by Mark Margulies
There's a string that connects a lot of the radio ads in this industry that are written with all good intentions, but that fail. And when I say "fail," I mean they fail to meet with the client's expectations, which turns him into a disgruntled client who then swears that radio doesn't work. And that's nonsense because we all know what a truly powerful advertising medium radio really is.
The problem starts when the client comes on the air expecting great things to happen and somehow they don't. And one of the strings which we've noticed that seems to connect these ads is the common idea of "the client wants...." We hear this all the time: "Oh, the client wants this in his ad...," or "Could we add just a few more things? The client would like them in there...." In fact, over the years, we've found "the client wants..." comes in a variety of sizes and colors. Check into some of these and see if there are any oldies but goodies you've had to deal with:
"We're the number one dealer in the region...."
"We're the first one in the area to have this product...."
"We have the friendliest, most knowledgeable sales staff ready to help you at all times...."
"Don't forget, no one has a larger inventory than we do...."
And the list goes on. But the string that ties all these ideas together is an idea that's based in the client's perception of the medium. (NOTE: Time for a small but important digression. We pander to the client because there's the notion that since the client is paying for the spot, he should get everything he wants in the ad. Now, if you just read that and agree with the statement one hundred percent, stop reading here. The rest of this article will make no sense to you.)
Okay, onward. As I've stated, the string is based on the client's perception of our medium. That perception being, in the client's mind, if it is important to THEM, it HAS TO BE important to the listener. And that's one of the most dangerous mistakes anyone can make when writing copy or developing creative for a spot.
The client thinks people listen to every word, every syllable of the ad. That means, when the client starts to determine what's important to include, he continually reminds himself of MORE things that need to be mentioned. After all, as long as the audience is listening that intently, why NOT take a moment to mention parts and selection and service and nice people and the slogan and the owner's names and all the inventory, and it goes on and on and on.
And you can't really blame them. Your station's AE has been filling their heads with those wonderful station numbers, that cume audience that's out there, listening. That's why your client figures it's better to tell them more than to tell them less. There could be a few people they missed by not mentioning certain ideas or items and then they wouldn't be getting their money's worth from the ad.
So what you, creative genius that you are, need to do right here is have a little set-to with the sales staff. It's not a major skull session, just a simple back-to-the-basics talk with your AEs to remind them we are narrowcasters, not broadcasters. We narrowcast to a specific group or demographic. For instance, your station may count heavily on men twenty-five to fifty-four, or women over thirty-five who earn $35,000 a year or more. You narrowcast--that's why advertisers choose you. You have an audience they wish to target, reach and motivate.
Now, within that audience lies the sub-audience, i.e., people who want what your client is selling. That means there are segments who want to buy NOW, and those who are not ready today. There are those who need a new car NOW and those who can wait a week or a month. EVERYONE in your audience isn't shopping for a new refrigerator. EVERYONE is not looking for a crafts store, a gift or a new car. Certain segments are. And you reach those segments by targeting your ads. So the ad needs to be narrowcast, just as the entire radio audience is narrowcast. That means clutter like the "number one dealer in the state" or "the most knowledgeable, friendly staff" or "Don't forget, if you have a question, there's always someone available to answer it" might mean a lot to your client, but NOTHING to your listening audience. Worse, the audience may have just heard in the same stop set how another client ALSO has the "friendliest, most helpful staff" and is "number one in customer sales." Now what happens? The audience is confused and retains nothing. Tune-out occurs. Your client loses. So even though THEY think EVERYONE is listening to every word, what's really happened is they lost even the small share of audience they were hoping to influence. Results? Right. The spot has "failed".
How do you determine whether what the client wants can remain an influential part of the commercial? The litmus test is simple. Will it stand alone to make people respond? Take the piece of information and stand it by itself. Is it enough to influence the audience and make them respond? It's a matter of degree, and that's what helps determine what stays and what goes. Thus, "fifty percent off the sticker price" is important. The "friendliest, most knowledgeable sales staff" is not. And don't forget, some information might work better as a tag or slug line. But if the information can't stand alone, eliminate it. The obvious exception to that rule, of course, is when you run an image spot. And that's a completely different animal altogether.
Remember, YOU are the expert, not the client. YOU must work to determine what's important to the ad and what will affect and motivate the listener. Only then does the client have the best chance at a successful flight and a positive radio experience.