13 Rules for Writing Radio Ads

Here are some helpful basics to keep in the back of your mind when writing copy. The list is from an N.A.B. publication titled, "Selling Radio Advertising Without Numbers" by Godfrey and Ashley Herweg.

1. Write With Active Verbs: Instead of saying, "Smith's is going to have lower prices during the spring sale," say, "Smith's cuts prices for the spring sale."

2. Use Verbs Sparingly: Change "Smith's is located at..." to "Smith's on Main Street."

3. Don't Use "If": Be definite. Change "If you want a steak" to "Enjoy a steak." An ad that says, "If you're thinking about buying a new car..." is almost as bad as saying, "I don't suppose you would be interested in buying a car...."

4. Avoid Awkward Prepositional Openings: "At Smith's, they have..." should be, "Smith's offers" or "Smith's features."

5. Never Use Pronouns In Place of Sponsors' Names: Some stations have a rule against using a sponsor's name more than three times in thirty seconds. This is nonsense. You're writing good ad copy, not literature.

6. Avoid Negatives: Change "Don't be cold this winter" to "Stay warm this winter."

7. Use The Present Tense: Change "You will be able to choose your favorite color" to "Choose your favorite color."

8. Name Those Colors: "Hundreds to choose from" means nothing. Say, "Choose ruby red, nautical blue, or moss green" -- something imaginable.

9. Use Word Pictures: Stimulate images in the listener's mind. Re-read your copy. Have you developed mental images like, "skiing down powdery-soft, cold, tingly snow?"

10. Avoid Phone Numbers (unless the client insists): When did you last write down a number you heard on the radio? Also, try to avoid numerical street addresses. Use nearby landmarks instead.

11. Avoid Clichés: "Designed with you in mind," "a store full of values," and "something for everyone" say nothing and aren't visually descriptive.

12. Make Ads Credible: Streetwise consumers mentally turn off most advertising. So, don't tell them that something is "unbelievable." They might believe that the offer you're advertising is indeed "unbelievable."

13. Mention the Price: A buying decision is seldom made without first knowing the price. "How much is the item?" is almost always the first question asked by a consumer.


Kevin Sanderson of WKQI/Q95-FM in Detroit offers this tip for improving your mixes.

Too many of us in radio have a tendency to crank up the volume when playing back our production to check the mix. Then, when we hear it later, on the air, in a different listening environment like a car, we find the voice-over is louder than the music, so much so that the music is barely audible. Sometimes the reverse is true. I don't know how many times I've heard the station's processing getting the blame when really, it's the mix that's the problem.

Many monitor systems are not accurate in reproducing sound at high volume. Certain frequencies tend to predominate, usually the low end. And, if you run your headphones too loud, the ear's "natural limiting" tricks you into thinking you have a great mix when you probably don't.

The best way to check your mix is to play your work at a low volume. Using the smaller speakers on your tape deck or even the cue speakers of your board will work great, too. Most people listen to the radio with smaller speakers.

You should be able to hear the music and the voice-over equally well. Neither should be buried. It's a trick the jingle companies have used for years.

Once you've done that, and the mix is fine, then you can crank it, confident that your final dub will sound great on every radio.

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