How to Write an Effective Radio Commercial

If you are a local radio advertiser and you depend on a radio station sales rep to create your radio copy and ad campaigns, you are most likely getting ineffective results from your advertising dollar.

I have been involved in local radio advertising for nearly 30 years, or all of my adult life. There is a constant in the radio sales area and that is that a radio salesperson is really more concerned about his or her next order than getting you effective results from yours. Most of the time a salesperson has no real experience in writing effective copy. Most of them dislike the task and consider it a chore. You might be surprised to know that most radio properties don’t feel the need to have a full time copy writer on staff. So it is up to the sales rep to put something together for you. They’ll sit down and start writing until they’ve come up with the requisite number of words but with no real concept. The copy tends to be full of superlatives like “for the best inâÂ?¦” and “for all your (insert product here) needsâÂ?¦.” Other favorites areâÂ?¦ “the best service at the lowest price with the most knowledgeable sales people.” What are they really saying? The truth is, almost nothing.

For many years I was in the position of trying to help these people help their clients by coming up with more effective copy. I was a radio Production Director. During that time, I developed somewhat of a formula for an effective radio ad. One of the battles you face is the ignorance of the average local advertiser. They want to fill their spots with a laundry list of what we call in the bizâÂ?¦ “price and item.” Any good advertising expert will tell you that laundry lists don’t work. At best the listener will hear only the first and last item on the list, and they won’t retain it. Another waste of air time is phone numbers. Most local advertisers are so conditioned by print advertising that they think radio works the same way. It doesn’t… They try arcane methods like “radio coupons” to try and track the effectiveness of the campaign. “Radio coupons” simply don’t work. What these business owners fail to realize is that radio is all about “impressions” and “saturation.”

A good radio ad delivers a simple repetitive message. As much as radio people would like to believe that listeners are hanging on every word, they’re not. It’s is a message in the background, almost subliminal. The message has to be strong and simple. If you listen to national radio advertisers and how they do it, you’ll start to pick up on this concept. The best example I can give you of this is a radio ad Sears ran many years ago for Die Hard batteries. It was simply the sound of a car attempting to start. The starter would crank but no ignition. With each successive try the starter would crank for a shorter period of time until finally all you heard was a click. Then an announcer said simplyâÂ?¦ “Die Hard batteries, available at Sears.” This is the kind of radio ad that works. It’s relatable and it’s simple.

So, for local advertisers, I would come up with a concept. I would develop the concept in the first thirty seconds of a sixty second spot and then to appease the print ad minded advertiser, give him twenty seconds of details. Then for the last ten seconds of the ad, I would reprise back to the concept. This way I had a chance to make an effective ad and still give the advertiser his say.

With phone numbers in radio spots, they simply don’t work unless the whole focus of the spot is the phone number. For instance, a local Pizza chain a few years back put in a single number to call for all their locations to order Pizza for any location around the city. Naturally they wanted to promote this phone number. So, they had a jingle produced that simply saidâÂ?¦ “Call 895-1111, 895-1111, Call 895-1111 for Pizza Hut delivery.” That is all it said, over and over to a musical melody. Of course this was widely successful. A simple repetitive message and the catchiness of a jingle so it gets “stuck in your head.” Just an announcer repeating the phone number three times at the end of a laundry list simply doesn’t work.

Another good tip is when you give an address for a business… instead of just saying “at 333 Third Street,” you can say something like “at Third and Main across from City Hall.” It’s all about landmarks. Give them a point of reference.

In some ways, radio advertising should be handled much like Internet pay-per-click keyword advertising. Instead of broad terms about a broad range of products, pick one product to promote at a time. Get them in the store with a good deal whether they buy or not. Create “foot traffic.” It leads to sales.

Another common spot template that is ineffective is what we call in the industry a “hey honey I’m home spot” or “dialogue spot.” This is where there is an inane conversation going on between two bad actors that are talking in ways that no one does. Very stilted and filled with phone numbers and details. At best you will get attention with these spots only due to how bad they are as people laugh at your business.

In radio, it is important to use sound. Sound is the medium. You can use effective sound effects as in the Sears Die Hard spot or you can use “dry” text to stand out among all the noise. Just make the dry text slow, deliberate and powerful, and with a very simple message. I remember one many years ago like this for an acne product that said in a deep voice with no music or other soundâÂ?¦ “a few more cents, a few less zits.” Very powerful.

I hope I’ve given you some insight into the subject of being creative with you radio spots. Look around you, notice what gets people excited about your product and find a simple message to get you noticed and then keep repeating it over an over. Be consistent.

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