By Trent Rentsch
Paying at the pump for gas is convenient, but until yesterday I didn’t realize how convenient. I was late for a meeting, and the last thing I had time or patience for was small talk. The clerk was as big as the store was small, with, as it turned out, a mouth to match. Sadly, his talk was smaller than the store.
“Filled up your car, did you? I knew a fella with a car that color. It sure is white! Did ya see that other white car pulling out when you pulled in? That fella knew a guy with a white car too. Yep, lotta fellas, and ladies too, fillin’ up their white cars with gas today. Course, there’s been other colors… blue, green, tan… or maybe it was white and just needed washing. Goldish yellow, dark green, light blue…”
By then I had scribbled out my check and shoved it across the counter at him. It wasn’t that I was trying to be rude, I just needed to get to that meeting. Okay, and I wanted to get away from…
“Hold on a minute, there! See, I gotta put your check through this machine, see if it’s okay. Not that I don’t trust you, just my boss wants us to. You know bosses. Bet you have one, don’t ya? Had this one for, what, 5 years now. He owns the place too. It’s his place, all right! I just work here. Worked here before he bought the place. But now, see, he’s my boss. Yep, the guy I work for, that would be my boss.”
It might take me awhile to catch on sometimes, but at that moment, I knew all too well that he wasn’t the boss. This didn’t stop him from hammering the fact home for another eternal minute or two while my check cleared. When I saw the word “Approved” flash upside down on the machine’s LCD read-out, I thought I was finally free.
“Okay, there. You’re good to go. Wait… hold on here! That pump ain’t been changed. We owe you a penny a gallon!” I told him that it was fine, I could deal with an extra 20 cents, but…
“No way! Nope, nope, nope! I won’t have it! My boss wouldn’t have it either, but even if he would, I wouldn’t. Nope! Twenty cents is twenty cents, whether it’s gas or pennies. Fella came in and wanted to pay for his gas with pennies once. Problem is, I gotta fill out this here form… got a form for it, you see. The boss made this form so we could fill it out if we over-charged someone for their gas. Funny story about this form. The boss made this form on his computer. ‘Boss,’ I says, ‘Did you make this form on your computer?’ ‘Yep,’ he says. Hee! Hee! Can you believe it? He made this very form, right on his computer! Makes other stuff on his computer too. Yep, that’s quite a computer my boss has, a real computer!”
By the time he filled out the form, he had spent another 5 minutes reminding me that his boss owned a computer. Then another year went by after I told him that it didn’t matter how he gave me the change. It seems he couldn’t decide if he should give me two dimes, or four nickels, or one dime and two nickels, “… or I could give you all pennies. Then you’d have a pile of pennies, 20 in fact. I’ve got lots of pennies, over 20. 20 pennies would be a lot to carry in your pocket. How about 10 pennies and a dime, or 10 pennies and two nickels, or…”
When he finally handed me a dime, a nickel and five pennies, I bolted from the store, ignoring his, “You have a nice day!” Driving away, I started to feel guilty. He wasn’t a bad guy. Pretty friendly, and honest. And it probably is a lonely business, especially at that particular location, as it is off the beaten track. Just a lonely guy, with a gift for gab, hungry for company, for conversation. Then I come by, running on fumes, late for a meeting, impatient with his babble. Perhaps I would’ve been more patient if, for all the talking he was doing, he had something to say. Maybe it struck a little close to home.
It all starts with words… or does it? Many scripts I’ve voiced/produced over the years have plenty of words, often too many. But of all the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve worked with, how many of them really meant anything? How many scripts use phrases like, “Highest quality, lowest prices,” or, “Conveniently located.” WHY is it the highest quality? Lowest prices COMPARED TO WHO? And if the business is half way across town, HOW is it convenient to ME?? Crank it out! Crank it out! Blah! Blah! Blah! I wonder if they’re playing a good song on that other station…
Meaningless words used to fill up seconds in a commercial certainly do nothing to compel the listener to stay for the entire message. They are also quite frankly wasting the time advertisers are paying for.
Before the words comes the meaning. What is THE message the commercial is supposed to convey? It must come from the client, it must be asked for by sales, it must be demanded by copywriters. Armed with this mission statement, the direction of the words is clear and has focus.
Generic spots filled with catch phrases are doing nothing for advertisers or radio. If a commercial is going to motivate that feller in the white car, or the boss at his computer, or distract that clerk in the convenience store so that another unsuspecting gas patron can escape, every word must say something, every word must contribute to the point of the ad. And that’s my 20 cents worth, in 1 dime, 1 nickel and 5 pennies.