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Updated 27 February 2020

D&AD Radio & Audio Jury President Levi Slavin discusses latest audio trends, what he looks for in the jury room and more.

The origins of radio date back to 1922, when the first paid radio commercial was aired in the United States. In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of streaming services, podcast popularity is at an all time high, and the adoption of voice technology continues to surge as voice-activated assistants become staples in our everyday lives. Here, D&AD Radio & Audio Jury President Levi Slavin discusses the latest trends in radio and audio, as well as sharing crucial insights on what he’ll be looking out for in the jury room.

What are the key issues and trends affecting the industry, and your discipline specifically?

The industry has never moved faster. Our audience has never had more control and choice. The practice of targeting humans based primarily on the year they were born has given way to connecting over a shared ideology. Technology is still creeping ever closer to magic. Data is still creeping everyone out. And there seems to be a limitless appetite for extraordinary stories and experiences.

It’s an exciting time for creativity.

As one of the first channels truly embraced by our industry, radio/audio has had the advantage of living in constant fear of irrelevance. This has created a culture of innovation. From a terrifying era of silent content, we watched the rise and rise of the podcast. Then voice assistants. Then audio commerce.

While the most recent audio trends seem to be driven by technology and channel innovation, what has never changed is the power of audio for storytelling. It’s intimate, personal, and incredibly visual. We tend to discover audio experiences rather than having them hurled at us while we’re trying to do something else. And it’s hands-free; so we can commute, work, even operate heavy machinery while enjoying it.

Is there anything audio can’t do, I hear you ask?

No, no there isn’t.

In fact, when sitting down to write this, I asked my friendly Google Assistant what the future of audio holds. The answer was pretty comprehensive. And well worth a listen.

What technologies are affecting the work being created in your field and how? Are you excited about the future of your sector? What makes you nervous?

New technology has always shaped our industry. With the rise in popularity of conversational commerce, we’re seeing some interesting innovations in how a brand sounds. And voice and virtual assistants continue to bend the rules of how we connect and interact with brands.

As a result, brands are emulating human traits in more and more sophisticated ways. We can now talk to them, ask their opinions, agree with them, or ignore them — without having to make those pesky excuses.

Ironically, in this race to humanise, duplications in personality have become more apparent. In the same way we choose friends, we are less likely to spend time with someone without an opinion, someone who just agrees with everything we say, or — worse still —someone who follows popular opinion until it is unpopular.

In the same way kindness has been adopted by banks and biscuit brands alike, it becomes inauthentic when every brand has the same differences. It’s true, a magical experience can be created by any number of the technologies available to us, but that doesn’t make them right.

If tech is chosen simply because it is popular, the experience can often seem technique-y, hollow and incongruous. Sending us back to an era of chasing people across channels and hurling messages at them without invitation. 

The technology we choose to deliver our ideas needs to be essential. And it’s the quality of our choices that will create truly timeless work.

What are you going to be looking out for in the jury room?

D&AD is an incredibly consistent summary of the history of our industry and of contemporary creativity.

The last time I judged, our president outlined to us that the work we selected was an indication of the quality of the judges as much as it was the quality of the work. That has really stuck with me. And it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

For that reason, I’ll be looking for work through the same criteria: a new idea, beautifully crafted, delivered in a relevant way.

A new idea is both surprising and inevitable. It’s a thought, innovation or experience that simply had to happen. Without which, our industry would be poorer.

Beautiful craft is an obvious one. Especially in audio. It’s really only when it is absent that we notice it.

The relevance of an idea’s delivery is where we are seeing the greatest leaps. This is where the perfect problem has been uncovered, the perfect solution crafted, and both have been delivered in the perfect way — at the right time and place to have a meaningful impact.

While others on the jury will also introduce their criteria, for me it has always been those fundamental elements that have created timeless work and pushed our industry forward. Irrespective of trends.

What is the value of creative awards?

Creative awards are still the most consistent benchmark we have for brilliant thinking. It’s what keeps the industry evolving and moving forward. In previous years, I found myself regularly defending creativity as a business tool. These days those occasions are becoming less and less frequent. Especially given how measurable our work has become. 

Meaningful brands last longer, they have deeper relationships with their customers, they are more valuable, they are forgiven faster when they get things wrong, and celebrated more publicly when they get things right. And creativity is the primary tool we use to build that meaning.

What makes them relevant today?

Given the speed the industry is moving, awards like D&AD are more relevant than ever. They offer us a mirror. Helping us see what makes our brands unique, and what we need to do to stand out. Most importantly, they help us agree on the balance between popularity and timelessness.

What’s the importance of celebrating creative excellence for you?

Even by its toughest critics, creativity seems to be more readily defined as a philosophy rather than an execution. Uncovering the perfect problem, solution, and delivery are all creative processes. It’s the single most powerful tool we have to change opinions, grow brands, and define the fortunes of companies. And we’re seeing our industry grow in relevance as a result.

What is the value of winning a D&AD Pencil?

They are the only advertising award that I’m allowed to keep in my house. And the only one I still tell my mum that I’ve won. I think that comes from the consistency and rigour D&AD has placed on what it awards. 

What does D&AD mean to you?

The best.