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To many ad agencies, radio is considered advertising's ugly stepchild. It's not sexy like television and is treated as a necessary evil with little effort put into it. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the listener ends up hearing.
What advertisers and their ad agencies have forgotten is that radio truly is a "theater for the mind". Anything you can dream up can be in a radio spot. Elephants doing the back stroke in your soup? No problem. Landing on planet Neptune and finding the alien of your dreams? Done. Recreating scenes like that on television would cost a fortune for the computer graphics alone, not to mention the animal trainer.
So how do you write a great radio ad? I've written over 2000 in my career and if there's one helpful point I can pass along it's this: Less is more. The less copy you write, the better your radio spot will sound. One of the biggest mistakes made with radio copy is when the client insists on trying to tell the company's entire story within sixty seconds. You've heard them before. The announcer is talking a million miles per hour because they've been given two minutes of copy for a one minute ad, the end result being a verbal assault on your eardrums. Combine that with having to endure five or six of these spots in a row and it's no wonder stations are losing listenership!
Writing humor is another problem. That's because humor in radio requires the timing be perfect, much like the way a standup comedian tells jokes which means even less copy than normal is needed. Plus, and this is very important - it has to be funny. It takes talent and skill to write humor and unfortunately, this has not deterred many from trying. If you're attempting to put humor in your radio copy, try reading it to unbiased ears (not your husband, wife, or parents) first to see if they "get it". If you find yourself having to explain the funny part, it ain't workin!
Another common mistake is when the client feels the need to repeat the phone number a half dozen times. Studies have shown that repeating the phone number over and over again does not guarantee the listener will remember it. All it will probably do is irritate them. Many people listen to radio in their cars and can't write the number down anyway. But the real truth is, most don't hear the number at all. If the number is still a requirement, your best bet is to put it in once or twice towards the end of the spot so it is close to, if not the last thing the listener hears.
The most effective way to get your product or service to stick in the minds of radio listeners is to have a clever message that rises above the others and does so often. As I've stressed in past articles, repetition is your friend. However, remember that the downside to clever radio is that it "burns" quickly. This means that because the ad is clever, people really listen to it which makes the "bit" or spot lose its appeal faster. Many times I've heard a clever ad and the first three or four times I heard it, I chuckled, but the next 12 times it aired I wanted throw my radio out the window. If you're writing clever creative or having it written for you, make sure you've budgeted for at least two different spots that can be rotated within the campaign. This will keep your message fresh while giving you the opportunity to present different features in each spot.
Some radio stations are now selling thirty second spots which is fine if you can get your message across in that limited time frame. However, unless you've been on the radio a long time, I would suggest sticking with the sixty second format for awhile, at least until you feel you've established your brand.
The next time you hear a bad radio commercial remember that writing clever radio is not something everyone can do. It takes skill, imagination and practice but if you get it right, it can be the most effective advertising tool you'll ever use.
Hal Eisenberg is an award winning copywriter, voice over talent and producer, as well as owner of The Eisenberg Agency, a full service advertising agency specializing in creative ads that get results.
Visit his web site at http://www.eisenbergagency.com
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