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The Danger of the Wrong Story in a Radio Commercial

Radio advertising that paints picturesFirst, let’s listen to this radio commercial…without reading the comments I’ve made beneath it.

In a Radio Spot, the Pictures You Paint in the Listeners’ Minds Are the Only Things They’ll Remember.

The story begins, “I was informed I had to have my heart removed immediately. So the team at Cedars-Sinai gave me a portable heart until a human heart was available to me.”




You had to have your heart removed immediately?

And they gave you a portable heart to use for a while?

If you listened to that spot just once, you don’t remember any of the rest of that radio ad, do you?

That’s because all of the pictures came before the sales copy and the (sigh) two Calls to Action.

Radio advertising isn’t only a matter of painting pictures in the listeners’ minds. It’s a matter of painting the right pictures. Because those pictures are what listeners will remember.

Do You Believe That’s a Real Patient Telling the Story?

Raise your hand if you believe that was a real patient.

Now raise your hand if you believe that was someone pretending to be a real patient.

Just as I thought: Half the readers of this critique think the guy was “real.” The other half thinks it was someone playing a role.

If you’re in the half that think that guy’s not real, here’s why:

He didn’t have a name.

If his words had been, “My name is Bob Levitsky. I’m an accountant in Torrance, California,” we all would have believed him.

Because real people have names.



Radio news departmentA Loyal Reader Writes:

We have a “facilitator” (cost cutter) who apparently wants to centralize newscasts on our group of 8 locally focused radio stations…so, one news reader doing casts for all, and only one local reporter in each location. Potentially a loss of 8 jobs. How do you counter such a view?

Sadly, I have no effective way of countering your cost cutter’s viewpoint.

I know, you’re tempted to try to explain to the “facilitator” how reducing your news staff to a bare minimum delivers less value to the community.

You’re tempted to point out that delivering a less valued product hampers the stations’ abilities to charge premium sponsorship rates.

But you need to keep in mind 2 crucial factors:

1. The facilitator’s job is to cut costs wherever and however he can. He doesn’t care about ratings or revenue, only about cutting costs.

2. This is an inevitable result of consolidation of the marketplace. The whole point of consolidation is to gain access to “economies of scale” — for example, having one person do the news reporting for 8  stations rather 8 people for 8 stations.

It’s the McDonaldsization of Radio.

Its effect on the quality of local broadcast content is to continually drive it downward in an unending quest to keep operating costs as low as possible.

Especially for publicly held companies, the lure of immediate positive effects on the bottom line (“We spent less money last quarter”) trumps the potential for long-term gain via investments in a station’s resources and capabilities.

Result? Far too many radio stations invest too little in its product while simultaneously saying “yes” to any offer that promises quick cash: bad advertising campaigns (occasionally of dubious legality), bad sales promotions that harm the station and alienate listeners, etc.

Do I like it?


But somewhere along the way I’ve learned not to fight battles I’m almost certain to lose.

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radio voiceover email tipsIf you do any kind of email marketing — which includes a voice actor mailing to client base or a radio station mailing to its database — here are two simple yet valuable tips for you.

Unfortunately, the first one is surprisingly difficult for me to adhere to…although I try. I really do try.


WARNING! Do NOT Click Here Unless You Want to See the Voiceover Marketing Class curriculum.

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Radio Commercial CritiqueI hope the International Radio Creative & Production Summit attendee whose spot I critiqued in this video will come forward to identify himself (I do remember it was a he) and receive the public credit he deserves.

I think I know who it was, but I’d rather not rely on my memory.


Radio Commercials with Fake Sincerity

Before we launch into this radio commercial critique, let’s listen to the spot.

While they attempt to combine a sympathetic voice with a gentle music track, none of it works.

That’s the delivery of a voice actor “trying to sound sincere.” It’s not the way real people talk.

As always, there’s a good chance the voice actor was giving the producers exactly what they asked for. So I’m not necessarily criticizing the VO person’s performance.

But obviously they’re trying to sound soothing to listeners who might be in a time of crisis.

What words do they choose to accompany the sympathetic voice and gentle music?

“A cancer diagnosis raises worry and questions.”

Huh? They’re attempting to effect a personal, one-to-one sound, but they choose words that aren’t about a person.

That’s easy to fix:

“When you’re diagnosed as having cancer….”

In their opening line, they define a problem: “Worry and questions.”

The rest of the commercial ignores the “questions” a patient might have. Why do they begin the spot by identifying a problem they don’t offer to solve?

After 10 seconds of vainly attempting to sound concerned and reassuring, the ad reveals its true colors: It’s not about the listener. It’s all about City of Hope.

“Hello, I’m using this sympathetic-sounding voice to brag about how wonderful City of Hope is.”

1. It’s “a treatment facility like no other.”

What does that mean? How is that treatment facility different from all other treatment facilities?

2. In your entire life, has anyone ever uttered to you the phrase, “like no other”?

Even once?

Of course not.

Humans say something like “it’s really different,” while bad copywriters say “like no other.” They’re attempting to simulate a one-to-one conversation by employing language that is unrealistic and unrelatable.

3. “Our team of physicians…all working together in one place…” Is that a Unique Selling Proposition for a hospital? That its physicians all work in the same building? Isn’t that pretty much expected of a hospital?

4.  If you’re told you have cancer, you don’t think, “I’ve got to find a hospital whose clinical trials are used by” other cancer treatment centers. So why do they talk about their clinical trials?

5.  I’m not certain — I invite any Attorneys Specializing in Advertising for Hospitals to chime in — but I suspect the Federal Trade Commission doesn’t allow a hospital to promise “your best chance for survival” unless it can prove it actually does offer a better chance for survival than all other hospitals.

6. You’re told you have cancer. Quick, what publication are you likely to consult in your quest for treatment? Probably not U.S. News and World Report.

7.  City of Hope has been named “one of the nation’s best cancer hospitals.”

Is that one of the 5 best?

One of the 100 best?

If I’m going to put my life in the hands of a hospital based upon its ranking in a general news magazine, rather than “one of the best” I’d prefer to to go with “the best,” if you don’t mind.

8.  At the end of the commercial they give two Calls to Action: call or or to our website.

Choice Paralyzes Response.

Give a single Call to Action.

Which one should you give?

The one that most members of your target audience use to establish their first contact with the hospital.

Here’s a Suggestion for Anyone Who Wants to Produce A “Sincere” Radio Commercial.

Rather than attempting to sound sincere, try being sincere.