By Deborah Hopkins

It’s a writer worst nightmare.

That’s the moment when the General Manager of your radio station leans forward and says to the client, “Would you like to voice your own commercial?” Suppressing the urge to run from the meeting screaming “NOOOO…” you hold your breath, hoping the advertiser will decline, leaving you a free creative hand to pursue writing concepts that only a professional voice talent can successfully pull off.

This of course is not to say that you can’t create highly effective, even memorable radio commercials voiced by the client. Clearly The Boss has every confidence that you can do just that, as in the case of some amazing spots I heard recently that were created for a tile company. The client was a master craftsman, a veritable tiling artist, who personally had a hand in every project his company took on. He also had a huge passion for his work, and he had a charming Italian accent.

The writer created a brilliant series of commercials, with the client basically playing a character role of himself. Short, tight lines sprinkled sparingly throughout the scripts were easily within his delivery range, and his passion and charm were successfully showcased. The Italian accent was the icing on the cake. As a listener, you couldn’t help but love this guy, and if you happened to be in the market for a tiling job, this is the guy you would call.

I have to say quite emphatically though that you would be mistaken to think that this feat is easily accomplished for any client who wishes to voice his own commercial. Quite the contrary!

The best place to start, when deciding whether the client really ought to voice his own commercials, is to answer the question, why? Is the client the life, the breath, the very essence of the business? Is the client the face of the business, the most significant person that customers will be dealing with? Is the business one where trust and credibility are of primary concern? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you may indeed be wise to consider using the client as the talent.

Unfortunately there are times when the client chooses to voice his own messages to, at least in part, satisfy his ego. Catering to this whim is a sales crutch that will invariably lead to the campaign’s demise. Sure, for a while, the client will bask in the afterglow of hearing himself on the air, warmed by the reaction of friends and family. Hey, I heard your commercial on the air! Eventually however, the confusion between response and results becomes painfully apparent, and the advertiser is left pondering why his radio campaign didn’t yield the expected increase in sales.  

On the up side, I have seen client voiced commercials successfully executed for all the right reasons. The Italian tile guy is my favorite example from a creative standpoint, but there are other successful approaches. One example is the client who sits down in a recording session with a few planned copy points and plays off the impromptu responses of an on-air personality. After a while, the two parties start sounding downright comfortable in these ad-lib sessions, and if the theory stands up that listeners pay more attention to the spoken word of natural conversation, this approach bodes well for effectiveness. Of course, not every client has the verbal skills and confidence to step up to the mic, but for those who do, this can be a powerful way to advertise.

A writer can also customize a script for a client, keeping it simple and short, and if the delivery isn’t perfect, so much the better. What can be more genuine and appealing than a real advertiser who sounds just like, well …a real person! In fact, too much polish can make the commercial sound like a professional pretending to be an advertiser, impairing the credibility of the messenger and defeating the purpose of having the client voice his own commercial in the first place. Care should be taken too with the writing. After all, if you have an advertiser voicing his own message touting all the wonderful qualities of his business, it can come off sounding boastful and obnoxious. Hardly the stuff of a great advertising campaign!

So, you can pinky swear with your General Manager not to bring up the topic of the client voicing his own commercial until after the client meeting. Or you can roll with the punches, and hope one of the strategies above can work for your project. Better yet, you’ll be struck by the inspiration that often arises from creative challenge, and you’ll develop a totally new and brilliant solution to the age old dilemma of what to do when the client wants to voice his own commercial.

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