Way-Off-The-Mark-Logo-2By Mark Margulies

A towing service operator who also has a deli, convenience store and restaurant on site…

A nightclub owner who wants to make sure every night of the week is mentioned in their ad….

A restaurant owner, who wants all their weekly specials listed

These and dozens of other examples you can cite in your weekly log are what we “affectionately” refer to as classified ads. Day after day, week after week, we’re forced to write and produce these monstrosities under the guise of “it’s the client’s money—they should be able to get what they want on the air.”

Classified ads are great for newsprint, where people have time to ponder a list of items for as long as they wish. But in radio, where time is of the essence, you only get 30 or 60 precious seconds to make an impression, usually in the middle of an average four-minute stop set. If your client’s spot falls late in any set, the chance of making an impact with a laundry list of items is slim.

Classified ads are usually the result of a meeting with the smallest and most budget challenged clients. These businesses know they have limited resources—thus, they feel they have to transmit as much information as possible in the time they’ve bought. It’s this line of reasoning which ultimately leads to a majority of these ads not achieving any goal. It’s also a major reason your sales staff hears that old song and dance time and time again, “Tried radio once. Doesn’t work for me.” It’s an unfair catch-22—the clients who need to be something to someone end up squandering their chances and become nothing to anyone.

So, what happens when you have no choice, and absolutely, positively, HAVE TO do things this way? What if there’s no alternative, or a client too closed-minded or stubborn to listen to reason? Then our job, as creators, is not to pitch a fit; it’s to come up with something original—not reinvent the wheel, just give people a different way of listening, and taking note. Here are a couple of suggestions:

For the business that wants to list 4 or 5 different “specialties,” create a spot that features someone going over a list—maybe a two-voicer with a man whose wife has given him four or five “assignments” for the day/week.

Restaurant? Use Chase’s to identify goofy special events, then turn that nightclub or restaurant ad into something playful. Example: straight announce reads something like this “Going to spend ANOTHER Monday celebrating National Suspenders Day (SFX: TOING). Instead why not go to XXX Restaurant, where Monday is Meat Loaf night. Tuesday‘s National Midget Appreciate Day—another case of been there, done that? Try Tuesday at XXX instead, where it‘s Chicken Salad Night” And so on.

Generous use of sound effects helps break up lists as well, and gives the audience a chance to re-focus on the ad. Don’t be afraid to be use attention-getters, both with voices and effects. It’s the only hope we have to get noticed.

Good luck. Creative challenges are the reason we love what we do. And “classified ads” always end up being challenges, with a capital C.

InterServer Web Hosting and VPS


  • The R.A.P. Cassette - January 1994

    Production demo from interview subject George Robinson @ WZGC/Atlanta, plus work from Jeff Thomas @ TripleM/Sydney, Jeff Berlin @ WXKS/Boston, Ed...