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Radio Copywriters: This is What Real Dialogue Sounds Like

write radio ads effecctivelyThe other day I heard something rare in a radio commercial:

A real person, really talking.

First, the commercial:

The Accomplishment

Sure, the woman (“Mimi”) was coached.

Sure, her audio was heavily edited.

But that spot achieves something few radio advertisements accomplish: Believability + Impact.

Sure, you can record a real person talking about her real experience with the product or service and the audience will recognize it’s “real.”

Your radio station already is airing commercials with “real people,” with an announcer constantly interrupting the story those people are trying to tell.*

(*Yes, we know the producer had to record 30 minutes with each of those people in an effort to find enough bits and pieces to use.)

Although listeners are willing to believe those people are real, they don’t care.

The dialogue isn’t conversational and it doesn’t tell a story.

That’s believability without impact.

How We Know That’s a Real Person Speaking Her Own Words

1) Lines a copywriter is extremely unlikely to have created:

“I’m a pain; I’m a little sister.”

“We always had to stop for cigarettes.”
(Brother:) “Yeah, exactly, it’s true.”


2) Unlike voice actors who are conscious of the need to sound like a real person engaged in a real conversation, “Mimi” wasn’t trying.

She simply talked.

For example…

her perfect delivery of “Get up, first thing, smoke a cigarette. Before lunch, after lunch, another one on the way home, before dinner, after dinner…”


“I remember recently you asking me, like, ‘Did you want to smoke before we go in?’ and I was like, ‘No, I don’t need to.'”

I’m good at writing dialogue.

I couldn’t have written that line.


3) No attempt at “banter.”

The people converse effortlessly, with no conscious attempt to show the audience their familiar, comfortable relationship.


4) A convincing laugh that’s barely noticeable.

“Now that I’m talking about it” — the brother briefly laughs as she continues “— I’m kinda feeling like I’ve lost about 4 hours of every day.”

That laugh shows us it’s real.

It’s difficult to imagine

– a copywriter including “(brother chuckles)” at that spot

– the commercial’s director telling an actor, “Make that cough much smaller, almost invisible; it’s an involuntary unconscious reaction to what your sister is saying.”

– a voice actor playing that moment with such 100% realism.


5) No copywriter would’ve included the brother’s commenting, “I didn’t realize it was that much.”

If that line appeared in an earlier draft, a good copywriter would’ve deleted it because it doesn’t directly move the sales story.

After all, the test I teach advertising copywriters is, “If you delete that line, will it lessen the impact of the sales message? If not, get rid of that line.”

The only reason “I didn’t realize it was that much” is there is that’s what the brother spontaneously said.

Does it strengthen the impact of the sales message?

No. At least, not directly.

But it strengthens the believability of the sales story, which indirectly does strengthen the spot’s impact.


6) No announcer interrupting the story.

The Only Stumbles

The woman stumbles when she segues into the solution she discovered.

She’s at ease when talking about her smoking habit but unsure when introducing the product name.

A Metaphor to Illuminate the Above Sentence

She’s driving down a familiar highway, devoting little conscious thought to the mechanics of making her car do what she wants it to do.

Finally, however, it’s time for her find the exit ramp.

She tightens up.

Her eyes dot back and forth, checking for traffic in parallel lanes, checking her speedometer, checking the odometer.

Her ease has been replaced by a tense alertness.

We hear that tenseness when she refers to the product:

“So I started looking in’an Juul came up” — between “looking” and “Juul” is an awkward, “best we can do” edit.

Probably she actually said something like, “So I started looking into e-cigarettes and Juul came up.”

But Juul doesn’t want to be lumped within the “e-cigarette” category; hence, the edit.

Her directions probably were:

“Just tell us in your own words. How did smoking cigarettes affect your daily life, and how were you able to stop smoking them? When you get to ‘Juul,’ don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t become an announcer. Say the name of the product the way you might tell a friend, ‘I’ve heard that fish oil is supposed to be good for the heart and I figured what the heck…’”

Another “oops” clue can be heard here:

“I decided I needed to find (sloppy edit) an alternative.”

Producer’s Note:

“Sloppy Edit” doesn’t mean “bad edit.”

It means “the best that could be done with the audio the producer was given.”

Few listeners will notice that edit that is so glaring to us radio pros.

It doesn’t hurt the effectiveness of the spot. But you and I heard it, right?

Bonus Kudos

They didn’t speed up the required disclaimer.

That disclaimer is pretty damning, actually:

“Warning — this product contains nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive chemical.”

If they had tried to sneak it in with a speeded up, barely comprehensible delivery, it would have drawn the listener’s attention to the disclaimer:

“What are they trying to sneak past us? What don’t they want us to hear?”

I Am Not Endorsing the Product.

It appears that, compared to cigarettes, Juul is alternative nicotine delivery system.

It’s not a “break the nicotine habit” device.

Like cigarettes, it enables users to inhale carcinogenic fumes.

It’s similar to a product that allows heroin users to to get their fixes without any of those messy needles.

In fact, if Juul is looking for a slogan I’ve got one for them:

“All the harmful effects of cigarettes without the social inconvenience.”

But it's an unusually good radio commercial.

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