If the answer is 30 seconds, what was the question?

My job as a radio advertising copywriter, in a nutshell, is this. Write radio advertising copy that translates into audio, that sells the client’s product or service. My job is not to entertain the audience, although I always hope that some of the ads I write will entertain. I want the client to be remembered (for the right reasons) and I want the ads to motivate the listener to action. The programming staff also want me to make sure that the listener doesn’t turn off their radio, or switch stations, because my ad has irritated them
To do the job properly how long do I need?
It varies. Research such as the Ironing Board and Jigsaw studies showed that people remember longer and more creative ads better. But if you have shorter ads you can “replay” the longer ad in the mind of the listener. So sometimes I suggest a combination of 40s and 20s (once they’re written). But the truth is that a commercial needs to be as long as it needs to be to do the job.

I hate hearing a great ad ruined because it’s been edited down to the nominal 30 seconds that has been pre-sold to the client. I’ve also heard unfocused and rambling 60 second commercials (often in the US) that should have been 20 or 30 seconds long.

30 seconds is NOT a standard. It helps the station to price their inventory, but it’s NOT a guide to how long a radio commercial should be.

My former Colleagues, talented writer Rhodri Crooks and wizard with the faders and mouse Duncan Brown, then at Aire FM in Leeds (an incidentally using good old fashioned 8-track) created a wonderful 3 minute commercial for a local nightclub. It played twice a week, on a Friday night. It was requested on air, it was popular and worked for the client. And it was NOT 30 seconds long.

At the other end of the scale, talented writer Tom Woods did an amazing 10 second commercial for a car wash. It won numerous national and international awards. And it was NOT 30 seconds long.

Don’t buy 30 second spots!! Buy advertising solutions. Some of them will be 30 seconds long. Many wont. If you are presented with a schedule based on this duration be prepared to be flexible. Otherwise you may get the ad that had to be produced, rather than the one that should have been produced. Whether it is longer, or shorter than 30 seconds!

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Two Women on a Bus

There seems to be two women who know all about advertisers products and services, experts with insider information, living in every corner of the globe. They quite often hold their enlightened conversations on a bus. Here in Kenya they spend all of their life on a matatu, a minibus public transport vehicle, discussing the various features of the client’s business. Miraculously, and without reference to a notepad, iPad or mobile phone, they can recall the client’s phone number. When I travel on a matatu I usually have my eyes closed and just think about whether my medical insurance is up to date. Hey what a great idea for a commercial!

I have no problem with the scenario. Yes it is hackneyed, clichéd, over done, badly done and people just don’t talk to each other like that… but there’s more to it. Often this idea comes from a client who has thought more about “having an idea” for his or her radio commercial, than actually thinking about the brief. From the piece of paper in front of me I have a list of features that I have to turn into benefits and then shoehorn into the scenario. I have to get my two ladies to say things that two ordinary people just would not say to each other. I end up with a bad commercial, and a commercial that sounds like the hundreds of other bad commercials done in the same way because the client had this “great idea”.

How do you avoid falling into this trap? Have a great idea that comes out of a simple brief. What does the client want listeners to DO? Why should they do it? Who are we talking to? If the brief is good and simple, it’s easy to find creative ways to communicate it.

Maybe we should champion “Realistic women talking on a bus”!

Woman 1: What did you say their number was again?
Woman 2: I didn’t … but I have it here on my Blackberry… hang on a second…. Oh sod it… the battery’s nearly dead. Look can I email it to you later?
Woman 1: Naaar, I’ll just get Mike to Google it.
Woman 2: You know they were founded in 1979?
Woman 1: That’s exactly the kind of useless information I’d expect you to come up with.

Hey Mary! Nice Sari you're wearing! Where DID you get it?

THE Bus!

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