Q It Up: Describe one of the most successful commercials you’ve been involved with creatively. What was the concept? Where did the idea come from? How successful was it for the client? Why do you think it was so successful? Was there anything special about the production aspect of the commercial? If you have a copy of the commercial, please feel free to send it along with your answer, and we’ll feature it on the RAP CD!
Glenn Cook [glenn[at]spotsthatcook .com], WNBY 93.7, Newberry, Michigan: [Audio on CD] The “Superior Glamour Studio” spot that I recently did was a big success for the client. We met the lady at the county fair over the summer and she hinted that she would like to do some advertising with our station. Being a one-of-kind glamour/photo studio in our neck of the woods in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, (you don’t see too many of these type of businesses around here...), that in itself, was unique. So, it was my idea to make a very unique spot for her that was out of the ordinary, not a run of the mill spot that you hear everyday on every radio station with the same urgent announcer losing you halfway through the commercial with 90 mile an hour delivery!
The type of voice/delivery that I used is very different from what you hear in our area, so staying with the “unique/unique” sense of things I felt this was the way to go. From my standpoint, it came out with a sophisticated, glamorous/whisper read that got to the point and stuck with the point throughout the message and continually hammered the fact that, “you really need to do this for yourself,” in almost a kind of “keep this a secret” way. The “laid back” approach immediately caught the listeners’ attention, because quite simply, they’ve never heard anything like it before! Along the same lines, the music reflected the read and set the tone for the type of business being featured in the spot.
The use of EQ in some of the read accentuated particular spots, such as the phone number, and having sort of a “donut space”, to announce photo opportunities outside of her studio, would let the spot be used for a long period of time just by changing the locations of the shoot(s) as she booked them, and it would retain product identification whenever it was heard, making the listener more intent on getting the info on where the next off-site shoot(s) would be. Hence, “coming to your area soon” gave it the “we’ll come to you” unique convenience. She didn’t expect the spot to be anything like it came out to be and was just floored by it! She asked for CD copies for all of her friends! And, she re-upped for an even longer period of time and is now a featured advertiser in one of our daily programs as well! Treat them better than they expect to be treated and repeat business will follow!!!
Johnny George [jg[at]johnnygeorge .com], Susquehanna Indianapolis, Indiana: In 1983 when I was Production Director of WTLC-FM, we had a new client that wasn’t real interested in advertising on radio when one of our sales exec’s came to pitch him. The salesman came back to the station frustrated and told me the story. I went home that weekend trying to think of something unique about this guy’s auto repair place. The client was Auto Tech. Remember, in 1983 there wasn’t the abundance of auto repair places that there are today, and not many were advertising anyway.
As luck had it, I began to have car trouble that next Saturday morning with my new Honda Accord. I noticed the car running a bit rough, and it sounded like it was pleading with me to fix it. So the idea was born with the car crying for help and talking to me with the “hard-starting, bad battery voice” that we’ve heard now time after time. I’m not saying I started that concept, but I honestly hadn’t heard that approach at the time of the writing of the spot. I produced the spot and all its voices. The client was ecstatic and his business took off like a rocket once it hit the air.
The campaign went on for several years and in 1985 I won the national Golden Microphone Award for that spot in the Automotive category. In thinking back, I didn’t get my Honda fixed there due to the leasing agreement I had with the dealership that made me go to their shop for all authorized repairs. Oh Pooh!
Rich VanSlyke [richvs[at]bellsouth .net], Rich VanSlyke Productions, LLC, Suwanee, Georgia: One of the most successful commercials I’ve created features a jingle I produced for Elite Pest Control here in Atlanta. The first month it ran, the client’s phone response DOUBLED! The challenge was to create a memorable jingle that helped people remember the phone number. First I focused on the basic emotion on the subject of pest control, “I hate bugs!” The rest of the jingle is built around the number “866-TRY-ELITE.” Research proves people remember phone numbers set to music, and it really works! This jingle only cost the client $2500, and the ads paid for it the first week! The fun part for me was writing the jingle, directing the singers and playing all the instruments!
Jay Rose [jay[at]dplay.com]: [Audio on CD] Allow me to tell you about my dream campaign. It happened about a dozen years ago, when I had just quit the big downtown studio and was starting on my own, and my ‘facility’ was a couple of Revox decks on a sawhorse-and-door table in my attic. The ad agency for New England Telephone (now part of Verizon) asked me to drop by.
They were going to produce a 7-spot TV campaign, a dramatic series about a high-tech startup, with each spot highlighting a different business service the phone company provides. They wanted to simultaneously develop it as radio. It would involve working on the scripts with their TV writer, and flying to Hollywood to direct the TV principals in two half-day sessions. They’d pay travel and talent, and offered me X dollars for everything else. Would I care to participate?
Here’s some of the nifty things I was allowed to do on this campaign, both to save money and to keep the creative standards high...
Most of the spots took place in two locations: the start-up, and the bigger company it spun off from. So I broke the seven spots into scenes depending on location, and recorded one “office” on the first day and the other on the next. This meant the expensive Hollywood talent would get their proper AFTRA use payments, but nobody was kept waiting for their scenes (and running up extra session hours). The only exception was a couple of phone calls between the two companies. I had the actors from both locations show up for those, so they could play off each other. We also tweaked the copy so that some scripts implied characters that weren’t actually in that spot, saving on use fees.
Recording out of sequence also kept me in charge of the emotional flow, so there was an arc to the entire 7-spot story. If the actors had been allowed to perform each :60 in its entirety, there’s a good chance the campaign wouldn’t have hung together. This way, it was more like a 7-minute drama about two businesses (with a lot of product placement for the phone company, of course).
For the phone conversations, I had the studio set up an isolation booth in the main room. One character would be in the room, the other in the booth... and they could hear each other only through headphones. Then I had their engineer patch a phone filter into the headphone feed. The filter helped the performances, and the isolation made it easier for me to edit the conversation or change step-ons. (I recorded each actor to a separate track without filters, for freedom to change the point of view in the mix.)
Speaking of step-ons: I recorded each scene fat, a couple of seconds longer than would fit the final mix. Then I overlapped voices to imply these high-powered executives were getting more and more excited. There’s a lot of emotion in some of the scenes. So I gave the actors permission to stop, center themselves, and then shout at each other - something rarely done in radio. The payoff, at the end of the last spot, requires the entire start-up’s staff to whoop it up when they hear their company will survive (thanks to careful use of telephones). Normally in a case like this, actors make eye contact and then cheer simultaneously when everybody in the room is ready. I wanted it to sound more spontaneous, so I gave each character a specific cheer. Then, from the control room, I held them back with my hand and then suddenly cued them. Each person reacted slightly differently, giving the overall reaction a genuine feel.
I recorded less important characters at a small music studio in Boston, using the same techniques. (I also cast the agency’s TV producer and my wife - both AFTRA members - in minor roles. Every little bit helps.)
To save money on music, we didn’t hire a composer to score seven :60 spots. Instead, I commissioned a bunch of cues - some only a couple of seconds long, others longer pads or sweeping variations on the client’s jingle. It was a total of about two minutes of music. All the cues were related, so I could mix them or build one over another. If you listen to all seven spots in a row you can spot some cues repeating, but always in different musical contexts.
Eventide had just introduced their first Ultra-Harmonizer, the H3000. One of its features was the ability to fine-tune very real-sounding reverbs to match specific kinds of rooms and store the result. I rented one for this project and created two reverbs: one with concrete floors and bare walls for the start-up, the other with plush carpeting and drapes for the established company. Almost every scene has one or the other, giving the spots a boom-miked TV feel. A couple of the more emotional scenes are dry, for intimacy.
Other than the Eventide everything was analog. I edited takes on one of my Revoxes, then rented a room with an MCI 8-track to build and mix. And it was mono to save tracks for the overlaps and crowd scenes - you could get away with that, in those days.
I wasn’t there when the agency presented the spots to the phone company. Later, the account executive called to say they’d bought the campaign. He told me “They said this isn’t just the best radio we’ve ever done; it’s the best radio we’ve ever heard.”
Maybe, some day, I’ll get to do something like that again.
(One of the spots is on this month’s RAP CD. You can hear the entire campaign as medium-res mp3 at http://www.dplay.com/mp3/bizstory.html. It really is worth listening to in one sitting, with headphones.)