Production 212: The Phrase that Pays

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

In most businesses, the axiom goes, “the customer is always right.” In radio, I have to say the customer is almost always wrong. The customer in this business is the advertiser, not the listener, and far too often, they are in it for the wrong reasons. One reason is often vanity. Taken to an extreme, these are the same advertisers who insist that they voice their own commercials. They say it’s because they want to build a relationship with their customers, I say it’s because they want to hear their own voice on the air. They say it’s a way for them to be “up front” about their business, I say they just want to become minor local celebrities. It’s vanity, pure and simple. Even those who shy away from being their own spokesperson, say they want to shape and mold their advertising to make sure they get the right message across, but they almost never do. Very often you end up with an entire shopping list of things they want covered in their spot. It’s better, cheaper, safer, faster, sexier, AND… if you act now, you’ll get a ‘special’ discount. Is your BS meter erupting as much as mine is, just reading this drivel?

The sad part for us often is, the AE who stands to “make some serious coin on this buy” stands up and tries to justify their client’s demands in the name of earnings for the company. This makes the AE an even bigger idiot. Any salesperson worth his or her salt will know that the real money comes in repeat business. You just don’t get repeat business if the advertising doesn’t move the needle the first time around. Whenever this has happened to me, I try to say something like, “I would agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.” (OK… not really, but I have been SO tempted.)

Let me be clear here, I do NOT think all AEs are idiots. The opposite is true. They have a job I could never do. (I can’t handle rejection.) But I’m willing to wager a substantial amount that we’ve all had run-ins with idiot salespeople and even bigger idiot Sales Managers. (Thank God it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one of those, but I know they exist.)

I’m sure most of you know that I don’t have to deal with commercials any more in my capacity as Creative Services Director for Clear Channel New York. To be honest, it’s been a really long time since I’ve seen an idiot AE wandering the halls here, but I get emails from people just like you all the time, asking me what they can do to fix this problem. Bear with me for a couple more paragraphs and I think you’ll see where I’m going.

The solution is not easy, it’s not quick and it requires a lot of thought on your part over the course of several months. In the interim, you will have to continue dealing with these problems as they come up and trying your best to be reasonable and reassuring as you explain what you’re trying to do is emulate the people who make literally billions of dollars every year creating effective advertising.

If I say, “It’s the real thing,” 99% of the people who were alive 20 years ago will automatically think of Coca-Cola™. If I say, “You deserve a break today,” pretty much anyone in that same age group with a pulse will think of McDonalds™. This is 20 years later! How effective is that? Every one of the really stellar ads during that period all came down to one, short little phrase that sold a lifestyle choice to hundreds of millions of people all over the world. To bring it a little closer to home, Z100 had taken jingles off the air completely for about 7 years when Ja Rule came by one night to promote his last CD. We asked him to do a few liners, “just in case.” When he got to our call letters, he sang them in our signature jingle logo… seven years after the last one had played. I played the session for our PD and we re-instated jingles immediately and have never even considered dropping them again.

Anyone with an IQ bigger than their hat size can sit down and analyze why these phrases/jingles have such staying power and come up with exactly the right answer. It’s the only message they put out in commercial, after commercial, after commercial. Look at one of those commercials and you never see anything about “better, cheaper, safer, faster, sexier, AND… if you act now, you’ll get a ‘special’ discount.” Everything in every ad points to one message, and one message only. THAT is why their advertising is so successful.

Your true long-term solution is to find clients who understand what you’re trying to establish and will give you enough freedom to really work it. Keep a copy of everything and after a couple of years, perhaps a little longer, you will have the makings of an amazing demo that you can first sell to your AEs and Sales Managers, which they can then sell to prospective clients. Oh, and it will not hurt at all if you can grab a couple of awards with these amazing spots. If you have a difficult time finding clients who are willing to let you run with the ball, take a few minutes each evening (or whenever) and make them on your own time. Afterward, you can either keep them to yourself (and RAP magazine, of course) or present them to the client for a future flight.

The upshot of all this effort will be that clients will start seeking you out, asking for your special ‘touch.’ They won’t argue about price/item inclusions, phone numbers being repeated 14 times (I mean really!) nor will they ever ask to voice their own commercial. (Although, I wouldn’t rule out a cameo appearance once in awhile, just for variety’s sake.) You will be in production heaven, and very much in demand.

This is NOT rocket science boys and girls (even though my sister who is a rocket scientist would tell you that’s not that big a deal anyway.) It’s a long, slow and sometimes difficult road, but the payoff can mean life-altering money. It’ll make you “better, cheaper, safer, faster, sexier, AND… if you act now, you’ll get a ‘special’ discount” incredible!

For my sound this month, a tease promo I recently did to promote our latest round of “Pay Your Bills.” Our little phrase in this exercise is the name of the contest, which is sheer genius. I just wish I could claim some authorship.

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