Unsoiling Radio’s Rep

Look, not all radio advertising stinks. Yes, 98.6% of radio advertising stinks, but let’s give credit to the 1.4% of ultra-compelling work out there that’s changing attitudes and affecting consumer behavior every day. Some would have you believe that radio ads are dead; the ugly corpse of a bygone era when car salesmen shouted into a microphone for 60 seconds with little concern for the quality or strategy of their message. But I believe radio advertising is alive and well. The problem is, the good stuff is buried under such an avalanche of schlock that radio’s rep may be irrevocably tarnished.

The problem isn’t always poor production and amateur talent either. Often, what radio needs is a writer/producer who understands what radio is capable of. Here’s what radio is good at: piquing interest, telling stories, and connecting emotionally. Here’s what radio is not good at: delivering detailed information, expressing complex thoughts, and conveying multiple messages.

Radio is great for a tease — a flavor of what the brand is about. Let’s be honest, even alone in the car, no one is going to take in everything they hear in a radio commercial. What they might take away, however, is a feeling. Radio has the power of music, voice, and nuance and these are key ingredients in the recipe for activating emotions. Maybe the feeling they create is that “this brand is down to earth” or “this brand is funny” or even “this brand is to be respected.” Whatever it is, making that emotional connection can be pivotal in getting your audience to take the next step. The intended takeaway should be “I’d like to know more about this brand,” rather than “I know this company’s address.”

Speaking of which, how about a few things that will immediately move your spot out of the 1.4% and into the 98.6%:

  • The aforementioned address

    Guess what? Nobody is sitting in their car with a pen writing down your address. We can’t even text and drive, so digging out a pen and jotting it down after miraculously committing it to short term memory ain’t gonna happen. If I’m interested I’ll look it up.

    • Cheesy jingles

      I don’t care who says, “at least they remember it.” I remember a lot of things I’d like to forget, and earworm radio jingles are near the top of the list.

      • Amateur dialogue

        Dialogue is really hard to pull off even with talented professionals. As they say on “Jackass,” don’t try this at home.

        • “John or Jane Q. Important Company Person” voicing their own spot.

        Yes we get it, you’re very important. Nobody can stop you if you want to be in your own commercial. Just ask yourself this: would you trust a voice actor to do your job?  If not, you shouldn’t try to do theirs.

        Because radio, at first blush, tends to look like a fairly low-maintenance medium (as opposed to TV), it’s often treated as such. Spots are thrown together with bullet-point information and an “any-announcer-will-do” attitude. But good radio takes time.

        The difference starts with strategy. What do you want to say? What do you want the listener to do? Essentially, what’s your point? And I do mean a singular point (remember that part about multiple messages?)

        Once you figure out what you want to say, then figure out how you want to say it. What’s the tone? Is it an announcer? Is it a regular person? What sort of language supports your message?

        Finally, what elements will you use to make your message come alive? What sorts of voices tell your story most effectively? What potential sounds will help paint the picture? And most importantly, what sort of music will help stir the emotions you want your audience to feel?

        Creating radio isn’t hard. Creating effective radio is. I’m not going to lie to you; if you buy time on a radio station, you can go there and have your spot cut and produced in an hour for free. At best, it will likely be forgettable. At worst, it could make your brand look cheap and unfocused. But here’s the good news — because radio listeners are on schlock overload, writers/producers/clients who treat the process with the time and respect it deserves can end up with a spot that stands out like an oasis in the barren dessert. I’m always relieved to hear a little of that 1.4% and your audience will be too.