By Jeffrey Hedquist
One of the ways to improve your skills in any field of expression whether it’s visual art, poetry, songwriting, filmmaking or writing is to analyze the work of the masters in each medium and discover the principles that make the piece successful.
Will it work for radio commercials? In my experience, yes. Whether you use it as a way to break writers’ block, or as a continuing method to improve your writing, this exercise may be useful.
Pick a great spot, take it apart and analyze its structure. Summarize what’s happening in each line of copy. Use that structure (not the content) to create your own spot.
With writers’ block, if you weren’t able to generate results in right-brain mode, this switch to left-brain mode can take the pressure off. As you pick the commercial apart, ideas may emerge which will enable you to construct your own.
Example: Here’s an analysis of one of my favorites. The advertiser had just merged with another company and was changing its name.
2 characters – quirky
A: Has a big announcement to make
B: Skeptical, mentions a previous ridiculous announcement from “A.”
A: Doesn’t react, simply starts to relate the big news about the advertiser.
B: Interrupts with the news before “A” finishes story.
A: Ignores “B” and makes the big announcement.
B: Reiterates that “A’s” news is common knowledge.
A: Ignores “A’s” comment and goes on to say how surprising the news was to “A.”
B: Attempts to interrupt…
A: Goes on to build a case that “B” should acknowledge the change about the advertiser.
B: Reminds “A” that “B” already has.
A: Thinking “B” still needs to be convinced, makes another point.
B: Starts describing benefits of the change, hoping that “A” will understand that “B” knew about the change all along.
A: Concludes that “A’s” oratory skills persuaded “B.”
B: Gives up objecting and agrees.
A: Convinced of newfound persuasive abilities, asks for approval of a personal favor.
B: Favor has so little consequence to “B’s” life that “B” gives approval.
A: Compliments self on persuasive abilities.
B: Sarcastically agrees with “A.”
A: Does a callback to previous ridiculous announcement mentioned by “B” at the beginning, including advertiser.
Announcer: Short reiteration of news about advertiser.
Condensed version: “A” presents big news to “B” who already knows about it. Conflict: “A” ignores “B’s” responses and plows ahead with “A’s” own agenda.
Oh sure, it may not look funny in this form, but the commercial, from one of the masters of radio, was entertaining, and delivered the message effectively.
Sometimes, finding just one structural trick or interesting premise will open up the gates for you. For instance, hearing an interesting conflict, noticing repeated callbacks to an earlier statement and especially observing how the entertainment and marketing are woven together.
There are hundreds of successful commercials out there. You can learn something from each of them. Now you have an organized way to break the code on what made them successful and apply it to your own work.
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