By Steve McKenzie
The river throws me southward, into a mouth of boulders—chewing, washing me, in the boiling flow. Downside up, I flail and foam, like a kicking two year-old. But it’s the current’s will against mine, and it throws up its waves in victory as I tumble forward.
The liquid swirls me into a watery nest, joining ten others who’ve echoed the path. Exhausted, we drink the cove, the cast, the Wizard. Climbing shorely, we glow with the embers of Frost, Monet, and Frank—the mound ignites us, lifting our fireworks skyward, a beacon to others to join our flight.
Think poetry, Jack Kerouac, Dr. Seuss, Robert Frank, Hemmingway, and Monet have nothing to do with radio commercials? Think again! These unlikely friends will do more to spark your creative juices than anything you’ve experienced before.
In June of this year, I attended the Wizard Academy, hosted by Roy H. Williams Marketing in Austin, Texas. This three-day creative writing course was a mind-bending, synapse-blowing, and thought-exploding event. I was given some preview of what was to come by some associates who had attended earlier. But, like any life-changing event, you don’t fully know it until you get there.
Roy Williams is a marketing guru who has done a lot of research into the neurology and psychology of marketing and has condensed his findings and research into a number of best-selling business books. These include The Wizard of Ads, Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads, and the latest, Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads. Many of you have read these books, and if you have not, I encourage you to do so. This is not typical radio marketing blah-blah. In fact, I believe these findings are the best thing to happen to radio—ever.
Highly crafted audio can change minds, win hearts, and grab success for the advertiser. You’ve witnessed it first-hand. But to do it day in and day out—well, that’s a mountain too high to climb…until now. The Wizard Academy has described on paper what many of us know to be true, but have never been able to get our arms around. With the tools they provide at the Academy, you can now consistently produce commercials that get results. You just have to think differently.
In preparation for this event, they told us to write down our expectations—what we wanted out of the course. I wrote down the expected answers: learn new skills, tools, grow as an advertising professional, advance my career, and network with my peers. As the Academy approached, I became like a child on the day before Christmas—totally psyched, wide-eyed, and ready for what was about to happen. The event exceeded my expectations. In fact, I wish I could relive the event whenever I need a creative “jolt.”
The evening before the Academy, the class (eleven students) and staff met at the world famous “Salt Lick” Restaurant in the deserted outskirts of Austin, Texas. We quickly got acquainted with each other and began to talk about our backgrounds, experiences, and line of work. The unique thing about the Academy is that it is not just a place for advertising professionals, but for entrepreneurs, communicators, and anyone who desires a fast track to effective persuasion. Our class had the expected media base, as well as several business owners, and a pastor. This diversity actually helped to illustrate how universal these concepts are and how readily they work for every business category, career, and application.
The word that best describes the Academy is “epiphany.” As a writer, I write every day, using the same words and the same process I’ve practiced for years. I came away with a whole new set of tools.
The first session at the Academy was a primer on the brain—how it works, how it processes sound, why people do what they do, and how to craft audio to trigger response in your audience. Sounds boring doesn’t it? Not when Roy Williams is describing it. He has the unique ability to talk about something that is typically boring or cumbersome and make it unbelievably riveting...and applicable.
The first session laid the groundwork for everything that was to follow. Once you understand how the brain works, then you can begin to write for the brain. All our lives we have been programming our “IBMs” with “VIC20” software. It doesn’t work. You need to write in such a way that the brain is interested, intrigued, and wanting more.
Audio, especially music, is powerful in this task of creating powerful commercials. Want to see this concept in action? Just think of all the songs you can sing and all the lyrics stored in your brain. Each person knows at least 2000 songs, all of which they’ve learned without even trying! Now try to remember something you’ve read. Can’t do it, can you? Music is a powerful medium that affects everyone. Now imagine what can happen when you marry both powerful music and audio elements with finely crafted words. Wow.
The Academy discussed the focus of our messages as well. People want three things: to make money, to make a name for themselves, and to make a difference. Some aspect of these three desires should be present in all our advertising. “What’s in it for me?” is all the consumer cares about. Satisfy that question and you’ll make a sale. People by and large don’t care about how many years you’ve been in business, the price of your products, or how long you are open. They want to know what you can do for them. Can you make their life easier? Can you save them money? Can you make them feel better about themselves? These are the things that motivate people to action and therefore, these are the things we need to be talking about in our commercials, not all the minute details.
This is something you already know. The people who really need to be convinced otherwise are the clients whom you are writing for. They will undoubtedly want all this crap in their ad (because this is what radio has practiced and preached since its inception). Now, it’s time to take this greater knowledge and start conditioning your clients (and even radio salespeople!) to the merits of these ideas.
In these opening sessions, Roy delved further into the nature of a “wizard.” He mentioned that as “wizards,” we should have a broad knowledge of many areas of life, i.e. science, history, medicine, religion, art, literature, and psychology. Because of their broad knowledge base, wizards see connections that others miss. It is this art of “seeing God in the bush” that helps creative writers find the angle and approach that will persuade the listener.
Our words have the power to create images in the minds of people. How we order those images is important in persuasion. Persuasion involves a series of mental images. If you can create these images beforehand, then, when it is time for the listener to act, he will choose your product, because you prepared him beforehand for the purchase or action. Persuasion is the art of turning bystanders into consumers.
One of the zillion gems at the Academy included the revelation that just a fraction of a percent of all potential consumers are in the market for what you have. No matter how hard you yell and sell, you are not going to convince the entire car-buying public to buy a car from you. It is a careful process that takes strategy and planning. You want to create an advertising campaign that drills your name and message home, together with powerful mental images so that when it is time for John Doe to buy a car, he will think of car company “A” rather than car company “B.” Although this sounds too soft sell for most of us, this backwards approach is a proven winner. If you’d like a testimonial, talk with one of Roy William’s clients, Pugi Motors in Downers Grove, Illinois. They have grown from a modest dealership to the fastest growing VW dealership in the country, all on the back of successful radio advertising.
In addition to powerful creative, repetition also is required for successful advertising. Roy spoke about this in depth at the Academy. The average person needs to hear the same message three times within seven days to be effective. The thinking behind this principle is that sleep is the great “eraser.” If you don’t get your message to the listener at least three times in seven days, sleep will wipe it from their memory. To achieve this kind of repetition, Roy recommends advertising at least three times a day, seven days a week. That way, your message always stays in front of the listener.
Another requirement for a successful campaign is the impact of the creative. Does it grab the listener? Is it engaging? If so, that will add to your campaign’s success.
Later on Wednesday, Chris Maddock (an associate of Roy’s) spoke on the creative writing aspect of the course. This was one of the highlights of my time at the Academy.
I am not a fan of poetry, but after the first session at the Academy, I fell in love with it. In high school, they teach poetry, but with no application. The things I learned here had application. I discovered that through different ways of expressing yourself, you could paint some amazing images in people’s minds. The first poet we took aim at was Robert Frost. After reading a few selections, I remember telling Chris Maddock, “I feel like I came to the Academy with a tool box of 100 words, and I’m coming away with a million!” Frost uses unique word combinations and word selections that evoke incredible mental images, far more so than the stuff I typically come up with. After reading Frost and doing our writing assignments (we were given daily writing assignments each evening), I found myself thinking like him and opening my mind up to more scripting possibilities. It was awesome.
He then played a portion of Jack Kerouac (one of the beat poets of the ‘60s). Another mind-blowing experience. If you haven’t read either Frost or Kerouac, I strongly encourage you to hit the library for their work. It may take you a while to get you into the groove with reading Frost (like it did me…) but once you do, you’ll be amazed by his use of words and descriptors. Kerouac uses the same techniques of word combinations and unconventional style to paint his picture. Now imagine putting these to use in your commercials. Even if you employ them sparingly, it will demand attention from your listeners.
Even Dr. Seuss was mentioned in this session. Seuss’ use of made-up words and phrases became unforgettable and placed him at the top of the children’s books food chain. He found a way of getting attention and did it effectively. We should do the same in our advertising.
The final topic in this session was about “being Monet,” that is, painting a picture with words much like the artist Monet did, without the use of black. As a wordsmith, that equates to omitting words that are black. In other words, ignore the details and exaggerate the color when writing a commercial. Create impressions in the listener, impressions that will cause them to feel positively about you (your client) and cause them to act down the road. Like the movies we see and the songs we hear on the radio, commercials don’t have to be about reality. It is perceptual reality that is most important when it comes to your commercial being effective.
On Thursday, after reviewing our homework assignments and the previous day’s studies, we began another session that dealt with the photographer Robert Frank. Frank was an expert at selectively choosing the details in his photographs. He crafted his images like an iceberg: he left 90 percent of what was known underwater and kept just 10 percent above water. His images were cropped to leave out just enough information to engage your mind. Although you only saw a portion of the subject or his surroundings, your mind painted in the details. We can use the same principles when writing radio copy.
It’s all about the angle. Rather than telling a story from the parent’s point of view, how about coming from a child’s point of view. Sometimes the scene from there is much more riveting than one from the more expected point of view. We don’t need to tell someone that Marge and Joan are in a restaurant. You can paint that part of the image via sound effects or the choice of dialogue. By ignoring what the listener already knows, you can spend more time on the meat of your commercial and the details you do want to drive home. One of the things Roy said at the Academy was, “You need to write commercial copy like a rhinoceros—make one point and drive it home forcefully.”
Friday dug even deeper into the heart of the Wizard with their session on “chaos theory.” The basic tenet of this part of the course was that chaos is the nature of the universe (i.e. ocean waves, snowflakes, clouds). Although at first glance these items appear to be random, they actually are composed of infinitely detailed patterns. They teach that if we can create similar patterns in our production, it will create incredible listener interest. People search out and study things they can’t understand. Humankind, on the other hand, wants everything to be “orderly,” and it is this order that is boring to listeners.
The Wizard Academy taught us their process of commercial creation: adding chaos, “third gravitating bodies” (sound effects, music, etc. that will add to the complexity and intrigue of the commercial), and “Crazy Ivans,” sonic surprises that excite Broca’s area of the brain (the area that holds our attention and leaves us wanting more).
The Academy then concluded with a discourse on personality types and right/left brain thinking by Dr. Nick Gray. Dr. Gray spoke about our personality types and why we do the things we do. By better understanding each other, we can write ads that are better focused to the people we’re trying to reach.
The Academy concluded with a graduation ceremony with Roy and his associates. They gave us each a diploma and a Gold Wizard Academy lapel pin. They also handed out various honors that included the “Robert Frost,” “Monet,” and “Dr. Seuss” awards, among others, to crown those who best represented these types of writing styles in their homework assignments.
Much more occurred “between the lines.” This is just a brief glance inside the Academy. To tell everything that was taught and all that occurred in each of our hearts would be the size of an unabridged dictionary. It was truly a life-changing experience. I came with a hungry heart and left with arms full of information and skills. I wish I could do it again.
The cost of the Wizard Academy is $3500 for three days. It sounds pricey, but for the wealth of information and tools you receive in return, it’s a best buy! If you want to become a better communicator and persuader, attend the Wizard Academy. Class size is limited to 12 students, so each person has access to one-on-one help and personal attention during each session. It’s a casual environment where you’re free to be you and free to express yourself. If you’d like to improve yourself and your career, consider the Wizard Academy, from Roy H. Williams Marketing. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds in radio. It will help you consciously create brilliance every time you touch the keyboard or production console. The Wizard Academy—an investment in you.