2021 marks a milestone for the Radio Mercury awards. For 30 years, these awards have recognized exceptional audio advertising created by advertising agencies, production companies, and radio stations across America. The Mercury is to radio commercials what the Oscar® is to movies.
The details and prizes awarded have changed from time to time, reflecting changes in media, culture, technology, and the advertising landscape but the essential vision of the Radio Mercury Awards has remained the same: to reward the creators of outstanding audio advertising messages.
The very first Radio Mercury Awards celebrated the best commercials of 1991, dubbed fittingly “Radio’s Top 40 for 1991.”
Among the brands and advertisers in that first class of finalists were L.A. Gear, U.S. Bank, Crain’s New York Business, Nike, Nynex Information Resources – Yellow Pages (remember those?), Molson Breweries, Washington Apples, Fox Photo 1-Hour Service, USPS Express Mail, The New York Lottery, and Motel 6.
Here are a few of my favorites from that first collection:
“Pirahna” — produced for Crain’s New York Business by Goldsmith/Jeffrey, the spot combines great copy and a compelling voice to deliver its message…incisively. One of three 1991 finalists for this advertiser and agency.
“Different Announcers” — is how U.S. Bank addresses turnover in the banking business by promising to take a longer-term approach to its relationships with small business customers. The ad never says how they plan to do this, nor is U.S. Bank even prominent in this spot. But what impressed me was the parade of famous voices no longer with us, including Mason Adams, Gary Owens, Don Pardo, and Edward Herrmann.
“Fantasies of a Single Girl” — one of three finalists for L.A. Gear produced by Jennifer Joseph, this spot impressed me at the time for its surprise ending. Twelve years later, the memory of this spot would inspire me to write and produce this commercial for a local music store. In 2004, it became that year’s winner of the Radio Station-Produced Radio Mercury Award, an honor that still brings a silly smile.)
“Two A.M.” — A middle-of-the-night phone call from a desperate woman delivers the message that John Moore Plumbing’s 24-hour emergency service is ready to help. The tagline nails it: “Call John, get more.” Cute, entertaining, effective. Created by Radio Works, Inc.
“Not Smoking Habit” — Popular cigarette advertising themes of the past are brought back in short vignettes to describe the pleasures of not smoking. Clever and effective message for the Michigan Department of Public Health by Brogan and Partners.
“Bad Connection” and “I Wish I Was Mary Hart” — Two spots for television shows, written and produced by one of my favorite radio mavens, Joy Golden. Her advertising company, Joy Radio, Inc., was known for its smart writing, witty punchlines, distinctive characters, and astonishingly effective mental theater. (Listen to her iconic Laughing Cow cheese ads and reflect on what you’ve seen with your ears.)
“Singing Telephone Number” — Tom Bodett’s aw-shucks delivery and The Richards Group’s amazing writers have kept the lights on at Motel 6 for 30 years and counting. Winner of the $100,000 Grand Prize in the very first Radio Mercury Awards, this spot was the first of several Motel 6 commercials to earn recognition and cash in the years to come. The consistency of the Motel 6 campaign over the past three decades is possibly the finest demonstration of how to grow a national brand with radio.
The Radio Mercury Awards, the only major advertising awards program devoted exclusively to audio advertising, was established in 1992 to encourage and reward the development of effective and creative radio commercials. The annual Radio Mercury Awards competition draws entries from advertising agencies, production houses, radio stations, and educational institutions across the country. Approximately 20,000 commercials have competed for close to $3.5 million in prizes. The Radio Creative Fund (RCF), a non-profit corporation funded by the radio industry, governs the Radio Mercury Awards. The Radio Advertising Bureau produces the Radio Mercury Awards.