By Trent Rentsch
Wading through our bills recently, I made a disturbing discovery. It seems that, although we’re paying for something like 6,873 cable channels, the wife and I are probably only watching 6 or 7 on a regular basis. That’s right. It seems that we’ve been paying for 6,873 channels, and wasting 6867 or 6866 of them! So, I did what any other thinking, logical, budget-minded person these days would do. I’ve started watching more of them.
It’s been an education. Watching our government in action on C-Span is a wonderful alternative to sleep aids. NBC’s new Chiller network is NBC’s Sci Fi network on delay. And HD channels don’t equal HD programming. It does turn out that I have been missing some great television (if you’ll excuse the oxymoron). Perhaps it’s a deeply hidden wanderlust, but I find myself landing on offerings from the Travel Channel a lot lately. There are some fascinating people, living fascinating lives. For instance...
I channel surfed into the middle of a show about, somewhere, in the Mid-East. Surrounded by ancient, outrageous architecture, and the obvious chaos only countless decades of strife can bring, the host was interviewing a gentleman who was milling flour. He had been milling flour for his village his entire life, just as his Father had, just as HIS Father had... and so on, for centuries. Throughout those centuries wars had raged, new leaders rose and fell, natural disasters devastated, people were born, grew up, and died... time moved on. But there was a constant. This man, and generations of his family, milling the flour that made the bread that fed the village, year after year after year. Bread is life, indeed.
“Interesting,” you’re probably thinking, “Maybe even so far as fascinating... that a person would spend their lifetime grinding grain between stones. But, a fascinating person?” Actually, yes. And he has an important lesson for those who choose to listen.
The panic continues. The economy “is in shambles.” Companies are collapsing, and those that aren’t are thinning their employee ranks... yeah, yeah, yeah... enough. The good news is, the sky is not falling. The economy does what it does, but the world keeps on spinning. People still need food, clothes, transportation, housing... on and on. None of that goes away. What does change is the way people look at the money they have for these things. If someone can offer the same or comparable items and save them a few bucks... they’re going to do it; brand loyalty be damned. That’s good news for companies that are willing to save people money on what they need. It’s also great news for us, because there is one other constant... somebody needs to tell their story. But we need to remember that those companies are doing their own penny counting.
When times were fat, it seemed like it was 60 second ads all around. I’m now seeing nothing but orders for :30’s, :15’s, and :10’s. It makes sense; if sales can be made with time-based rather than unit pricing, it’s going to happen. But it brings up that old debate of how effective shorter commercials can be. I guess I’ve always believed that, regardless of the length of a commercial, it’s only going to be as effective as we let it be.
While we’re on the subject of constants, let’s talk about the constants of good, effective radio Creative. The commercial must be clear and focused, the benefits of the client’s product/service must be obvious, and the call to action must be strong enough to entice the listener. These are the constants, the basics that all effective ads must have, regardless of length. In fact, when it comes to shorter ads, they ARE the spot... anything more and you run the risk of muddying up the message and/or running long... or is there room to nail the basics AND get Creative?
Let’s look at a fictional order for a :15. We’ll say the client is “Rentsch’s Plumbing” (what the hell... I’ve had to live with those jokes most of my life). According to the order, “Rentsch’s Plumbing wants to advertise 24 hour emergency service... same price 7 days a week... work guaranteed... phone number is 555-5555. Got a leak? Get a Rentsch on it.” OK...
So, 15 seconds. My rule is 40, at the most 43 words for a :15. First, let’s knock out the constants:
Benefits: 24 hour emergency service. Prices are the same whenever you call. Work is guaranteed.
Call to action: If you have a plumbing problem, call Rentsch’s Plumbing.
We’re lucky in this case (obviously fictional), because the client’s slogan is already a call to action. Simply add phone number and we’re there. So, now that we’ve stripped down the information to what’s absolute, let’s see if we can make things a little more compelling.
Let’s create a little drama. Since the ad is about emergency plumbing service, let’s set up the worst possible of plumbing problems, which Rentsch’s Plumbing can solve and be the hero:
(sfx: toilet flush)
Man (over sfx): No... NO!!
Annc: Got a leak? Don’t freak! Rentsch’s Plumbing will de-clog you, 24/7. Always the same price... always guaranteed work. Got a leak? Get a Rentsch on it. Call 555-55-55, anytime!
There. We hit the constants, we added drama and resolution, the client is the hero. Are the words Shakespeare? No, but they are clear and direct. Is the Creative Neil Simon comedy? No, but it’s just silly enough to be ear-catching, and sets up the drama. Is it the most Creative radio ad ever? Most assuredly not, but it is Creative enough to tell the client’s story and manage to stand out from the usual straight read... and do it in 15 seconds. Ain’t that tough, honest!
The demands to do more with less are nothing new. It may be happening more often, but that’s the fascinating thing about Radio Creatives... they will grind out great Creative, no matter what is thrown at them. And that’s a constant that advertisers CAN take to the bank!