by Dan McCurdy

‘Know what entertains your audience.’

All the great music hall legends knew it. Most good stand-up comics know it. Anyone who’s stood in front of, played to, talked to, or danced in front of an audience, for any length of time knows it.

The crowd at Greens Playhouse in Glasgow, Scotland, more than anywhere in the UK I’m told, knew it, and if you survived their attentions – you knew it too. They knew how to entertain their audience.

That’s entertainment.

The unfortunate thing now is, you can make a radio commercial, think it’s great, and if the client agrees with you, put it on air and go home for the night and the audience can’t get their own back; not quickly anyway. Conversely I suppose you can make the world’s greatest radio commercial and you’ll hear no applause. Freddie Mercury knew it, J K Rowling knows it, and all the great entertainers know exactly what entertains their audience.

Just think what you do yourself. If something you’re watching, or listening to interests you, you keep listening/watching. When it stops interesting you, you shut it out or switch off. This is self-interest and it’s healthy. As I heard Dick Orkin, famous head honcho of California’s Radio Ranch, say, “ People listen to what interests them and sometimes it’s a radio ad.” With the proliferation of current and presumably future media choice, the thought that there may be something more self-interesting somewhere else from this here present or on another media sends your listener scurrying for self gratification, and you’re worried your ad may not be as effective as you want it to be. But keep reading this, I have some ideas.

Let’s talk about radio.

Research published by the RAB, the Radio Advertising Bureau here in the UK, recently hit on the hot topic of “Ad Avoidance.” Thankfully for radio, this research has shown that Radio in Britain was “the joint lowest (media) with cinema for ad avoidance,” and you’d have to be pretty stupid or busy in other things to avoid the ads in the cinema, wouldn’t you? You know the Big Screen at the front?? Oh please yourselves. The research did indicate that a surprisingly large number of cinemagoers -- well surprisingly to me anyway -- feel they are in a somewhat inattentive state (paying “little/some attention to” the ads). Quite how you can be inattentive, or pay little OR some attention to what’s happening on a screen the size of your living room wall, 50 feet from your face, I struggle to imagine.

The RAB research does indicate however “that most people rarely switch radio stations to avoid the advertising; most listeners “zone in and out” of radio content all the time according to their level of interest or distraction.” So presuming you do want to maximize your ads effectiveness, it would be useful if not essential to do all you can to make sure that the radio stations’ listeners are actually listening to your ad and not ‘zoning out.’ In your search for the perfect radio ad, what does this mean?

I have an idea!

Just like successful entertainers do consistently the moment they hit the stage, your job is to entertain. Okay, not exclusively to entertain to the detriment or exclusion of everything else you’ve been tasked to do like SELL, but if at first you can’t get, or at least hold the listener’s attention, anything that you do that follows is superfluous. Are you listening to me? For this reason I pour scorn on the notion I hear more than I care to, that ‘On radio bad ads can work because people will remember them.’ It might be a negative, or it might not, but the advertising industry I suggest should take out a nationwide advertising campaign on any available media that simply states, ‘Bad Ads Don’t Work’.

Bad entertainers at Green’s playhouse, Glasgow didn’t live very long. Life’s too short for bad jokes and radio ads that don’t work.

I have another idea.

When you’re writing radio, write what you’re good at, and don’t try to be funny if you’re not. Or course, if you’ve got a radio writer writing radio ads for you, they’ll always tell you what they’re good at and you can always tell too. Okay, you may have read somewhere that humour works and your favourite radio ads are the funny ones, and if you’re good at writing funny situations and people laugh at everything you do, or everything you write at least, carry on. But if you’re better at creating moods and characters, do that.

Yes humour works on radio but only good humour works on radio. Good ads work better on radio than bad ads. If your last memory of me was that I got you very drunk in a pub, hit you over the head with a wooden trungeon, and then my mates carried you off and you spend the next year as a deck hand on a cargo ship sailing the 7 Seas, sure you’d remember me. But you wouldn’t much like me, and the next time we met I doubt I could sell you anything. So why I ask you, would you ever trust your brand to bad ads, that don’t work simply because people might remember them better?

It’s your duty to attract the listener’s attention and to entertain. If they don’t have a reason to find something interesting in your ad, if it’s so clever as to be confusing, or they can’t find a reason to do something you’re asking them to do because they’ve just zoned out, then I’m afraid you’ve failed and made a bad ad.

But let’s be positive. You’ve learned something new. But before you try this ad out on the mass audience that radio attracts every day, and before your brand values go west with the ‘Press Gang’ and sail the 7 seas, take a step back and at least consider what you’re doing.

The audience in here can get pretty nasty.

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