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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Plug The Leaks In Your Radio Commercials


Plug The Leaks In Your Radio Commercials

Posted on July 31, 2003 and read 8,248 times

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A scourge is sweeping the broadcasting industry. It’s not new. It has been around for decades but from this day forward, you will have the tools to help rid the world of this insidious evil. My goal today is to help you identify, hunt down and plug “Effectiveness Leaks” that can creep into your commercials and fill the airwaves with mediocre and ultimately impotent advertising.

What is an Effectiveness Leak?

I define it this way: element(s) in commercials that can erode the probability of achieving the intended listener reaction. ie: call-to-action or building top-of-mind awareness. Leaks are tune-out factors.

You don’t have to look very hard to find Effectiveness Leaks. They’re everywhere! I’ll identify 10 of the more common crutches used by imagination-starved advertisers. I’ll suggest why each is a liability and offer some alternatives that will improve the effectiveness of your commercials.

Now – here are my “10 Most UN-Wanted Effectiveness Leaks”…

1. “Stupid & Happy”

You’ve heard the Stupid & Happy scenario. They’re very popular with clients. Stupid is overly distraught and fretting over one of life’s minor problems…like, “oh no – a coffee stain on my white shirt…what do I do?!”

Luckily, right on cue, Happy steps over from the next washing machine (or grocery aisle or check out line or restaurant table) and recites all the necessary information about a product designed to solve this dilemma. You’ll hear a brand name mentioned at least 3 times; where to buy this product; its slogan; a special, timely offer…even a phone number is often spontaneously recited – all, we are expected to believe…from Happy’s memory.

In real life, ask someone where they got their watch; car; outfit…etc., and you’re going to get the company name, a vague location and that’s about it. You wouldn’t normally hear complete copy points and frequent name repetition. There’s nothing wrong with pairing 2 supposedly “real” people in a commercial but it HAS to be believable. Stupid & Happy can certainly set the stage or define the problem, but please – let the announcer come in to deliver the actual copy or selling points. Stupid and Happy should NEVER sell – it tears the fabric of character believability. They should define the problem and set up the announcer. The announcer sells. Then, give them the last word to deliver that final punch line.

2. Thinking about starting your commercial with a question? Better think again – please!

Question headlines beg the listener to shoot back a witty retort.

Are you plagued by painful hemorrhoids?…

No! – are you?
See? You’re giving the listener a chance to blow you off. In a commercial, never ask. Always tell. It’s infinitely more persuasive.

3. The Time Eater

This is one of the most common Effectiveness Leaks. It’s one of those handy little page-darkening lines that often get thrown in when a script is too short. The Time Eater does nothing more than top-up your script and bring a sparse, underwritten idea…up to 30, or more often, 60 seconds.

‘Why buy anywhere else?’ or ‘Why not stop in today?’ are both lines that we hear every day but what is really being said? Let’s analyze it… Why buy anywhere else? asks potential customers to think up reasons why they should NOT do business with your client. Never ask – and above all, never ask for objections. You won’t sell if you don’t tell.

Unfortunately, this is a copy crutch that has caught on. Wherever there’s a copywriter struggling with a lack of information, imagination – or BOTH, you’ll find the Time Eater.

4. The Minutia Monster

Here we have a commercial that lacks sufficient Persuaders. It speaks directly to that narrow segment of the listenership who has already decided to use your client’s company or service. It preaches to the converted and ignores those who are undecided – the ones you really want to reach.

These spots include things like: hours of operation; parking details; and phone number (usually twice). Whenever a client has too much input in the commercial and wants to squeeze in as much detail as possible, it’s a Minutia Monster in the making.

That said, what can you do about it? It can be a very delicate situation but here’s a way I’ve found to make everyone happy: Your clients’ input has to be considered – that’s a given. After all, they’re the experts in their particular field. And hey, they are signing the cheque. However, the writer knows best what belongs in a commercial – and should stand firm.

With the support of the sales rep, the writer has to pick out the single most persuasive strength the client has and turn that single thought into a compelling script – hence the old proverb, one spot, one thought. This often comes under the impressive moniker: Meaningful Differentiation – but don’t let that put you off your feed.

If however there are several important points that the client insists you write about, don’t cram them all into one script. Write several versions and have them rotate. Keep the overall “sound” the same but different versions will add variety while getting the desired information out to the masses. Too much information overwhelms your listeners and they’ll start humming along to the music bed.

A good script is 90 percent persuasion and 10 percent detail. You only have 30 or 60 seconds to get your message out to the widest audience possible. Your script should tell listeners WHY they should call or drop by. Describe convincingly the problem that would be solved and the benefits they would enjoy by acting on this commercial. Give them reasons to use this product or service.

Convince listeners that they need you first – and they will come looking for you.

5. The Ego Beast. This is a two-parter.

Part 5A) Ego Unleashed

The sales rep comes in and says “The client wants to voice his campaign otherwise the deal’s off”.
My response to this has always been: If the only way the client would buy radio is so he can hear his own voice on the air, give the money back. Anything more than voicing the slogan should be left to professional announcers.

There are very few clients who can read a spot and sound relaxed and confident – two of the main ingredients of a successful campaign. These rare, broadcast-savvy clients are exceptions and NOT the rule.

So – to help you out of a potentially uncomfortable situation while maintaining the quality of your station’s sound, try this: Explain that your p.d. has very high standards and that when it comes to voicing the script, you recommend one of your extremely capable professional announcers. The client is welcome to audition but make it clear that if you and your colleagues don’t feel entirely confident that a client-read spot will be effective, you would rather refuse to take his money than to produce a substandard, and ultimately ineffective commercial.

It’s just integrity. Don’t get excited. Oh – make sure you’ve discussed this with the sales rep first.

If he is still insisting, invite him to record one or two scripts with the understanding that the Creative Director and P.D. will have the final say whether or not these spots “fit the station sound”. By letting an amateur voice a campaign you run the risk of experiencing the following scenarios: listeners complain about the annoying commercial; the P.D. complains about the annoying voice, or the client gets no, or even worse, a negative reaction and cancels. And nobody wants that.

Part 5B of Ego Beast: Son of Ego Unleashed

The only thing worse than an untrained client voicing a spot is the client’s untrained KID voicing a spot. These commercials are sooo charming – but only to the client and close family friends. The campaign could irritate and annoy your listeners. Unless the client’s kid “sees dead people”, avoid it at all costs.

6. The Trap

“Say you heard it here and save 10 percent!”

This line can come back to haunt you like nothing else. It’s the fastest way to lose a client. Most customers don’t mention where they heard of a business unless they’re asked directly. When they are polled, their first reaction is…the paper.

If an unscrupulous client is looking for an edge over their radio sales rep in order to grind down the price – or even get out of the contract, he or she simply has to say that no one has come in saying they’ve heard the spots on your station. And there’s no way to prove otherwise.

7. Pavlov’s Theory of Production

This is a myth that states a sound effect off the top will catch listeners’ attention.

True, it will, but for the wrong reasons. These noise-off-the-top spots have a very brief shelf life before they become an irritating tune-out factor – especially when the client wants a startling sound effect such as a siren, squealing tires or gun shots.

Besides grating the nerves, they can be dangerous for those in traffic who mistake a siren in the commercial for one in real life. If there is to be sound effects, make sure they’re used for the right reasons – and never right off the top.

Also, make sure you have designed a policy to clearly define and limit the use of startling, potentially dangerous or distracting sound effects.

8. Geek-inese spots

These are written in the language spoken by a narrow segment of the population. Worst offenders? Computer stores and car dealers.

A certain amount of small print does have to be included – like: “No down payment, just 2-99 a month for 48 months, on approved credit” or “chicken legs with backs attached, 2.18 a kilogram, 99 cents a pound”. What you shouldn’t include is too much optional technical jargon that overwhelms the average listener.

If you are faced with the situation where you MUST include technical terms, do it simply. For example: don’t say “256 megabytes of ram, and a 80 gigabyte hard drive”. Instead, say: “256 powerful megs of RAM and a HUGE 80 gig hard drive.” By making this simple change, even listeners who don’t understand the technical terms will know that this is a big, impressive computer. You’re not talking down to them…and you’re not talking over their heads – you’re talking to them.

9. Lame phrases & limitations

A lame phrase is an expression that’s so overused, it now means nothing.
There’s never been a better time to buy. Stop in today! What are you waiting for? Offer ends soon – don’t miss it!…etc…etc…etc…

Lines like these are the crutches used by writers who are either unenlightened or their simply overtaxed. Coming up with these pearls of poetry is easy. Too easy. As a result, they’re everywhere. They are so common in fact, they’ve become the cornerstone of the rip-and-read script.

They may have added urgency at one time, but after decades of crying wolf, now we don’t even hear them.

Also – stay away from limitations such as the ever popular “Limit one to customer”. Remember: your listener is still deciding whether or not to act on this offer. Now is not the time to put up any sort of roadblocks. And, you certainly wouldn’t want to insult them by hinting that they’d better not try to swipe more than their fair share.

If you must refer to a limitation, and there are times when you have to, simply say “see store for details” – or “some conditions apply”. Now you_re covered. Always make the benefits as large as possible and keep the small print to a minimum.

Try this exercise

Start listening for Lame Phrases and Limitations. You’ll be shocked at just how many you hear. What is even MORE surprising is the respected companies and ad agencies that use them.

They’re always conveniently located so hurry in today because there’s never been a better time to give your brain a lame phrase enema – You’ll be glad you did!

10. The Get-a-Life Factor

People are people the world over. Nobody likes to have their intelligence insulted. So, when you’re writing a script, make the situation either believable or way over the top. You can’t expect a thinking person to believe that a straight script describing a lush, green lawn – or a new manicure is enough to send you into fits of rapture. At least I can’t. The spot should portray the product or service only as earth shaking as the problem that it solves.

In Conclusion…

Keep your eyes and ears open. And when it’s late in the day, or it’s particularly busy and someone pokes their head in your door and says… “got a minute?”, you’ll know that an Effectiveness Leak isn’t far behind. Be vigilant. Ever vigilant…

(triumphant music up – gradually)

…and I, your clients and best of all, your listeners, will thank you for it. Remember: The best, most memorable and effective commercials GIVE something. Whether it’s information, entertainment or some unlikely catch phrase, your listeners want something in return for their attention over the course of your commercial. Give it to them!

And leave those Effectiveness Leaks where they belong…in the past.

(big musical flourish…cymbal crash out)


Wray Ellis is Director of Creative Services at the Radio Marketing Bureau.






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