By Andy Capp
“We may be willing to tell a story twice, never to hear it more than once.”
Kaiser roll, cheddar cheese, Grey Poupon. Kaiser roll, cheddar cheese, Grey Poupon. Kaiser roll, cheddar cheese, Grey Poupon. Kaiser roll, cheddar cheese, Grey Poupon. Kaiser roll, cheddar cheese, Grey Poupon. Kaiser roll, cheddar cheese, Grey Poupon….
Boring? Monotonous? Yes, and it was also my lunch for about 6 months. Every day, a Kaiser roll, smeared with Grey Poupon and topped with cheddar cheese. Every morning I would mechanically assemble it and plop it in a brown paper bag, where it would wait until lunchtime. Once a week I would dutifully trek to the grocery store and replenish the ingredients. If I had taken the time to notice, I probably even fell into a pattern of eating it: 23 bites, 879 chews, 52 swallows, give or take a burp. This routine would have probably gone on forever if my store of choice hadn’t moved into a bigger and better location. The new outlet featured a new bakery, a new deli, and a resplendent array of choices. Choices were something I hadn’t considered in my noon meal for some time. I mean, instead of a Kaiser roll, I could have whole-wheat rolls, or pumpernickel bread, or even put it in a pita. Instead of cheddar, there was Monterey Jack, or Muenster, or Gouda. Or maybe I should go for meat—roast beef, corned beef, turkey. Hey, maybe both cheese and meat! And to top it off? Well, Grey Poupon. Some things just don’t change, unless…I don’t have a sandwich at all. Look at all of those salad fixings! And the microwaveable pasta dishes! I could try something different every day for a 1,000 lunches and still not have the same thing twice! WOO HOO!
It would be easy to think about what you’ve just read, shake you head, and be concerned for my mental health (and you MIGHT have good cause). The harder thought to consider is the fact that you might have some habits of your own that border on tedious. The same clothes, worn on the same day each week. The same greeting to people at work each morning. The same restaurant every weekend, even though you’re tired of their food. Or, the same types of commercials, produced the same way over and over.
Been there, done that. It always happened to me when I produced something that I got a good response from. Maybe it was the goofy voice. Maybe it was the multiple voices. Maybe it was the “stacked” voice-over…whatever. The point is that somebody, maybe a salesperson or client or DJ, actually noticed the spot and grunted a favorable comment about it. That’s all it took. Suddenly, I would have several clones of the original spot on the air—same sound, different clients. Then, for some odd reason, some of these ads didn’t work, and actually got BAD reviews. Oh, the confusion, the frustration…the truth. What had been novel and creative was now over-done and dull. I’ve called it The Michael Bolton Effect.
So you’re sitting at a 15-station outlet, staring at a mammoth mountain of production orders, and thinking that the odds of being wildly creative and experimental and still getting your work done before the morning show has their first cup of coffee are not good. You may also be certain that the Program Director of your Lite station will never let you “go crazy” on HIS station. And you’re probably sure that YOU haven’t fallen into a rut! Wrong, wrong, wrong. In order to get a ton of work on the air, make it “format sensitive” and finish it with the least amount of unpaid overtime, every producer falls into a pattern, a comfort zone. But just as every station adds new music, new artists to keep the sound fresh, we need to keep adding new ideas and sounds to our commercials and promos to keep up with the evolution of the station. Either that, or commercials do become that invitation to spin the dial that we’ve always dreaded.
Enough preaching; time for some practice. One of the quickest ways I’ve found to start sounding fresh is to use some old ideas in new ways. I call it the Hat Trick—and I keep three of the ugliest hats I own beside my writing desk to use for this technique. First, make a list of types of ads you’ve done, past or present. This can be one voice only, multiple voices, an office setting, stacked lines, reading a bedtime story, a person on the street interview…you get the idea. Cut each one into a separate slip and put them in the first hat. In the second hat go all of the voices that you have available to you—yours, your character voices, the rest of the staff and their multiple voices, including staff members who have never voiced a spot. The third hat is for music styles and sound effects. This could be the most jam-packed hat of all, a 10-gallon cowboy hat may be in order. Now, when a new prod order comes across your desk, grab a slip from each hat and think about how they would fit together for the ad or promo that you need to produce. It’s important to keep an open mind with this approach and not to immediately dismiss any of the elements as not workable. Of course, you may not strike gold with all three, but one or more could turn you in a new direction. Maybe the concept of two people climbing a mountain might work if it’s only one person and the harmonica is being played by the Abominable Snowman, or perhaps the little kid voice could be doing play by play at the symphony rather than the ball game. The only rules here are to be open and unique with what you’ve drawn, as though those were the only elements you have available for this production…unless it screams for something else new that occurs to you while you create.
The Hat Trick came from an Improv game I played in acting class back in college, and it has never failed to provide a new creative puree from the mind’s blender. It’s quick, takes little preparation, and is an easy way to take what you have and make something brand new. In fact, the Hat Trick is so successful, I’ve started another three for my lunches. Let’s see, Kaiser roll, cheddar cheese, Grey Poupon… cool! I haven’t had that in a while!