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WHEN AD COPYWRITERS ARE IN DOUBT

How to write a radio commercialAs an advertising copywriter, one of your most important skills is the ability (and willingness) to edit your own work.

If it’s a radio commercial and it contains so many words that it can’t be delivered at a pace that is natural to the dialogue, something’s got to go.

Here’s the test:

“If I delete this (word/phrase/line/paragraph), will the message be any weaker?”

If the answer is “no,” delete that word/phrase/line/paragraph.

How do you know if omitting it would weaken the message? Delete it and listen to the entire spot performed without it.

As we cold-blooded, tough as nails writers have been known to say:

When in Doubt, Cut it Out.

For a good writer, often that means cutting a “good” line: clever or forceful wording that makes an impact.

But does that impact actually make the ad stronger?

I can walk up to you and slap you in the face with a cold fish, which would make an impact on you. But that impact probably wouldn’t increase the likelihood of your purchasing the advertised item.

(Unless, of course, the advertised item is a fish slapping service.)

Less experienced copywriters often are unaware of elements that simply are irrelevant.

Often you’ll find those irrelevant elements at the beginning of the spot.

Ironically, it’s common for those irrelevant elements to have helped you create the entire commercial.

You begin writing, and your first line or first paragraph sets the stage for the rest of the story you want to tell.

For the record: Usually it’s a bad idea for a copywriter to begin the writing process by starting at the beginning of the commercial. When you do that, your first lines determine the direction of the rest of the copy.

It’s smarter, more efficient and more effective to begin with the action you want the targeted listener to take. Once you’ve defined that action, build your story so that it leads inexorably to the Call to Action.

During the writing process, your opening line establishes the foundation of the story you want to tell.

Once it’s done its job — once you’ve written a complete, compelling sales message — often you discover you can remove that foundation and your story stands on its own.

You might envision those opening lines as scaffolding for the message you’re intending to build. When you reach the point where the story stands on its own, the scaffolding no longer is needed.

I often use the copy in Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer as examples of good copywriting.

This week, however, I came across a front page ad that is woefully and misguidedly overwritten.

Here’s the first paragraph. What could you delete without weakening the impact of the sales message?

PEPPERMINT CHOCOLATE BAR

Close your eyes. (Well, read this first; then close your eyes.) Imagine a cool, crisp winter day. Imagine breathing deeply and all your cares disappearing in an instant. This, chocolate-loving friends, is the sensation you will experience when you bite into Trader Joe’s Peppermint Chocolate Bar. It might even be better than your imagination, actually, because it’s chocolate.

You probably found it easy to spot what the writer should have omitted: the first two sentences.

You don’t need “close your eyes.”

You certainly don’t need the amateurish “Well, read this first; then close your eyes.”

If the writer had dumped those first two sentences, the spot would have begun:

“Imagine a cool, crisp winter day. Imagine breathing deeply and all your cares disappearing…”

Do you miss the two deleted sentences? Is the impact of the actual message lessened in any way?

There are more edits that can be made without weakening to the impact of the copy:

“all your cares disappearing in an instant.”

– Ending the sentence on “in an instant” highlights “in an instant,” while the image they’re trying to create is “your cares disappearing.”

– The copy is better off without including “instant.” But if the writer feels that’s important to include, “breathing deeply and all your cares instantly disappearing” would be stronger.

When they end the sentence with “in an instant,” everything stops.

“In an instant” has no natural connection to the “experience” the next line sells, while “cares disappearing” is part of what they’re trying to sell.

Other strong hints that this particular piece of copy was written by someone relatively new to the craft include the use of extraneous words or the misplacement of key words. In a piece of sales copy, there’s no such thing as a “neutral” element. Either it helps the sales message or it gets in its way.

The line “It might even be better than your imagination, actually, because it’s chocolate” is derailed by the placement of “actually.” “Actually” brings that line’s momentum to an abrupt, unnecessary halt.

The second paragraph of the Trader Joe’s ad explains what the Peppermint Chocolate Bar is and how it’s made. Then:

“It would be delightful just like that, with nothing else added. Rather than settle for simply delightful, we went for supercalifragilisticexpialidocious — so, we asked our supplier to hand-decorate each square-ish bar with swirls of white chocolate.”

Julie Andrews Mary Popping

Why the hell is “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” there?

Evoking a film image of Julie Andrews singing interferes with the message they’re trying to deliver.

On the other hand, that paragraph does have a word whose use here I love:

“Square-ish.”

Okay, probably not a real word.

But it helps us more clearly see the item in our mind’s eye, while telling us, “It’s not exactly square…”

That’s an example of the flowing, easy-going language that represents the best of Trader Joe’s print advertising.

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Meaningless Radio AdvertisingI’ve searched and searched, and I can’t find the FTC or FCC regulation requiring all cable TV companies to produce 100% content-free radio advertising.

Listen to this radio commercial, and you’ll see what I mean.


Okay, let’s examine what we just heard.

Meaningless Clichés

It’s a new day. A fresh start.

Oh! I thought today was a rerun. Thanks for the heads up.

Welcome to America’s fastest-growing TV, Internet and voice provider.

So…It’s not America’s most popular TV, Internet and voice provider.

(In fairness, the closest a company could be to “America’s most popular TV, Internet and provider” would be “America’s least hated TV, Internet and provider.)”

“Fastest growing” is a face-saving way of saying, “Not the biggest.”

If I owned a TV/Internet/voice provider company that had one customer yesterday but has two today, mine would be America’s fastest-growing TV, Internet and voice provider. 

Just Plain Meaningless

Redefining what a cable company can be, with promises to make and promises to keep.  

I’m pretty sure that’s what Robert Frost was aiming for in “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

If only he’d had the assistance of whatever advertising agency created this radio slop.

With over 90,000 employees working hard every day to earn your business.

1.  I didn’t realize consumers judge a cable company by its number of it employees.

2.  “And every one of them unavailable at the moment, but your call is important to them so please listen to this delightful music for a few hours.”

Internet speeds fast enough to get you where you want to go instantly.

Really?

Actually, that’s probably true…as long as you don’t slow things down by using some sort of hardware (computer, cable modem, etc.).

What Every Other Cable Company Says, Too

Crystal-clear HD picture and sound

That really sets Spectrum apart from their competitors, who advertise a hard-to-see picture and static-laden sound.

Thousands of on-demand choices

1. …mostly devoted to “real housewives” of thousands of different cities.

2. Of their competitors who offer on-demand programming, how many offer fewer than “thousands”?

Delivered over the most advanced, fiber rich digital network in the nation.

That “fiber rich digital network” certainly differentiates Spectrum apart from its competitors, all of whom apparently still use analog networks and copper wiring.

Gives Two Calls-to-Action

This is a “branding” ad.

Not a very good one, but its goal is to make people realize, “Time-Warner Cable now is Spectrum.”

The desire to get consumers to think of the company as “Spectrum” may or may not be related to the fact that Time-Warner Cable has the lowest customer satisfaction level of any business in America.

Tell people that over and over again, and eventually “Time-Warner Cable” will recede into the consumers’ repository of “Oh, yeah, they were awful” memories.

(Remember MCI? Worldcom? Awful, weren’t they? Now we have good ol’, friendly “Verizon,” which has only happy customers and a shiny bright reputation.)

After 55 seconds of “branding,” why do they give a Call to Action?

Why do they give two Calls to Action (call them or “visit” them online “for more details”)?

    (via telephone) “Hello, Spectrum? Do you really have over 90,000 employees?

  (via online visit) “Okay, I’m here. Where’s that list of the names of their 90,000+ employees?”

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Radio Commercials & “Proprietary Algorithms”

Critique of adio commercial for real estate agencyAlthough many radio copywriters would cringe at the opening line of this commercial, it’s not a bad way to begin the spot:


If you plan on selling or buying your home, listen to this important message.

Unfortunately, that’s the only thing this ad doesn’t do badly.

Did you know Rex sells homes 30% faster and charges only a 1% fee?

Consumer: Well, no. Because I have no idea who “Rex” is, there’s no way I could know how fast Rex sells homes or how much Rex charges.

Rex is revolutionizing real estate to save you tens of thousands of dollars.

No home buyer or seller cares about working with a company that is “revolutionizing real estate.”

“Save you tens of thousands of dollars” is relevant to the targeted consumer; “revolutionizing real estate” is not.

Only 1%. Not the outrageous 6% traditional real estate agents charge.

That could…and should…have been the focus of this radio campaign:

“If you’re buying or selling a home, don’t be ripped off by the outrageous 6% commissions that old-fashioned real estate agencies still try to charge you.”

Instead, however, the ad copy focuses not on the targeted consumer but on…Rex:

“Rex sells…”

“Rex charges…”

“Rex is…”

“Rex uses…”

“Rex does…”

The rest of the commercial copy is such a mess that I won’t continue to dissect it line by line. But….

* Either give a vanity phone number (213-699-4REX) or give a numeric phone number (213-699-4739). Giving both is what expert copywriters refer to as “stupid.”

* In cases such as this, they give the numeric phone number just in case the listener doesn’t understand the vanity number.

Hint: If you think there’s a chance the listener might not understand the vanity number, don’t give the vanity number.

If you tell listeners to call 213-699-4REX, some of them will unsuccessfully try to reach the advertiser by calling 213-699-FourRex.”

If the advertiser insists upon using such a lame vanity number, they need to say: “Call 213-699-4REX. That’s 213-699…the number 4…rex.”

* They give two Calls to Action: Call them on the telephone or go to their website.

A successful radio commercial need to give a single Call to Action.

It’s been proven again and again: Choices suppresses response.

Each time you require prospects to make a decision (should I call them or should I go to their website?), you lose some of them.

* After having already declared, “Today’s home buyers search the Internet,” they suggest that you contact them via that antiquated medium, the telephone.

* They don’t give the consumer any reason either to call the company or to go to their website.

If you’re going to tell them to call, you need to give them a specific reason to do so.

If you want people to go to your website, it needs to be either to get something (e.g., free listing of home sale prices in their neighborhood) or to do something (e.g., fill out this form and receive a confidential, free quote on the precise value of your home).

The radio spot ends with a ridiculously speeded up disclaimer that serves only one practical purpose: to lessen in the listener’s trust in that advertiser.

If the fine print in your offer is too small for people to read, they assume it’s because you don’t want them to know the details of the offer.

If the disclaimer in your radio ad is spoken too quickly for the human ear to decipher, people assume you don’t want them to hear the terms and limitations of the offer.

“But Dan, the Mean Old Government Makes Us Include a Disclaimer.”

1. Not necessarily. You need to include a disclaimer only under specific conditions. The best way to minimize the amount of your commercial time that’s devoted to a disclaimer is to minimize the claims you make that require disclaimers.

2. If you need to include every word of the disclaimer in that particular commercial, make room for it by deleting some of the excess crap that precedes it. For example: No one in the audience cares about your “proprietary algorithms.”

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STUPID RADIO COPYWRITING TREND

Radio Advertising NerdWallet CommercialHere’s yet another example of the Inane Radio Copywriting Gimmick of the 2010’s:

Using analogies to explain a concept the consumer already understands.

 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever compared “squeaky toys” for a dog.

If you didn’t raise your hand, you were excluded from that commercial message.

Did you understand what she was saying after she mentioned comparing restaurants?

At first I thought she was saying, “You compare flights.”

But I wasn’t sure, so I listened to it again.

And again and again.

Via my desktop computer’s speakers; via my laptop’s speakers; via earbuds.

No matter how many times I listened to it, I couldn’t determine for certain what that word was.

I had several friends listen to that spot. After much back-and-forth discussion, the consensus was that she probably was saying “flights.”

Or flies.

Or sides.

Or size.

Or slides.

I’ve flown roughly 3 million miles during the past 30 years. But still I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.

That’s a production problem.

Or, ultimately, a quality control problem. The ad agency didn’t take the time to make sure that people who knew nothing about this advertising campaign could understand all the words…as well as the Core Message of the commercial.

Lots of people rarely, if ever, take airline flights.

When you say to them, “You compare flights,” they respond (assuming they understand you’re saying “flights” and not “flies”), “No, I don’t.”

Those listeners realize that whomever you’re talking to, it’s not them.

The analogy doesn’t even make sense. What do restaurants, flights, and Spike’s squeaky toys have to do with your credit card?

Actually, a connection could be made: You pay for your restaurant meals, airline flights and toys for your pets with a credit card.

You could make that connection, but why would you bother?

That approach is the equivalent of advertising toothpaste by saying:

“You want your car to be clean. You want your dog to be clean. So…Why not make sure your teeth are clean?”

Question for the Copywriter of this Radio Ad

Why did you begin the spot by talking about restaurants, flights and Spike’s squeaky toys?”

The concept of “choosing the best credit card for you” isn’t difficult for the average consumer to understand.

That opening is like saying to a friend:

“You need to provide your automobile with fuel to keep it running. You need to recharge the batteries of your heat seeking attack drone to wreak devastation upon your neighbor’s yard. Well — try to stay with me here — your body needs fuel, too. Where does your body get that fuel? From food. So…You wanna go get a pizza?”

The service NerdWallet offers isn’t about choice; it’s about “the best credit card for me.”

But they don’t mention “best credit card for you” until 19 seconds into the commercial

That’s 1/3 of the spot wasted.

But Wait, There’s Less!

They first mention “best credit card for you” at 19 seconds in.

But what do they mean by “best credit card for you?

Do they mean
    Lowest interest rate?
    Airline or hotel points?
    % cash back on annual purchases?
    Lowest late payment penalties?
    Special relationships with other services (e.g., discounts at restaurants)?
    No additional surcharges on overseas purchases ?
    Or even “most widely accepted”? (Sorry, Discover Card).

They don’t begin to define “best credit card for you” until :24 — after they’ve wasted 40% of their commercial time.

They even believe it’s necessary to illustrate for the radio listener the concept of “fast.”

In addition to needlessly providing us with a metaphor for “fast,” they do it badly.

When you say your website provides the information the visitor wants “…fast,” people instantly get an image in their minds of what “fast” means.

For example, they might envision typing in a few words, clicking on a button and then instantly being shown the best option for them.

When you say “Like we bet it takes longer to brush your teeth fast,” their image changes…probably for the worse.

It’s possible that you find brushing your teeth to be the highlight of your day; when you’re done, you wish it could’ve taken longer.

Unlike you, I find brushing my teeth to be a tedious, annoying, necessary task.

NerdWallet has managed to get me to associate the experience they provide with my annoying experience of brushing my teeth.

We critique movies. We critique debate performances. We critique pitches given on Shark Tank. So why not critique radio commercials?

Are you having an “a-ha” moment?

I didn’t think so.

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CAN RADIO STATION STILL USE MY VOICE?

radio-station-use-of-former-employees-voiceA Loyal Reader Writes:

“Another former radio person and myself are having a discussion about a radio station’s use of our voice after we leave that company. We are both still on commercials that run regularly. She has been gone a year, myself two years. There are no provisions in the employee handbook we were issued about the subject.

“From your experiences do we have any rights to say ‘cease and desist’? Can we invoice them for the voice work or are they totally within their rights to profit of our voices after we leave their employ?”

Dan Replies:

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way.

I’m not a lawyer.

I’m not offering legal advice.

I don’t known nuthin’ ’bout legal stuff.

You got a legal question, ask an attorney.

Okay?

My experience and limited understanding of the law leads me to believe that if you don’t have a contract saying that when you leave their employ, the radio station must stop airing anything that contains your voice…

…you’re out of luck.

Certainly if when you were hired it was understood that your job included voicing commercials and you didn’t have such a “when I leave, you have to stop using my voice” clause, I believe the spots you recorded would be considered a “work for hire”…

…which would mean it’s the property of the radio station.

The only silver lining in this cloud is the heads up it should give to in-demand radio personalities who sign with a new employer or who sign a new contract with their existing employer:

Add a clause to the contract that says any characters, features, contests or other unique elements that you create for your radio show will remain your intellectual property in the event that, for any reason, you leave the station’s employ.

(To see what happens when it doesn’t occur to the talent to require such a clause, see “David Letterman and Larry ‘Bud’ Mellman.'”)

Returning to  your original question:

While you might have a hard time establishing ownership of spots that you voiced anonymously, in your next contract it probably would be an excellent idea to stipulate that if and when you leave the radio station’s employ, the station must immediately cease airing any spots that identify you by name.

But even that has hairs that can be split. For example, what if the client paid extra to have you identify yourself on that spot?

But to answer your directly: In my non-legal opinion which should not be construed as legal advice, I don’t think you’d be successful trying to stop your previous employer from airing commercials that you voiced as a routine part of your job.

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