the benefit of the client. If nothing else, this is a memorable approach and that's really all that you need sometimes. You want people to remember your story. You have to download the campaign pdf to listen to the spot.

Fatpants Outdoor:

Wongdoody's Dear Me campaign for the Washington Dept. of Health is a really personal narrative about people trying to quit smoking. The smokers wrote letters to themselves about quitting and you can hear the struggle in their voices. Contrary to the production on other spots - these are raw and work better for it. You can view a bunch of videos from which the radio spots were produced here.

In the PSA category (a personal favorite), Flying Brick Radio (a not so traditional radio-only agency) won with their rather funny spot for Operation Lifesaver; a small organization promoting safety around railroad tracks. Common Sense is a quickly paced, rhythmic 60 seconds of everyday advice that is produced shotgun-style out to the audience. There's a little something in it for everyone and one can't help but pay attention to each new piece of advice to see if it's funnier than the previous one. It does come to a rather abrupt stop as the actual organization is a bit odd to say the least, but they did something pretty good with a tough organization. They list a website at the end: commonsenseuseit.com which is unfortunately not nearly as interesting or engaging as the radio spot.

I think my favorite winning spot comes from the student category for Orkin and is called Mosquito Insanity. *The youngsters do like to name their stuff with exuberance, don't they? Anyway the spot is wonderful and comes across more as a comedy sketch than radio ad. It builds over the timeline of the piece and features a great read and impressive sound quality. Given that it's likely a spec piece this is an achievement. Kudos to the unnamed student from the Portfolio Center. Great job. Your spot made my skin itch.

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Now while we're on the subject, I thought I would also post some of my favorite spots from years past. The grand prize winner from 2008 was produced for Motel 6 featuring the familiar voice of Tom Bodett who has narrated the budget ads since 1986. The winning spot created by The Richards Group is called DVD and features the world's first DVD actor's commentary radio spot. It's just a remarkably simple yet perfect piece of storytelling. It's rare that you want a spot to go on longer but I could have listened to five minutes of this.

Of course no award-winning radio spot article would be complete without at least mentioning DDB Chicago's Bud Light Real American Heroes campaign. (I think they changed the name to Real Men of Genius after 9/11). This campaign won the grand prize not only in 2000 (with Mr. Footlong Hot Dog Inventor) but also in 2001 (with Mr Pickled Pigs Feet Eater). 2 years in a row with one campaign - pretty impressive. As we all know, it's the background singer that makes these spots work. There I mentioned it.

Perennial funny agency - now sadly closed - Cliff Freeman & Partners won the award back in 1995 by producing Teacher for Staples. The spot hard sells a ton of different items for the retailer only they wrap it up in a story that is a common student experience. A human truth even. It's easy to see how both the client and creatives might have felt like they were getting away with something here.

I fell in love with radio as a good medium for storytelling with a campaign for Sobe that I don't believe ever garnered any awards, but that I really enjoyed. I believe it was done by Fallon and was called SoBeYourself. The campaign ran for about a year and featured great character VO from a guy named Freddy and witty writing, full of little jokes that you had to pay attention to. This still might be my favorite campaign based solely on storytelling. You can listen to a bunch of them here. I think it ran in 2002/03.

Okay, okay - just one more. The year I went to the RMA's there was a spot for a small real estate company (ShoreWest) that did something completely cool with a simple idea of how the radio in your car works. It invited user participation and told two stories at once. It was an incredibly cool idea and one that I wished I had done. How often have you thought that about a real estate ad? Listen to the spot on this page (close to the bottom).

So, this begs the question - What is your favorite radio spot of all-time?

(Oh, and why just download the whole set of this year's spots for your own enjoyment here.)

Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
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