Classroomby Ric Gonzalez

Children know more about advertising than most clients, agencies, and radio people. It’s true. I’ve long suspected this. I’ve heard similar sentiments from various advertising consultants and read it in various articles. But it wasn’t until I experienced it firsthand that I fully felt it.

A few weeks ago, I’d been asked to speak to a group of middle school students who were working on a marketing assignment. They had a really fun class and a really neat teacher… (read the word “neat” to mean the ol’ fashioned term for “cool.”)

I was supposed to do a quick appearance, talk about what I do, and tell how I create an advertisement for a client. This would normally be pretty boring stuff to kids. So I decided to try and make it a little more interesting. I quickly told them of the many ways there are to create an advertisement for a client, the many forms, styles, and approaches. Then I told them that I’ve heard, read, seen, and learned from many experts, colleagues, and consultants. And from all them, I learned one thing. There is no “one” way to create a good advertisement for a client… but there are many wrong ways.

I told them about “telling stories.” Credit that to Dan O’Day, Dick Orkin, and Christine Coyle… in a seminar almost ten years ago. I told them about headlines. Credit that to many folks like Dan O’Day, Paul Weyland, etc. I told them about humor. I told them about straight reads, dialogues, etc.

But the “aha” moment came when I presented a “typical” radio commercial to them. It was a script of two women talking, in a non-realistic conversation, saying things in “commercial-speak.” Oh… and I had them act out the script. I figured that would be a lot more fun than just having them listen to the real ad. I asked for volunteers only to find out, that very few kids in that class were shy.

As the students were performing the script live, a strange thing occurred. Other students started to giggle and some burst out laughing. I was curious. It couldn’t be what I was thinking. I mean, these were jittery, bouncy, kids with racing thoughts. I had a few classes to speak to and the same thing occurred each time. So when they finished, after each presentation, I asked the students to tell me what was wrong with the commercial.

They all chimed in with, “They’re talking like commercials,” “They’re saying all that fake junk,” “They sound funny… not real.” Some even mimicked the lines. Yes those stereotypical radio ad lines.

Yup… these same things that I’ve tried to explain to so many radio sales reps and/or clients… these same things that some radio sales reps and clients could not understand… the children got. And they got it all on their own. I didn’t even have to explain it. They mocked it, tuned it out, and were not listening to the rest.

“They’re talking like commercials.” Wow. Just wow.

Yet just today, I had a rep bring me some commercials that had been produced by an agency for a client spending some serious bucks. They’d been running for a few weeks and had only received “one” phone call.

She had an unhappy client questioning if they had bought the right station. So now, she wanted my opinion. I listened to the commercials. They were fake sounding conversations, by non-real people, using commercial speak. When I had finished listening to them, I could not tell you what the client’s offer was, what they wanted me to do, or what it was that they (client) actually did.

The rep got excited and said, “I told them that we might be able to take a stab at the creative. What do you think?” Before I answered she offered her advice… “What about two women talking but this time we add a little kid who is sick?”

I asked her, “Who are we talking to? What are they offering? What do they want the targeted consumer to do? Let’s talk about that first. Let’s not pick the paint for the house before we know how it is being built. It might be brick.

That rep, and a few others, should go to Coke R. Stevenson Middle School and join that class I spoke with in...San Antonio. They might learn something from a bunch of kids. I know I did.


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