We all know the Magness Benrow adverts. They have that enthusiastic duo, with the latest specials on electronics and appliances, who are always there, waiting for us when we start our drive home with the radio on. But what do we know about the wisecrackers we have been sharing rides with for over 20 years, and why do their ads have such staying power?
Magness Benrow, as you know, has “three different stores Auckland wide”. I called its Greenlane store at mid-day on a Thursday, when John Magness and Adrienne Harisson had just got back from recording their weekly radio ads at the NZME office, before getting back to work in-store. It was a surprise to hear Magness' voice at first, which I know from listening to his adverts for two decades, but he quickly passes the interview on to Harrison, his airwaves sidekick.
I make the awkward decision to ask if they are a husband and wife team. Magness is the owner of the company, whose father, Roly Magness, founded the family business, but “no,” Harrison laughs, she’s an employee.
Maybe I can be forgiven, given the enigma Magness and Harrison can be. When I first started researching for this story I stumbled across an old Youtube clip posted by a user suspiciously called ilovecheeserolls.
It is shaky, secret footage of the pair recording an advert. As the man with the hidden identity explains: “I wore a hidden camera to capture this footage. Plenty of funny mistakes! I could get fired for doing this, so my identity must remain anonymous ;)”.
Although it's a dingy video, it shows the team are confident in the studio, even when they stuff up. Some recording sessions are longer than others says Harrison, admitting the day I rang was longer than usual because of the way a particular sentence about ‘turning off all the lights’ was phrased. A copywriter comes up with their script, after the products of the week are sent in on a Wednesday afternoon, but they can ad lib a bit and Harrison says the amount of puns in each ad is “just how it happens”.
Recording weekly with such a tight turnaround means the adverts can be reactive to topical events, or the weather. When Donald Trump was elected president on Wednesday evening, Magness Benrow came out with an advert for ‘Trumpable deals’ the next day. If the weather stays as warm as this week, they’ll probably promote heat pumps next.
Harrison says the adverts have an instant impact on their stock levels, with a Beko product selling out the week of its advert. However, sometimes consumers take longer to act. “It can take 10 days for people to comprehend and then come in store,” says Harrison. But the store stills follow through with the deal if the customer has come in because of the promotion on the radio.
Magness Benrow’s radio advertising history goes back to 1972, when the company decided to put its entire budget towards radio. It’s still the main form of advertising, other than a website. “Everybody listens to the radio,” adds Harrison. “Print is on its way out. You have to go to digital or online.”
They were originally going to record the adverts separately, with one voice each, but the copywriter at the time advised they do it together as that was unique at the time. It's worked ever since and the pair do split up for a 90-second live advert on Trackside, with Magness, and Leighton Smith, for Harrison, each week.
“The two of us have become icons of Auckland,” says Harrison. They advertise on ten radio stations across NZME and MediaWorks. “It’s a personal touch from a family business that makes a difference”
They certainly have a following of listeners for the at times controversial adverts.
Achievement of long weekend - buying fridge off John from #magnessbenrow radio ads— Simon Kenny (@simonsays_nz) February 6, 2012
Magness Benrow just aired a radio ad filled with Fifty Shades puns. As you said guys, worst ad you've ever done. Amusing, though.— Jordan 🇳🇿 (@CoalDominion) March 14, 2015
And they were even the people’s choice for X Factor judges after Natalia Kills and Willy Moon were booted off the show last year:
If we're looking for a celebrity couple to replace Natalia Kills / Willy Moon might I suggest John and Adrian from Magness Benrow #xfactornz— Richard Parry (@_RichardParry_) March 16, 2015
JOHN AND ADRIAN FROM MAGNESS BENROW #newxfactorjudges— Melanie Bracewell (@meladoodle) March 16, 2015
As a manager at Magness Benrow, Harrison recognises the branding power of her voice. “You’re voice is promoting the brand even working in-store.”
She says customers often recognise her voice thanks to the familiarity of the adverts. “You can see them wondering how they know you,” she says. “And they ring up and say: ‘Am I talking to the radio lady?’”
Do they think their ads are similar to the Mad Butcher’s? Harrison gives a small laugh and says: “I wouldn’t say we are exactly the same as that”. The Magness Benrow adverts are a bit quirkier and more unique. Plus, “John still owns the company,” she says. Harrison has also noticed their ad space competitor’s new voice actor doesn’t have the same impact as Sir Peter Leitch. “The new person is not as vibrant.”
Who might surpass Magness and Harrison with their radio spot? When they are away, John’s daughter and son, who work for the company, fill in – albeit with a little less sass. “You can hear in their voices they’re not as confident,” says Harrison. She, on the other hand, has dabbled in radio for a long time – hosting a music count down so long ago she can’t remember which station it was for.