In a recent article, I provided the three elements that must be included in a radio commercial for it to be considered an influential piece of broadcast advertising. There is a bargeful of elements that must also be avoided, and these will be covered in due course. It should be noted that very, very few spots contain all three. Most spots cover but one element, and even that is, too often, presented poorly.
What used to surprise me that doesn't anymore, is how this information never became part of the curriculum of Radio Programming 101, Radio Creative 101, or Radio Sales 101. While these elements are easy to appreciate once they are presented, they may be more difficult to implement. This is tragic as radio finds itself in a position where it is going to have to continuously demonstrate it is a viable, powerful advertising medium ? far more effective than competing media. "Similar to" won?t cut it.
Meanwhile, the trades are loaded with tips and strategies for doing a better job of selling radio. Most of these are organizational in nature. Some are about how to move a client through the sales process while others are more about personal development and attitude adjustments through mantra babbling and the application "Little Toot" affirmations.
Even as some radio reps (the lucky ones) go out to pitch good ratings and competitive CPPs, and do, indeed, book business, it doesn't seem to occur to them how little they have to sell. If they are aware, they are not saying much. Heads down. Charge forward. Book 'em, Danno. Hope for the best. Still works ? lots of times.
We are, practically and metaphorically influence peddlers. We are supposedly selling our radio stations' abilities to influence a broadcast audience on behalf of our advertisers. That's the goal. That's the mission statement. That's the reason we exist at all. Everything else comes as a result of our being able to do just that. The results we enjoy will be in direct proportions, too.
Here, then, is what is required of a radio commercial before it can reach the potential to have the greatest influence possible on a radio audience:
1. Gain and maintain the attention of the audience.
2. Develop an emotional response or state in the audience.
3. Supply a product, service, or another piece of reasonable behavior on which the audience can follow through.
Now, there is little difficulty in gaining an audience's attention ? even if just momentarily. The simple transition from one broadcast element to another will do that trick, but again, only momentarily. It is at this point the challenges to the writers, producers, and voice talent are presented. This responsibility falls mainly on the crushed shoulders of the belabored creative staff. Even with an interesting opening statement or premise, they will be compelled to be presenting as much content as possible: products, prices, deals, location addresses, statements about urgencies, and "calls to action" to buy something right now "before it's too late."
Some combination of any of those "mind interruptions" will be more than it takes for an audience member to shut down their consciousness right after the opening statement. The hope that unconscious processing will continue is viable, but the mundane, irritating, and insulting process that is ongoing in the spot will usually shut that down as well. Indeed, maintaining an audience's attention is an enormous challenge and responsibility on writers, producers, and performers.
Still, it gets worse. An emotional response or state is required for a broadcast ad to reach its potential. Presumably, the writers and presenters are agreed on exactly what that emotion or state has to be. And yes, I realize this hardly ever is a part of the creative/production process. Audience anger and/or frustration are not in the hierarchy of valued emotions and states.
At that point ? which hardly ever is accessed or arrived at ? the advertiser, their product or service, and a suggestion of a requested behavior can be provided. This is a clear, concise, and solid point. Yes, there are many traps, pits, and other hidden dangers that are continuously crippling writers and presenters, and radio ? anywhere and everywhere ? is likely the best medium to get examples of them. Things are so devastatingly serious out here in the "boons," there are now stories of writers and presenters being brought in to work at their stations in ambulances.
These are the challenges and requirements necessary to produce influential radio advertising. There are no ways around it but one, and that is if the offered deal is so fantastic, continued attention to the whole spot and an emotional response will be guaranteed ? with just one listening!
About whether radio works or not: Our friend, Roy H. Williams, tells the story of the sales rep who approached a client who was a non-believer in radio and offers to put the most outrageous (although money-losing) deal the retailer can provide on the air, and the sale rep will run the announcement of that deal for free. Of course, some who are listening to that station will have trouser accidents on hearing the impossible offer and will respond by jumping to warp speed to get to the location ? with wallets already open. Roy's story, however, is a perfect example of one of those ever-so-rare times when the content ? alone ? is enough to generate the desired emotion or state.
No surprise, then, that clients are reluctant to spend money on advertising deals with the lowest, if any, profit margins. They do it anyway ? and wonder why. It is up to us to be a lot more influential so these folks can also make a living.
Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian Radio since the '60s as a performer, writer and coach and has trained and certified as a personal counsellor. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to Talent and Creative, have yet to be addressed. Check out his website www.voicetalentguy.com.
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