Is it just me…

I could get myself into trouble. But this is where I’ve found an example of when “Award Winning” commercials are probably not the best advertising. I don’t like to pick on individuals, but I found this website… http://flyingbrickradio.com/spots.html.

Now I got worried when I saw…

“At Flying Brick Radio, we make the kind of funny radio commercials your uncle insists on describing at Thanksgiving dinner. Writing and producing funny radio campaigns is our specialty.”

As I’ve said before, “funny” should not be the objective of the commercial. “Compelling” or “effective” would be much nicer.

But after looking at their list of awards I thought I might be in for a treat.

Fly Brick Radio do have some excellent ideas… but I have lots of criticisms. OK. I know, it’s easy to sit here and throw bricks, but if you lay your creative work bear by putting it up on a website, be prepared for it! One problem seems to be, they have to fit their ideas into the US “standard” spot length of 60 seconds.

Have a listen to the Flying Lube one. To start with a great idea, and use of eidetic experience. But it just goes on too long… it’s at most a 40 second idea! And it even drizzles off at the end. Shame… no punchline, or strong resolving… just a long music tail.

Operation Lifesaver “Common Sense” you have to struggle to keep up with it. A great example of where the creativity out weighs the message. Just too much. This is a great example of where I can here a series of 20 second spots, but they’ve put everything into 60 and drowned the idea.

Utz Potato Chips “Anchorage”… again a gem of an idea. But we spent to much time to give the joke… which in this case seems to be Alaskans are stupid. Riiiiiiiight!

My impression is that these guys are trying to be funny first, and not thinking about how to communicate an effective message.

But I could be wrong! What do you think?

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Never Ever Lie In a Radio Commercial.

I was taking a brief from a client. I asked my usual question… “why should people come to you?” He thought about it for a moment and then said “There’s 50% off everything.” I asked him “Really?”. He answered “No, but if I say there is, it’ll get people down here and then I can sell to them.”
Aside from the moral corruptness of his attitude, it’s also business suicide. He would cause so much ill feeling that people would stop coming to him, tell their friends not to go, and possibly involve authorities like Trading Standards.

I think it was David Ogilvy who said “Tell the truth, but make it fascinating”.

You don’t have to find a “U S P”… a Unique Selling Proposition… you have to find a CSP.. a compelling selling proposition. It doesn’t have to be unique, but it should be something your competitors are not talking about. Own that in the mind of the listener. In Kenya everyone associated Safaricom, the mobile phone operator with per second billing. They were NOT the first, but they were the first to talk about it.
You can be first (It’s better to be first than to be different Reis & Trout), but always be truthful.
Find reasons for the listener to do business with you, and avoid the clichés.
“We’ve been in business X years” Why should the listener care?
“We offer great customer service.” In what way? How is it better?
“We’re simply the best.” So is Tina Turner.. now, in what WAY are you the best. Prove it! And show me why the listener should care and believe you.

If you make an offer by word of mouth, through your radio advertising and the customer is delighted, you will also have created your second wave of word of mouth advertising. Delighted customers (especially in this world of blogs and forums) tell other potential customers about their experience doing business with you.

Never lie! OK Bill?

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Speak to the Listener


I was standing outside a shop in Nairobi one day, when suddenly the church over the road sprung into action. They had obviously invested in the most powerful speaker system their tithes would stretch to. They had turned the amplifier past the “loud” setting to the “incredibly loud and distorted” setting. Now the preacher was screaming at me. It’s not just religious groups that think you get a person’s attention by shouting. How wrong they are. You attract people to you by being warm, inviting, sincere, honest and open. If you want to attract a member of the opposite sex you don’t shout at them. If you’re a sales person in a shop, you don’t rush up to the customers and yell in their faces!! But many people think it’s OK to shout at the listener to “get their attention”.

In radio advertising you don’t get the attention of the listener with an intrusive sound effect like a klaxon or alarms, you do it by demonstrating how the product or service can meet one of their needs. Listeners are already listening. That’s why they are called listeners. They may, however be “zoned out”. That is they may not be concentrating on your advertising message. That is, unless you meet them where their mind is at. Have you ever been to a party, and someone at the other side of the room mentions your name? You hear it through all the chatter and music: Why? Because the person is talking about something that interests you. In this case, YOU!!

Many advertisers think that if they talk about things that interest THEM, that people will flock to them, but telling isn’t selling. It’s not what the advertiser wants to SAY. It’s what the listener needs to HEAR.

Some marketers say that part of the advertising process is to create a “desire”. I think that’s rubbish. People already have desires, wants and needs. Successful advertising demonstrates how the product or service fulfills that particular need or desire.

So think… why DO my existing customer base already do business with me?

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Vox Radio Advertising Awards

Now I’ve won a few awards in my time. Just a handful. And I don’t like to talk about them. But I’ve always said, the best award is when a client tells you the campaign has worked and you’ve made a difference to his or her business. And I mean it. It’s still nice to get a nicely framed certificate you can stick on a wall.

A couple of stations I worked at were very skilled at getting radio awards. One method was to look at the client list, think of some creative ideas, produce them and broadcast them in the middle of the night so they qualified to be entered as broadcast commercials. It then didn’t really matter if the client had approved them (although they were always consulted and told what was being done).

The weekend just gone saw the Vox Event in the UK, and the Vox Awards. These awards were set up because radio stations and production houses were producing excellent work, but many couldn’t afford the entry fees for some of the international awards (for example it’s about $300 to enter a single radio ad into the New York Festival). While I was at GWR we entered the Vox Awards and won many of the categories. We saw it as important to encourage a raising of standards. We wanted there to be a healthy competition in terms of producing better work.

I am sad to say that many of the larger UK radio groups didn’t enter much into this year’s Vox Awards. It’s a shame, because the likes of Global and Bauer (who did win some categories) consistently produce high class and award winning radio which should be showcased. It’s encouraging to a writer when the company enters their work. It’s a great feeling when your work is recognised by your peers.

On a slightly different note, please feel free to share any posts from this blog. At the end of any posting you will find a bar like this….

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… by clicking on the icons you can share postings through your Twitter, Facebook or any of the others. You can also forward the URL to anyone you think would find any of the topics useful, writers, sales people, clients. Let me know if there are any topics I could cover on these pages. Your feedback is appreiciated.

I want a funny radio commercial.

In the first year of my radio copywriting career I was sitting in a restaurant in Crewe, Cheshire. The people sitting on the table behind me were talking about my radio commercial. I got a very good feeling of pride initially. They almost described the commercial word for word. It was a joke, a play on words. Then I realised that they didn’t once mention the name of the client. Actually the joke could have been applied to ANY client. The joke stood by itself and didn’t even need the clients name to be mentioned, and didn’t reflect in any way the benefits of the client’s product or service. As an advert it was a failure. An ad that was once voted the top radio commercial in the UK of the previous decade, advertising video recorders (OK that dates it a bit), made people laugh, including numerous awards panels. But the client said they didn’t sell a single unit as a result of the campaign

I listen to a lot of award winning ads and have even been invited to judge some radio advertising awards. In the humour section I quite often find very funny and brilliantly conceived commercials. One which I could only hope to do as well. But these brilliant ads, the ones that work, are the ones where the humour springs out of the brief after careful thought. In Kenya there was a great series of commercials for a washing powder… the situations were humorous. A blind date, the guy finally finds the woman and says “I thought you said you were wearing a red dress?” she responds “It IS a red dress!” The result, she should have washed her clothes in this powder that “washes out the dirt, not the colours”. There is no “joke” but a humorous and eidetic situation. The series went on to other situations… and because there was no “joke” or “punch line” people didn’t get tired of the ads and still remember them with affection.

On another occasion I was called into a radio station where a local solicitor was running Personal Injury ads. The ads he had been running were funny, demonstrated the product, but he wasn’t getting any response. But then if you had been in an accident like the people he was targeting I am sure you would not find the situation funny. I wrote a series of very straight, single voice commercials voiced by the very talented Nick Jackson. The client said when they ran on the radio station it was like turning a tap on, with dozens of calls coming in every time it aired. The message was no different, but the delivery was.

Humour is very dangerous when handled wrong. If there is humour in the product or service it will come out in the scripts, but forced humour is bad and you can tell a commercial where the client has been bolted on to a funny idea the writer has been trying to get on air for months. You do not want a funny ad, you want an ad that sells product.

The secret is to ask the writers to come up with some ideas from a very clear, and very brief, brief. Make a compelling offer or reason to do business with you. If that can be delivered in a humorous way, that’s great, but don’t make “getting people to laugh” the objective of your message. Otherwise you will leave the listener with the question… “Great ad…. what was it for?”

Laughing Man

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Let your writer test the product

Have you ever sat down and tried to do some creative writing? It’s not easy. The hard bit is getting started… “Once upon a time…” no too cliched… “it was a dark and stormy night..” already done. The problem is not that we can’t write something, it’s that we’re not sure what we are actually supposed to be writing about.

Writers block comes when the author just can’t make a start. They have the writing skills, the lexicon, the ability to create. But they are not certain what they are supposed to be doing. If there’s no plan, even getting that first sentence out is a problem.

To help you to create your message most radio stations, and some Advertising Agencies, have dedicated radio advertising copywriters. At Radio Africa I’m privileged to head up a team of extremely talented creatives. Writing a radio commercial is 95% brief and 5% inspiration. I don’t actually believe there is such a thing as writers block when it comes to creating radio advertising. The only time I get stuck is when I don’t know what I am supposed to be writing about! If the brief is good enough there is generally no need for the writer to see, hold, touch and feel the product.

But effective advertising comes when you allow the listener to “test drive” the results of the product. Your writer can get a better feel of that if you allow them try it. If you are promoting a coffee, send them a sample. If you are advertising a line of clothes, send them a garment. If you are advertising luxury scuba diving holidays to the Galapagos Islands… then you can contact me at Radio Africa.

On one occasion a car manufacturer gave me 10 days worth of driving in theirs range of new cars. You can imagine how much more time I dedicated to that client. But also I could write about how it felt to drive.

The writing of a good radio commercial starts with an excellent brief. But give your writers a little help. Let them touch, see feel and experience the product.

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You want to be the voice on your own commercial?

It worked for that electric razor guy. He voiced and fronted his own radio commercial. It seems like a good idea at the time. The Sales Person wants you to sign the airtime order and you… we’ll you’re probably where you are in business because you have a bit of an ego and they’ve spotted an opportunity to flatter you the client, stroke your ego and get you to sign. They say “You’ve got a great voice! Why don’t we get you to voice the commercial?”

Just because I can sing a few bars of a song doesn’t mean I want to humiliate myself on the X Factor!!

Frankly there are only a handful of clients who should ever be let near a microphone. You may have a nice voice but it may not be right for the delivery… may not sound good on air, the ads may not be written for your delivery, the station may have a policy not to allow client voiced ads, many clients freeze in front of a microphone (quite common).

Also you think that you will get your ad cheaper because you’re not employing a professional voice artist to voice the ad. Well, I usually charge double. Eeek… why? Because it’s going to take twice, or even 5 times as much time in the studio to voice and edit the audio, that the professional would have given me in one, unedited take.

Some radio stations have a policy of not allowing clients to voice their own commercials, and you will understand why when you hear some of the stations that do allow it. The professional voices used are very skilled at talking to time, talking clearly, not sounding like they are reading, bringing out the main copy points. They are also skilled at getting it right after just a couple of takes. If you have little or no experience it will take you a long time in the studio and time is money. At the end of it you may end up with a radio commercial that the station Programme Controller will not want played on his station.

Now you’re thinking I’m against client voiced commercials? No. I’m not against using the clients voice… it’s just it may be best to use the voice for a small part of the ad… maybe delivering your customer service promise of a tag line? Maybe you DO have the charisma to deliver the ad… like Victor Kiam. But you need to work really hard… first to get commercials written that you can deliver, and time spent in the studio to get it right. In Newcastle in the late 1980’s there was the phenomenon that was Mr. Rahman. An elderly Hindi gentleman that voiced his own commercials. They were famous… and he even was used to make announcements at Newcastle United for a while. But every sentence he said had to be edited and painstakingly put together to make his ads.

So take the advice of your writer or the station’s commercial producer. Perhaps voice just a couple of lines? Perhaps there is someone who could be your “voice” or perhaps rather than use your voice we could develop a character? There are a handful of clients who voice their radio commercials very successfully, but for every one that does there are a couple of dozen that sound dreadful on air and don’t do themselves any favours.

The real question is why do you want to voice the commercial? Is it because you want your friends to hear you on the radio station or is there a good, solid business reason. If there is, communicate it to the writer and see whether he or she comes up with.

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