Selling What You Don't Like

By John Pellegrini

One of the most difficult jobs for a radio production/creative director is writing a script for a product or service that we (1), do not use, and (2), have no intention of, or interest in, ever using. To quote the poetry of Taylor Swift, “…like, never.”

Almost every week, sometimes every day, we are required (by law in most states) to write commercials for products and services that many of us could not possibly care less about. Admit it; there are more than a few on your personal list. It’s okay… everyone has things they don’t like.

After a few years of experience you can learn to fake the enthusiasm, and the audience might even believe you. But how can you honestly write a compelling sales message for a product or service that has you screaming in disgust (or at least makes you think a negative thought about its viability)?

The best answer is: you don’t have to sell the product.

You do know that’s an option, don’t you?

You. Don’t. Have. To. Sell. The. Product.

You get someone else to sell it.

Chances are, no matter what the product or service, unless it’s something so offensive that it should not be sold on any corner of this planet, you can find people who like and/or love it. Find out who they are and ask them why they love and/or like it, and use their reasons.

Yeah I know, I can hear you now: “Oh sure, I have an extra six or ten hours today to call up a dozen total strangers and ask them if they would like to record a testimonial for this stupid product, and then record them, and edit their rambling diatribes into 30 second commercials.”

That’s not what I’m proposing. Instead, call the client and ask them the following questions:

1. “What do your customers like best about… (product or service)?”

2. “What is the most common question your customers have and how do you answer it?”

3. “What do your repeat customers say about your business, compared to your competition?”

Unless the client is a complete nitwit, they should have some good answers for you. Then hit them with this one:

4. “Do you have any endorsements or messages from satisfied customers that I can read or listen to?” (You’d be surprised how many business owners save their complimentary customer emails, social media comments, phone messages, even pen on paper snail mail letters).

Another source of product enthusiasm: the internet (obviously). Look up the product or service being offered. Find rave reviews… get them from another company if you have to… and re-write them for incorporation into your client’s commercial. What are people saying about the product or service? What’s generating the biggest buzz?

This does not mean to use direct quote testimonials in your scripts, or to bring those customers down to your station to record their testimonials… unless the client wants you to use them, and is willing to track down all those customers to get their permission. However, all that customer satisfaction should give you plenty of lines about why the client’s product or service is great. Those lines can easily be re-written by you into a very good sales pitch for the client’s commercial.

For example, I just went on Amazon and noticed a sale on flip-flops. One particular brand had a five-star rating. Why the hell anyone would be so enthusiastic about flip-flops is beyond me. However, take a look at this customer review that was posted:

“I've worn these a couple of times and they seem to be well made. I specifically ordered them for the foam soles, which are comfortable. They have a slight bit of arch support, which I like and need. The thong part that goes between the toes is soft and comfortable as well. The top braided part is soft but holds its shape. The sizing seems to be very exact. They definitely don't fit as loosely as most flip flop style sandals. My feet are neither narrow nor wide and they fit my feet exactly in terms of length and width. I normally wear a size 9. I ordered a size 9. If I wore a 9-1/2 these would be too short.”

From this I can take the following lines for a commercial script:

“The foam soles have better* arch support, important for those who walk a lot, and are very comfortable. The strap and the thong are soft on the skin and they hold their shape well. These sandals are sized exactly right and aren’t loose fitting like other brands.”

*Note: I use the word ‘better’ rather than ‘a slight bit of’ because, let’s face it, most sandals have no arch support at all, so anything is an improvement. Terms like that are subjective and not covered by the FDA, USDA, FCC, or even the YMCA.

So at least we now have something more for a commercial on sandals than just colors and price points. From here, you could easily write a scene of wearing these comfortable sandals on the beach in Cancun or somewhere tropical and, without much strain, you have a nicely compelling commercial script.

Nothing sells a product or service like an enthusiastic customer. They bring a level of genuine believability, because of their experiences with the product or service. This cannot be replicated by any textbook or training video on advertising. You don’t need to make a word-for-word quotation and you certainly don’t have to attribute the original source. Find them and listen to what they have to say. Use their enthusiasm as your starting point and you can write a commercial in whatever form you want from a simple straight read to a multi-voice story script.

Yes, this does take a little more effort for commercial script writing research. But when you’re faced with writing the commercial that you dread because you really don’t like the product or service at all, having some outside enthusiasm can usually crank up inspiration. Or make it easier to get the damned job over with.

This can also be an extraordinarily effective, if not downright handy, technique for those who routinely wind up writing commercials for five different car dealerships in one day. Or any of the other myriad business categories that most radio stations have way too many of on the air to allow for any commercial separation, or distinguishing identifiers (i.e. dating services, restaurant/bars, health clubs, medical professionals, teeth whitening, weight loss, debt reduction, income tax cheating, etc…). Short of hiring a sales staff that can actually find new revenue streams, (is there such a thing?) this might be the best idea to help kick-start a tired campaign.

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