Outside the Box: The Rest of the Story

By Erik Cudd

You know you are getting old when you sit and listen to the ad from “the Big Game” utilizing Paul Harvey’s voice and realize that the master is no longer with us. As a Radio user I was often delighted to be greeted by the familiar, “Hello Americans, this is Paul Harvey… stand by for news”. Immediately, regardless of my activity or frame of mind, I instantly became locked into preparation mode, turned up the volume, and paid attention. It goes without saying that many clients think putting an attention grabber in the beginning of their ad is powerful. I disagree. Simply screaming “Attention”, or using some ridiculous siren or obnoxious sound effect does not cause people to be drawn in, waiting and attentive to a message. The other mistake you can do is saying the old standby, “Hi, this is so and so,” when the client insists on voicing their ad.

So why did Paul Harvey have that ability with such a simple statement? What made Paul’s opener so powerful that he could not only attract large numbers of loyal listeners to pay attention, but also remain with his entire broadcast until its end? It saddens me to think that there are people on the planet in the US right now who are too young to know how effective Paul could take fifteen minutes and bring you up to date on everything happening in the world. Local News organizations need several hours. Paul could do it in fifteen minutes. Plus, he could also sell anything and make it sound exciting in the process. Paul was not just an amazing orator, but it is my sincere belief that his skill came from his ability to construct the words on the page. Paul was above all, a writer. He made the statement once that he was “in love with words”. Paul recognized the ability words have to make things happen. His endorsements made brands very successful, from Buick automobiles to mattresses. Paul commanded your ears with a smile, and he did so with a firm grip on the content he was to deliver, and the importance of its relevance to your life, even the human interest or “fluff” item he would end with at the final segment of ‘page 3’. In all of the powerful deliveries of Mr. Harvey, I wish to address two key aspects that need to be rediscovered in advertising. They could be used in almost every ad you write or produce, simply because Paul proved time and time again that they work.

Firstly, when you listen to Paul you must recognize that he has a very distinct pace. A rhythm to the delivery which makes it sound so real and authentic that you find yourself so mesmerized that trying to ignore it only brings you back to hear the ending. Over the years many broadcasters have tried to mimic the pace, and see if they could deliver their lines in the same way but to no avail. The error they make is that this delivery was so recognized because it was congruent with Paul. If you heard Paul converse away from a microphone, or be fortunate enough as a good friend of mine once was to be seated next to Paul during a lengthy dinner, you will find that his normal speaking voice, inflection, tone, and pace is the same both on and off the air. When you read copy, do you read it in your normal speaking voice, or do you tense up and over project or puke it out? What advertisers should take away, aside from staying true to their authentic self, is that silence or a pregnant pause can more often be even more powerful and take their ad to the next level. You read that right, Paul was above and beyond other broadcasters, not because of his sound per se, but because he knew exactly when to pause and for just how long… to make something more enjoyable to hear. It was as if there was such a synchronous heartbeat between his delivery and your mind’s attention span.

Make no mistake; what I am trying to point out here, what you say and how you say it is, as I have written before, a big key to success, but Paul knew a deeper and richer secret. Paul knew how to turn a moment of copy into a suspended ketchup bottle lingering over fries just waiting for the first drop, a child holding a large lukewarm cone of ice cream that is glistening and seemingly ready to melt away right there. Paul knew that just a moment of silence delivered at just the right moment could create anticipation and craving of the next word. It evokes images of sitting in a theatre three rows down from my parents in the only single seat we could find that Friday night in the 1970’s as I watched Star Wars for the first time. I remember sitting down in my seat, I remember the movie, and then I remember wielding my own light saber all the way to the car. My parents told me that my eyes never left the screen, I did not move the entire film, and they knew I was transfixed. Does your copy do that? Look over that script and consider a moment of silence or a well-placed pregnant pause, just that slight diversion of rhythm can bring with it anticipation to add some spice, and maybe keep the listener motionless in their seat.

Secondly, it must be acknowledged that Paul was an artful storyteller. His “Rest of the Story” was always an afternoon favorite, just five minutes of a story that seemed to go backwards, but was usually the backstory of some famous person, event, or historical moment. It was the peeling of the layers of the onion to get to the center and the savory filling. Oftentimes it would begin obscure, just factual and disconnected, but you knew what was coming. The reveal, to wipe the mirror fogged over with condensation after a shower to reveal the clear image, the connection, the dénouement which made sitting there for more than sixty seconds well worth the wait. Even delivering the headlines and a few brief lines about a news item was written with a story in mind. Not to create a sensational effect, but to speak to you in a way that you identified with, and could understand. Not once in my memory can I recall listening to a Rest of the Story broadcast and not walking away surprised or pleased. My Dad would sit in the driveway after coming home from work and let the car run as he heard Paul do The Rest of the Story on the radio. There is a great book by Daniel Pink called A Whole New Mind, which outlines that Story is a vital component of success. The story is critical. What story are you telling? When you write the copy, are you just merely using typical catch phrases and adjectives, or do you have the story in mind? A good story inspires, causes emotion, makes things happen. Your ad can be an enjoyable experience for the listener. Is should not be about pleasing the client, but about connecting with their customer, saying something worthwhile, and reaping the benefit from that exchange. Story does that in a very easy and personal way. Did you picture me sitting in the theater watching Star Wars? What did you see? Were the seats red? Was I at the end next to the aisle in your mind, or was I between people in the row? While I did not write any details, I let you fill in the blanks. The story gave you a connection, put images in your mind, and for a moment, you and I were there at the theater together. Paul could use a story and transport you to anywhere or anytime he needed you to. Story says more than any typical copy ever could.

These two elements aren’t the only keys that made Paul Harvey have such an amazing career and thrive as a credible and legendary broadcaster. You must also consider that he married a woman who was equally as gifted as he was in writing and crafting the right words, and the right story. Paul worked alongside his angel for many years as she supported and assisted his efforts. Paul’s son even picked up the trade and wrote many of the ROTS scripts for his Dad too. In advertising, it almost seems foreign to think that what we write should be enjoyable. When was the last time you tried to make the listener enjoy the commercial? Think about that, do you produce a commercial that listeners say they actually enjoy hearing? If you combine the right words, use an authentic voice, tell a story, and every once in a while embrace the silence at just the right moment, you will make things happen and the listener will have a good time. The master has shown us the tools to create future success for our clients because he knew and understood human nature. When was the last time you bought a book about creativity, imagination, play, death, grief, suffering, pain, pleasure, curiosity, color, laughter, or community? To be successful in creating collateral that moves people, you must know the audience like you know yourself. And now you know….....

...the rest of the story.

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