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Uh, Uh, Uh ... don't touch that dial! Making radio commercials that sell.

UH, UH, UH... Don't Touch That Dial! Making Radio Commercials That Sell

I readily admit to an intense, long standing love affair with radio. Nothing kinky or smutty...just a total fascination for the magic that comes from those speakers and the greater magic that makes it all happen. As a wee sprout, I used to live for each new episode of "The Lone Ranger" with his trusty injun companion, Tonto...and "Red Ryder", with his pint-size pardner, Little Beaver. I still remember cold evenings in a warm living room when mom tuned in Bob Crosby and his Bob Cats with the Modernaires on the old Crosley console. As a teenager, most week nights found me barricaded in my room admiring the rapid fire patter of a top-forty deejay, until dad invariably yelled at me to "turn off that damn radio and do your homework". Most weekends found me pressing my attack on some teenage passion flower in the front seat of dad's car with Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams providing the background, until my teen queen of the moment invariably told me to "keep your hands to yourself, turn off that radio and take me home." I guess I really did grow up with radio.

But my fondness for radio didn't stop when I started shaving and my pimples went away. As a young adult, my love affair with radio actually deepened when I had the opportunity (I thought of it as a dream come true) to work in radio for a time - several years, in fact - beginning with a stint as a combination announcer/salesman/copywriter/toilet bowl cleaner at a ramshackle FM station (when practically nobody had FM radios) that played everything from classics and Country to sambas and schottisches. By the time I said farewell to my radio career to pursue the greater glories and rewards of television (hah!), and, later a series of positions at various advertising agencies, I had massaged the control knobs and squawked into the microphones at half a dozen different radio stations. Since the working conditions at some of those stations were less than deplorable, and since some of my experiences were even too unbelievably horrible for Ripley, you'd think I would have gotten my gullet full of all that crazy radio stuff for life. But I didn't, and I haven't, and I still love radio as much as I ever did.

But, it wasn't until I entered the ad agency biz that I began to see radio as more than just a fun loving, fantasy filled entertainment medium. That's also when I first fully realized that radio has a very strong influence on practically everyone's life, not just mine. Think about it: We listen to the car radio on the way to and from work...we turn on the radio in the bathroom when we shave and in the workshop or at the office...we follow the bizarre special promotions concocted by the stations and we chuckle at the inane wisecracks of the drive time deejays...we flick it on to hear a capsulized weather report, then leave it on when some crackpot talk show guest with anti-social or asocial conscience trips our trigger. We're involved with radio, alright...personally involved. And that very involvement is what makes radio such a spectacular advertising tool, particularly on the local retail level.

Media mavens (the number crunching ad agency people who make a science out of analyzing which media, which station, etc. an advertiser should use) tend to support the use of radio advertising because of its low cost per thousand and because of the ability to clearly identify an advertiser's specific target market according to the stations' programming format. All that is most decidedly true. If you're a "buy it by the numbers" kind of advertiser who wants data to justify each and every media expenditure, radio is a good bet. But, since my original introduction to the advertising business was from the production size (I was one of the "creative" wunderkinder charged with dreaming up whiz-bang ads, commercials and promotional literature for various advertisers). I've always been fascinated by how well a clever, thoughtfully produced radio commercial could sell, and by the challenge radio copy writing presented to be really different and creative. Oh, I'm not saying that a radio commercial should be so cutesy that the selling message gets lost in the shuffle. And that there is a danger when a writer or producer is given too free a hand and becomes so enamored of his own cleverness he starts to care more about satisfying his own ego and artistic urges than about a commercial's ability to sell a product or idea. But I am saying that too often an advertiser will insist on (or a beleaguered copy writer will resort to) a radio commercial that sounds like it came right off the pages of a newspaper. And, since radio is definitely not newspaper, that simply will not work. No sir, no way, no dice. Ad copy that reads... "Sale...Brand X Widgets just $6.95 this week only)"...might sell widgets okay in a newspaper ad, but it makes pretty dull listening on the radio. And if it's dull, people won't listen; if they don't listen, they won't hear your commercial; if they don't hear your commercial, what's the point?

There are a few things you must remember about radio in general and radio advertising in particular. First, radio is an entertainment medium above all else, and people listen to it expecting to be entertained. So, whereas a straight forward price/item approach might work in your newspaper ads, it just won't cut the mustard in your radio commercials. Instead, you've got to catch your listeners' attention, then hold it for thirty or sixty seconds, then make sure they remember what they've heard. It's the old "spoonful of sugar" theory. And nowhere is that more true than in radio.

Second, I've always thought of radio as a very visual medium. That's right...I said "visual". And any successful radio copy writer will concur. If that concept is a little difficult for you to accept, think about it this way: In most sales and marketing classes we learn that effective selling depends on creating a demand in the mind of the consumer. You have to make him think he needs what you're selling whether he really needs it or not. In radio, you do that by challenging the listener's imagination. You use words, music, sound effects...any gimmick that paint very vivid pictures and very graphic visual images in the listener's mind. Whereas some writers consider a lack of actual pictures a handicap in radio copy writing, I've always considered it a tremendous advantage, because with a little skill and a lot of imagination, you can create your own pictures and you can make your prospect see exactly what you want him to see. For anyone who enjoys playing with other folks' minds, writing radio commercials can be the ultimate high.

Finally, remember that radio is very personality oriented. Each station has its own personality and character which is reflected in the format it broadcasts, its on-air announcers, and, consequently, in the listeners who choose that station as their own personal favorite. For a commercial to be really effective, it's often advisable that its radio advertising personality does not clash with that of the station on which it's being played. That doesn't mean that every commercial on a country & western station has to sound like it was produced in Hillbilly Hollow, but it does mean that some commercials simply won't work everywhere. If you're running commercials on more than one station, it might be wise - at least in some instances - to use different commercials on different stations, even if the product is the same. The extra effort will usually be rewarded with extra sales.

How does one go about producing an effective, attention getting, memorable radio commercial? The very best way is by letting a professional do it for you, because writing commercials simply is not a job for amateurs. The inexpensive route is to turn the job over to the copy department of the radio station and let their copy writers have a whirl at it. Tell the copy writers you want something a little out of the ordinary without obscuring the sales message. Then, without delineating a lot of strict parameters, and without insisting that every commercial include mundane crap like "...three ways to buy, cash credit and Monday nights til 9, Fridays til parking a block and a half from the store..." let them do their thing. You do have the right of approval before any commercial hits the air, so you can always reject anything that is unacceptable. But don't automatically reject a commercial idea just because you don't like it. Remember that the ultimate test of any commercial or ad is not how it pleases you, but how good a selling job it does on your customers.

Radio stations do have some limitations in the area of commercial production. First, their copy writers are often overworked, underpaid, overstressed, short on time, and sometimes pretty one-dimensional. The result is that a lot of the commercials they write and produce tend to sound the same. The other problem they face is a limited pool of on-air talent to record the commercials, so you hear the same voices over and over again, all day long, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. So, if you're willing to spend a few bucks to produce a really effective commercial that doesn't sound like it was created on an assembly line, you can hire either an advertising agency or a production studio to create your commercials. They'll both take more time both in the writing and production (of course, you'll pay for it), they usually have a broader scope and better equipped facilities, and they are able to draw from a much larger talent pool of both trained radio announcers and experienced radio actors - and there is a big difference, particularly in commercials that feature a dialogue of some kind rather than a straight forward sales pitch. Generally speaking, an agency or a studio will deliver a more polished, refined and professional product without the rough edges. But you will pay the price for that extra quality and professionalism.

Radio writers and producers have all kinds of different tools and gimmicks at their disposal to help make a commercial something special. They can set a mood by creating a scenario, with everything from lighthearted humor to drama. Or they might use different voices...male, female, juvenile, celebrities, old people or young people, even unusual dialects or accents. Sound effects are tried and true radio gimmicks, and they can still be very effective as long as they're not overdone. The proper sound effects can make a listener feel like he's in an elevator or a forest, on a battlefield or an airplane, inside a barrel going over Niagara Falls or inside a refrigerator that's defrosting. There's no end to the possibilities; everything and anything is kosher and nothing is long as it works.

But my personal favorite - the "tool" I've probably used more than any other to set radio commercials apart from the crowd, make them something really special and establish the proper mood - is music. Music is, after all, what radio is all about. So it stands to reason that one of radio's most popular by-products can also be used as one of the most effective ways to enhance a radio commercial. In terms of radio commercials, there are two basic kinds of music: Background music and what I call "foundation" music. Background music is just that - a piece of music, usually instrumental, that's laid in under a voicetrack to give a commercial a certain feel or character. Most radio stations and recording studios own or rent extensive libraries of production music geared specifically for commercial production. These libraries are usually pretty generic, but they offer virtually any type of music you would ever want or need, from rock-type to Bach-type and every type in-between. Or, since most radio stations do pay fees to BMI and ASCAP, the two primary licensing agents for music publishers, most will frequently lift popular songs right off an album to use as background, then simply pay a nominal royalty fee for its use. "Foundation" music is what's usually referred to as jingles or custom music packages. It's a distinctive piece of music that's easily identifiable with a single advertiser. It's still possible to hire a recording studio or an independent song writer to compose and record a distinctive piece of music specially for your business, but it's not cheap. I mean it's really not cheap. An alternate method is to find a studio or packager that offers pre-recorded music packages, preferably with some degree of personalization available and with guaranteed market exclusivity. Basically, they'll sell you (or rent you for a specified period of time) a piece of professionally produced music that has been or is being used by another advertiser in another market. But they'll change the lyrics to match your business and they'll guarantee that no other business within, say, a one-hundred mile radius will be sold the same package while you still have the rights to it. Although neither type of package option comes cheap, both are wonderful identity builders, because every time your commercial runs on the radio (or on television, for that matter) there's that same piece of music. With enough repetition it becomes your radio logo. Music packages also give you a great deal of flexibility, because most packages that are worth a damn include several cuts of music in different lengths all based around that same music theme. Most include both :30 and :60 second full instrumental and full vocal versions, :30 and :60 second versions with just a short vocal tag at the end of the instrumental, and both :30 and :60 second "donuts" with a vocal intro and close but an instrumental-only "bed" in the middle to run under whatever copy you choose. As long as you have that kind of memorable, attention-getting music bed to use as your foundation, writing individual commercials is easy, because all you need is a little selling copy and an announcer and you're off to the races.

As a smart advertiser, you owe it to yourself to look into radio advertising. For more information on how you can put radio to work for you, contact:

The Radio Advertising Bureau, Inc.

304 Park Avenue South

New York, NY 10010


Got questions on radio advertising or any advertising or promotion, specific or otherwise? Is there a special subject or personal problem area you'd like to see addressed? Write me c/o Shooting Industry. I'll do my best to answer your questions and respond to your comments in future columns.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Publishers' Development Corporation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:firearms advertising for gun dealers
Author:Grueskin, Robert
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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