by Jeffrey Hedquist
My Dad knew some interesting characters. One was Bob Harrington - a writer, jazz aficionado and raconteur – kind of a combination of Nat Hentoff and Ernie Kovacs.
When we were kids, Dad would bring my sister and I to visit Bob at his home every Sunday morning. Bob knew I was a budding writer with my first radio show. It was his influence that encouraged me to pursue my career as an audio creator, that and the magic of Stan Freberg.
It was sitting in Mr. Harrington’s den that I first heard “Wun’erful Wun’erful” and “St. George and the Dragonet.” I was hooked. Stan Freberg became my first virtual mentor.
Stan was a legendary voice-over artist, comedian, satirist, puppeteer, impressionist, recording artist, author, songwriter, and advertising genius.
"The least you can do," said Freberg, "in telling people about a product, is entertain them at the same time and make it as painless as possible."
He turned off his mic for good in April 2015 after 88 colorful years. I bring him to your awareness, not because of his influence on me and so many others, including Weird Al Yankovic, but because radio needs a shot of his genius.
When so many commercials today are written as if logic and facts or sheer hysterics can motivate listeners to act, we need to be reminded that radio works at a subconscious level and that messages that don’t affect us emotionally won’t get the results our clients need.
Many others have written more eloquently than I of his accomplishments and culture-changing work. Please search for him on the Internet. Read, listen, watch, then adapt his approach to your commercial creation. Although iconoclastic for the time, some of his creations may seem dated now. Using his subversive approach, craft your commercials to stand out in today’s audio landscape (see previous paragraph).
"People were so delighted that an advertiser was entertaining them into buying something for a change, instead of beating them over the head," Freberg recalled, "that they just rushed out to look for the product and buy it."
Listeners fell in love with his work because he touched imaginations and got us to laugh at advertising, culture, and ourselves. In the process he sold a lot of stuff for lots of clients. They may have been scared at first, because his work was unlike anything on the air, but in the end, their trepidation was often replaced with happiness.
His approach got results because the humor was always written to address the specific problems of the advertiser. Freberg has insisted he never makes fun of the product. He has fun with the product.
You can do the same, maybe not with every campaign, but with some. His attitude, irreverence and satire pushed me to create my most outrageous messages, which have gotten the best results.
Stan inspires us to be brave, to push the boundaries of what we create. Managers and account people need to be exposed to Stan’s work. Advertisers need to know that listeners will respond to out-of-the-ordinary advertising. Programmers need to know that commercials that please listeners help create TSL.
How has Stan Freberg influenced your work? Email
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