by Andy Capp
It’s really been unbelievable. I’ve always been convinced that I have a face for radio, but I have done a handful of on-camera commercials over the years for KELO Radio’s former sister TV station. This one was a goofy Abbott and Costello take off, a “Who’s on first?” bit for an office supply company. The news guy from our AM and I in bad suits and goofy voices, aping for the camera. A few laughs, a favor for an old friend/new company, and one of TV’s new baseball caps...and that’s about it. Except it wasn’t. It seems that the ad was running on the 10 o’clock strip, during the weathercast, about four weeks ago. It also seems that at that same time, a Creative Director from a rather high profile ad agency in Chicago had just turned on the TV in his hotel room, 218 in the Ramkota Inn here in Sioux Falls. It seems he was on his way back from a vacation, elk hunting in Montana, and a quirk of Mother Nature had left him stranded in our fair city. He had just made the call, “Sorry, I’ll miss THE casting call tomorrow.” Big company, big budget. BIG loss to his company if he didn’t hurry up and find the right talent to be the crazy pitch man for the latest series of ads. Many had auditioned; nobody had quite the right “feel” in the client's mind. The new campaign had begun on shaky ground. Faith in the Creative Director’s company was quickly fading. If he could just find the right person. God, what an ugly suit! These local spots, ugh! Though you know, these guys aren’t bad. If we could find a guy like that one on the right. The energy is right. Yeah, something you’d never see on TV, a face for radio kind of guy! Hey, maybe there’s something here. What station is this?!
The next day I got the call. The Production Manager of KELO TV wanted to talk to me, NOW! Two minutes after the handshake, I had a plane ticket in my hand. Two hours later, the Creative Director and I were winging to Chicago and my audition. (Thank God I had been squirreling away vacation time!) I could make a short story longer, but you’ve probably guessed the ending. That’s right, I’m the new face you’ll soon see in a series of ads for a national chain of burger restaurants.
It’s been an unreal experience. Really! Because everything I’ve told you past the point of our bad little ad running during the newscast has been a lie. There was no Creative Director driving back from a Bambi blasting vacation. We haven’t even had a blizzard to speak of this winter. Unless you happen to tune in “The Big News in KELO-Land” and see our shtick for office furniture, your odds of seeing me on TV are worse than me ever seeing more than a baseball cap for performing in the ad in the first place.
Why the story? Because I’m a liar, a big, fat, bold-faced liar. It’s my job. It’s your job. We are in the business of telling lies, to lure people into the businesses we do work for, to make people listen to our radio stations longer. No way, you say? Not you! Not your radio station!!! Okay, use the phrase, “Truth in Advertising” at a sales meeting some time, and see if you don’t get, at the very least, a roomful of nervous snickers.
Not that we set out to deceive. Intentions are right. Let the world know that the client exists, that they have a product available, and hopefully entice a few people through the door. Simple messages, but in the execution of those messages, in an effort to be “different,” the lying begins.
It might just be a little smoke and mirrors, a loud, flashy spot covering up the fact that “The B-B-B-Biggest (BOOM!!!) baddest selection of HOT CARS,” is at the tiniest, tackiest car lot in town. John Pellegrini called these ads “Digital Erections” in last month’s issue, I’ve always thought of them as “Flips and Shit” spots, just an illusion of grandeur, making the client sound like much more than they are, stretching the truth.
Another exaggeration of facts is the client that constantly promotes the, “Highest quality at the lowest prices.” How can they possibly do that? They can’t. The highest quality has a high price tag to match. That’s how it is. Every consumer knows that. It’s an amazingly obvious whopper, yet clients everywhere keep trotting it out, ad after ad...and we let them.
Then there’s the falsehood of being unreal. It’s putting a microphone in front of a client and making them read a script written by someone who has never been in their business, who got their copy information from some hastily scribbled production order. Putting words in the mouth that really knows the story; that’s what is happening. That’s not to say that a script written by the client isn’t equally artificial. The words put together by a novice, expert in their field or not, ring even less true.
Let’s get real. Let’s throw away the scripts and get down to the truth. The next time the client sits down in front of the microphone, ask them some questions about their business. Why are they in business? Who are their customers and how do they serve them? What is their product? No pre-scripted answers, just the way they really feel.
I’ve been a part of two such experiments in being real in the last month. One was with the owner of a buffet, the other a couple who lived in a retirement community. In both cases, the people spoke with candor and conviction. The buffet owner talked of the “servants heart” that her employees seem to have. No one told her to say it; it’s how she really feels. You could hear it in her voice. In the other session, the husband told me just how seriously the word “community” was taken at the village. The wife spoke excitedly about making new friends and being busier than ever. No one was paying them to say the words; it was how they really feel. You could hear it in their voices. The real thing, real feelings, really ear catching and compelling.
Sometimes we make this harder than it needs to be. I remember my Mother telling me when I was a kid that lying takes so much effort because one lie leads to another to cover the first, then another, and another. The truth is easier and more convincing because...it is the truth.
The truth is out there, honest. Quit snickering and go listen for it.