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COMMERCIAL COPYWRITING

by Dan O'Day

WE DO NOT SELL ALUMINUM SIDING! If I were to describe an industry that focused all of its energy on making sales - i.e., by sparing no expense in educating its salespeople in all the latest techniques of getting in the door, asking for the order, overcoming objections and closing the sale - but which virtually ignored the quality of the product being sold and which made no real effort to insure that the product actually does what it's supposed to for the customer...you'd probably think of a fly-by-night rip-off business: like the stereotypical aluminum siding salesman.

The aluminum siding salesperson doesn't care about the quality of his product because he doesn't care about the customer and because he's not coming back for a repeat sale.

Radio time salespeople don't sell "time;" they sell commercials. The commercials are marketed as selling tools for the advertiser. If the commercials don't sell for the client, the client is not getting his money's worth and is less likely to reorder.

RADIO NEEDS REPEAT BUSINESS: Radio spot sales is one of the few businesses that depend upon repeat sales but whose practitioners typically believe their job is done when the sale is closed. In most other industries, the salesperson's job isn't completed until the product is successfully delivered. If your station's commercial copy is written by an overworked salesperson who has no training in copywriting -  or a similarly undertrained Copywriter or Continuity Director - how good can you expect your copy (i.e., your product) to be?

Writing radio commercials is neither a science nor an art. It's a craft. The more you learn about your craft and the more you practice it, the better you'll become.

What is a good commercial? It's not one that entertains. It's not one that's "well-produced." It's not one that wins awards. A good commercial is one that sells.What is a commercial that sells? Is it one that mentions the sponsor's name a certain number of times? That specifies a price? That lists the benefits of the product or service? That gives the client's phone a certain number of times?

No. A commercial that sells is a commercial that motivates the listener to act.

SELL THE PROMISE, NOT THE PRODUCT: I don't care if Ed's Toothpaste has been judged the World's Greatest Toothpaste. I want to know if it can keep my teeth cavity-free, my smile gleaming white, and my breath fresh and inviting. I don't care if Ed's Photo Shop has six convenient locations. I want to know if they can develop and print my pictures in an hour and do a great job of it.

Identify a need that will be filled or a problem that will be solved...make the listener aware of that need or problem...and then show the listener how your product or service will fill the need or solve the problem.

FOCUS ON THE LISTENER: Another vital, usually overlooked rule: "Present the information from the listener's point of view, not the advertiser's." The listener doesn't care about the advertiser. The listener cares only about what the advertiser can do to add to the listener's life.

Most radio commercials, however, simply brag about the advertiser: "Ed's Bank has served the Midvale area for 57 years. Ed's Bank is proud of its reputation in the community. Ed's Bank is the largest bank in the entire state."

That kind of "Look How Great We Are" commercial does nothing to command the interest of the listener. And that kind of commercial both wastes the advertiser's money and hurts the radio station.

DANGER: BAD COMMERCIAL AHEAD: A bad radio commercial is dangerous to the radio station - much more dangerous than a bad tv commercial is to a television station or a bad newspaper ad is to a newspaper. If you're reading the paper and your eyes spot a boring, poorly designed, badly executed advertisement, what will you do? You'll turn to the next page. If you're watching tv and a boring commercial appears, what will you do? You'll talk to someone who's watching with you...or leaf through a magazine...or wander into the kitchen to grab a snack.

BUT....If you're listening to the radio and a boring or annoying commercial comes on, what will you do? Either you'll tune out mentally...or - especially if you're listening in your automobile - you'll tune OUT the radio station with the lousy commercial and INTO another, competing station.

Bad newspaper ads and tv spots just fail to sell. Bad radio spots fail to sell AND they drive listeners away!

RADIO: A VISUAL MEDIUM: When it comes to delivering a sales message via commercials, radio is a visual medium. That might sound bizarre to you...or, at the very least, a contradiction in terms. After all, radio obviously is an auditory medium...isn't it?

Yes, the initial connection to the audience is made auditorily, via sound. But for the sales message to have a conscious impact on the listener, that listener almost invariably converts the sounds into mental pictures. It's just this dual modality - auditory and visual - that makes good radio commercials so powerful...or, for that matter, that makes good radio so powerful.

A television commercial is limited to whatever actual images the spot's producers can make appear on your tv set. But the images that your mind can create are limitless in their scope and detail.

A PLEA TO PRODUCTION DIRECTORS: All the gadgets, bells & whistles at your disposal should be used only in service of the overall creative sales effort. Is there a reason to use reverse echo on this spot? Is there a reason to use phasing or to speed up or slow down the vocal pitch?

Flashy tricks and techniques are wonderful when they actually add to the impact of the presentation. Otherwise, they're simply distractions; you're just showing off for the sake of showing off.

Imagine that you're in a Las Vegas casino. As you approach a gambling table, a casino employee picks up a deck of cards. He proceeds to shuffle them with a series of broad flourishes. He dazzles you with his speed & dexterity. Then he puts down the cards and spins the roulette wheel. That card-handling artistry probably would be wonderful at a blackjack table; it would enhance your blackjack-playing experience. But at a roulette table ....Well, the guy's just showing off, wasting your time, and distracting you from the appeal of the roulette wheel.

GOOD COMMERCIALS -  THE RADIO STATION'S SECRET WEAPON: Let's say there are two evenly matched stations in a market, presenting the same musical format. Music, disc jockeys, signal, promotional budget & expertise - neither station has the advantage. Let's further assume that Station "A" produces typical, run-of-the-mill commercials - i.e., boring, noncreative 30 and 60-second spots. The commercials produced by Station "B," however, are fresh, interesting, provocative, entertaining -  in short, people actually enjoy hearing them.

When Station "A" begins a stopset, it is likely to lose far more listeners than Station "B" will with its stopsets. That means higher quarter-hour shares for Station "B." Which should mean higher revenues for Station "B." And larger commissions for Station "B"'s salespeople.

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