by Jerry Vigil

It has been said the greatest cure for writer's block is a deadline. How true this is. If you write copy for spots, you don't need to be reminded of how time consuming it is to sit there, pen in one hand, head in the other, waiting for an idea to shatter the stillness. Nevertheless, the spot airs tomorrow morning and you're expected to come up with something better than a basic five minute rush job.

If you're a flowing river of creative copy, turn the page--you don't need any help. But if you often find yourself against deadlines, and can't get past the first line of the copy, read on.

Sound effects play an important role in much of today's imaginative radio advertising. The theatre of the mind uses these sounds to manufacture the scene and the action that are the gist of the play (the "play" being the creative element of the spot). Usually, when writing copy for a spot that includes sound effects, the concept for the spot comes first, then the copy, followed by the search for the sound effects you desperately need to make the spot sound as well on tape as it did in your mind.

If you reverse the order of this procedure, an entirely new method of copywriting evolves before your eyes (and ears).

At your disposal, with most sound effects libraries, are hundreds, sometimes thousands of sounds, but you're lucky if you ever use even a hundred of them. Here's a way to put more of them to use, while creating better copy in less time. You've got the copy facts (the typical 2 or 3 lines), now you need the copy. Randomly select a sound effects record or CD, and casually listen to random cuts. Find a sound effect that grabs your attention. What is it? The sound of an egg frying -- and you've got to write a club spot?

Close your eyes for a moment and visualize the scene or the action the sound effect creates in your mind. Is it a kitchen? Is the wife cooking dinner? Is this the part where the guy comes in, turns the burner off, and tells her he's taking her out to dinner, followed by a night on the town? We know the club they'll go to, right?

Okay, let's find another sound effect. This time we drop the needle on the sound of a man coughing up a lung. The client? Well, this time it's a spot for.....a men's clothing store?!!
Eyes closed. Not much to picture here but the guy, so connect him to the client; picture him around clothes. Are they his clothes? Is he looking inside his closet? (The spot opens with 2 or 3 seconds of loud coughing.) Is this a good place for the announcer to say, "Is the dust getting a little thick on your wardrobe?"

One more: The sound effect is that of a car that won't start. The copy is for a record spot. Picture some poor soul trying to start his car. Now add several car horns and put him in a traffic jam. Got the picture? Okay, so the car doesn't start, the man sighs in frustration and gives up. The windows roll up, the horns fade in the background, he turns on the radio, and guess what album is playing? You know what to do with the rest.

Granted, none of these examples are samples of great copy or great ideas, but they are ideas that can come quite quickly, and each is more of a spot than ordinary announcer copy over music. And when it comes to looking for the sound effects, well, you've already got them pulled and ready to go.

The above examples are merely opens for spots; something to get you started. The rest of the copy can be simple announcer script, but now you have an attention grabber at the beginning of the spot, and that's one of the most elementary rules of advertising on radio and television -- Get 'em from the start!

There is no substitute for creative copy that is given time to mature, but at 4pm, when your creative juices have run dry, this method of copywriting can save time, and produce at least something a little different from the ordinary. And if ordinary is what the client is used to getting, something a little different will be a welcome surprise for him.

Disadvantages? Overuse of this type of copy can become predictable. Spots done this way tend to sound alike; sound effect, situation, then copy. Also, it's easy to get carried away. You might find yourself writing funeral home copy that starts with a machine gun blast. The spot, however, would be remembered well.