John Evington – Commercials, Friend or Foe

Some really nice thoughts on ad breaks on radio stations from John Evington here.

I worked under John many many years ago (about 23 years ago) in Stoke on Trent UK. He knows his stuff! I’ll remind him sometime of the day he voiced an ad for me… promoting the Bolshoi Ballet…. and mentioning some of those Russian dancers by name.

The dapper John Evington


Being “Creative”, AND selling.

You walk up to a comedian and you say to him… “make me laugh!”. You almost make him crash his shopping cart. All he is doing is getting milk and food for the weekend. He’s thinking about the bill that he’s struggling to pay and the argument he’s just had with a friend. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t bop you on the nose.

As a “Creative” I get asked to write ads for clients. They quite often say… “I want something different” or “I want something that stands out”, or “I want something Creative”. The problem is that there is often nothing different, outstanding or creative about their business or the brief that they have given me. Actually what they should be asking for is something that WORKS. But that is at the briefing part of the process. I have always believed that great creative has to come out of a simple and compelling brief. I have heard many award winning radio commercials that are brilliantly produced, amazingly written, funny pieces or radio, that would have done nothing for the client.
It’s made me think again about being “creative”. Is writing radio advertising “art”? Then I saw this piece in the Radio Advertising for Business Group on Linkedin.

Brent Walker of Soundscapes

I have also been watching some videos by Brent Walker, and at first I reacted. In the first of his “Five Tennets of Great Radio”. He says “Entertain First…Sell Second”. The reason I reacted was because I didn’t read or listen properly. For years I have been fighting the crusade to make commercials that sell. My biggest issue being that so called great “creative” ads completely fail to sell to the listener. They’re often funny, entertaining, and so creative… that people forget what was being advertised and it wastes the clients money. I don’t disagree that commercials should be entertaining… of course they should. But that’s not my first line of thinking.

Having watched the videos, and I highly recommend you do, I just think that Brent is coming from the other side of the argument, to the same spot. Like I said, I have been exposed to lots of entertaining ads that fail to sell, he seems to have come across lots of “selly” ads that fail to entertain. In my humble opinion… Entertain THEN sell? Maybe, but don’t FORGET to sell because you become so wrapped up in the entertaining and showing what a clever writer you are!

I really think, as guardians of the advertiser’s dollar and their investment, we HAVE to think about return on investment. My usual arguments with sales people are over their clients doing crazy things to their commercials that make them less effective.

Look, I believe radio commercials CAN be funny, can be award winning, SHOULD be entertaining… and should always come from the position of being made as effective as possible.

I believe ALL commercials should be “direct response”. That is they should get customers for the client, get phone calls to a recruitment line, reduce road accidents or what ever the client’s aim is. The CREATIVITY is in communicating that in the best way. Tell me what you want me to do… give me a really good reason to do it… and engage me while you are telling me. You can BE artistic, you can be clever or funny, but make the commercial do the job it is supposed to do.

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Branding Happens… Use Radio to Get a Response

When a man stands in front of you in an expensive suit, addressing a large audience, you believe what he says. It must be true! After all he is wearing an expensive suit! The man in the suit is a Branding Expert (although I’m not sure what qualified him as an expert) But my friend, a former client, is sitting next to me and chuckling under his breath.. The suit has just made the statement “It’s all about branding!” Afterwards my friend tells me, for his business selling sofa sets and beds, it’s not about branding, it’s all about sales. He doesn’t really care about branding, as long as he can sell for more than it costs him.

A former radio colleague of mine said this… branding happens! Yes, absolutely make sure that your radio commercials are true to your brand image, protect your brand, use radio to reinforce the brand image and those emotion tags that people give to brands. Every advertising message, every marketing campaign, even the way your receptionist answers the phone, all contributes to your brand image. When you go for a dinner party, people will form an impression of what you are like, even by the firmness (or lack of it) in your handshake. You need to make sure you put over the image you WANT to portray. That’s why spot advertising is important. You have great control over the image being portrayed. But if every message you put out IS branding… make that message about selling the product. What do you want me to do? Why should I do it?

Sometime clients tell me they want “name awareness”. So I ask them “How will you measure the success of your campaign?” If they answer “by the number of products we sell as a result of the campaign” then we can talk about the thrust of the campaign being to get people to walk through their door and buy product X. Sales. Radio advertising is multiplied sales.

If a smooth talking radio sales person, or advertising agency account handler tells you ït’s all about branding”, ask them how you would be able to measure the success of the campaign?

Branding happens. Use radio to tell people what you want them to do, and give them a really good, irresistible, compelling reason to act.

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How would you like to sound?

The other day I saw a needs analysis sheet. It had many good things about it. A needs analysis sheet will help the Sales Executive from a radio station get a really good picture of your business. It will help them to discover whether you can effectively use the station, and is usually updated every couple of years, or when the Exec who deals with your account at the radio station changes for one reason or another.

But there was one question on the questionnaire that made my teeth stand on end. It was this question…

What style of radio commercial would best depict your business?

a. Comedy
b. Straight read
c. Highly creative
d. Lots of sound effect
e. Slice-of-life
f. Other

Let me start with the question itself. Of course I want to know how you would like your business to be depicted. But that would not be best found out by asking what KIND of commercial you want. I’m better off finding out about your brand and passing that information on. And frankly clients quite often are not best placed to choose a style. But I do want to know how you feel your company should be portrayed. Some Needs Analysis forms ask… If your company was a celebrity or person from history, who would it be? That gives me a much better feel for your business.

Now the choices! Imagine going to see a doctor and as soon as you sit down he says… “What would you like? An operation, a course of anti biotics, or a couple of pain killers” Before we decide on the style of your commercial we need to take a simple brief. We need to find out your symptoms before we discuss possible solutions. And as a client I’m pretty sure you’re not really worried about “lots of sound effects”… what you want is a commercial that works for you. “Slice of Life?” What does that mean to you?. What does “Highly Creative” mean to you? Probably something completely different to your partner. (Creativity is about answering the brief and making a compelling message)

Would you buy insurance from this man?

Quite often I see on a brief form “The client wants a funny commercial.” You would think that it would give the writer a chance to show off how clever or funny they can be. But it has the opposite effect and closes the writer down. If I have a decent brief I can write a whole range of different style commercials. Some may be funny, but the humor has to spring out of the brief. It’s easy to write a “joke” into a commercial. People will laugh at the joke but wont remember the product or service, unless it springs from that brief.

So let your writer come up with some different styles of commercial. Allow them the freedom to be creative by giving them a clear, short, and too the point commercial. Leave out irrelevant details and think…

What do I want the listener to do when they’ve heard the ad?
Why should they? (Give me a great reason!)
Who is the target market?

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Don’t Stop Your Press Advertising to fund your Radio Advertising

A preacher who led a worldwide faith healing ministry was once asked what he would do if he got a headache. They were trying to trick him and make him look silly. John Wimber answered “I would take an asprin and say a prayer… and whichever worked first I would praise God for it!”

Your advertising should not be a matter of faith, it should be a matter of tried and tested principles… It’s an investment that you expect to give you a return. But, like a prayer and an asprin, radio and press work very effectively together.

Some people want to “test” radio. OK, let me tell you now… radio works. What doesn’t work is trying to advertise a product with no benefits to the listener. You are not testing radio, you are testing your offer, or product against the listener’s needs and wants. If you want to really see powerful advertising have a compelling offer and use a combination of press and radio. Press is really good at getting details across, radio is amazing at emotion or using the listeners imagination to “test drive” the product. The two working together can be amazing. I’ve had clients tell me that their press adverts work two or three times harder when combined with radio. There are things you can do to free up budget to help fund your radio. For example a half page press ad is about 75% as effective as a full page. So you can save money without losing much! And combining with press more than makes up for the 25% loss.

Use your press in a way that reflects the radio campaign, and use print to get over more complex visuals or information. (Like phone numbers!)

Use radio creatively, a good radio ad CAN entertain, but that should never be the primary purpose. Make sure you tell people how you want them to respond, and give them a compelling reason to do so.

Use both media and make sure you make it as easy as possible for people to business with you.

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Talking telephone numbers

On the way out she told me her phone number...

I met the girl at a dinner party at a friends house. We got on magically. It was like the other people at the party just blended into the background. As she left she told me her phone number. “Will you remember it?” she asked. Of course I would! It was etched in my mind!

The next morning it was forgotten.

There are things that client insist on going into their radio commercials and the phone number is top on that list. I wonder sometimes how many hours of my life I have spent in discussion with clients to try to make them understand that putting their phone number in a commercial is generally a waste of time. Putting two different phone numbers in is just plain silly. Putting three numbers in (yes, it does happen) is just beyond belief If your business does business over the phone, that is that people purchase by phone, then by all means put the phone number in. You have to repeat it, you have to make it catchy, you have to get people to sing it in the shower. But if you want people to come and buy your product, don’t waste valuable radio advertising time trying to get people to remember a phone number, motivate them to come to you and buy it. I love Dan O’Day’s example, if you were a shoe shop why would someone call you?:

You: Hi, do you sell shoes?

Them: Err Yes! We’re a shoe shop!

You: Great! Thank you.

Then there is a question I ask my clients. How many phone numbers do YOU remember from radio commercials? I’d make a bet its only ones that are sung, repeated, and are easy to remember.

In any radio commercial you should ask for one action and give a good reason to perform that action. So if you want your phone number in a commercial ask the question… “Why should the listener phone?”. If you want a phone response, do a commercial to get a phone response. Otherwise, leave the phone number out.

And web addresses? If you can’t capture a sale at your website, why would you send anyone there?

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Dear Mr. Radio Advertising Client

Every Month I ask some of the top people in Radio Advertising for their client tips. Most of them ignore me. But Emma answered!

Emma Clarke ( knows a thing or two about radio commercials. She’s voiced thousands and writes for radio and TV. She has some things to say to you, Mr. Radio Advertising Client (or Mrs, Miss or Ms.) Some of the points I will be covering later in more depth.

“I reckon it’s all about the brief-take. If that isn’t done right, the whole process falls apart. Quick thoughts:

Trust the copywriter who’s writing your ad – it’s his area of expertise, not yours

If you’ve got an idea for an ad by all means share it, but don’t be offended if the copywriter recommends you don’t use it.

Don’t turn your ad into a vanity project: don’t be tempted to name your wife, daughter, son, mother etc in the ad as ‘character names’

Don’t use rhyming couplets unless there’s a damn good marketing reason behind it…
Have realistic expectations of what your ad will achieve

Don’t contort a successful national campaign of a big brand into a watered-down version that might just fit your ad (I’m thinking here of the HUNDREDS of M & S style ads I’ve been asked to voice)

Make sure your ad really does match your brand, your company ethos and suits your product or service

Go for one call-to-action per ad.

Understand that less words in an ad mean a better quality ad; if your ad has ‘space’ in it, don’t think it means you’re getting sold short – the reverse is true

Trust the producer who’s making the ad and the voices who’ll read your script – they know what they’re doing!

When you’re critiquing your ad for the first time, please don’t be unnecessarily rude

Trust that radio advertising can take time to reap the rewards for your business – try to use social media to back up your marketing push (the only cost will be your time!)”

Thanks Emma!

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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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