Monthly Archives: February 2008

radio advertising

Is it car sickness, or just nauseating radio ads?

radio advertisingKids get car sick. Cleaning vomit from the back seat is part of every parent’s on-going indoctrination. But when adults start getting woozy every time they run a quick errand, you have to wonder about the cause.

Is it car sickness or the constant barrage of bad radio advertising that makes you want to throw up?

Thankfully, the automotive engineers have devised a cure. With steering-wheel mounted audio controls, drivers can change the channel, quite literally, without lifting a finger. So the instant a bad commercial comes on they’re outta there. Before the gag reflex forces them to the side of road.

You’ve heard the commercials I’m talking about. The worst offenders involve a ridiculous, up-beat jingle or dialog between two “real people” who are stiffer than a week-old corpse. In the worst-case scenario, it’s a double whammy of bad dialog with a poorly-produced jingle sandwiched on both ends.

How does this happen? Why do so many radio commercials degenerate into one long string of corporate cliches and yes-man mumbo jumbo?

Radio is potentially the most creative of all your advertising options. There’s a reason it’s called  “theater of the mind.” In a 30-second spot there’s time for character development. Plot lines. Even intrigue. Well-written radio engages the human imagination and entertains while conveying a clear message about the character of your business.

You can be concerned, caring and compassionate. You can be convincing. You can create drama that moves people, or comedy that cracks them up. You can literally make people hungry just by using a few choice words and some sizzling sound effects.

radio advertising agency bend oregonUnfortunately, most companies come off sounding obnoxious, greedy or condescending. Announcers talk about “our friendly and knowledgeable staff. ” Jingle lyrics sing about “qual-i-ty and crafts-man-ship.” And in phony slice-of-life commercials people talk enthusiastically about douches and over-the-counter hemorrhoid medication. Puke alert! People just don’t talk that way, and everyone knows it.

If you want your radio advertising to be more palatable to the listeners — and more profitable for you — you have to do more than just the usual sales spiel set to music. In fact, the most memorable radio campaigns all contain five crucial elements:

1. A smart, coherent strategy.
2. An original idea.
3. Exceptional writing.
4. High production values.
5. Plenty of air time.

Devising a simple but intelligent advertising strategy is the single most important step in the whole process. Unfortunately, it’s also the most widely neglected. The radio stations won’t help with strategy. That’s your job — or your agency’s job. If you want results in the long run, you really need to spend some time thinking it through before you run out and book the air time.

Most advertisers use radio only as a tactical sales tool. But a long-running campaign can be much more than that. It can be a major asset to your business and a constant thorn in the side for your competitors. (You want them thinking, “gee I wish we would have done that.”)

A smart advertising strategy combines a high degree of business discipline with a good dose of imagination. It’s a creative thinking process that few business owners ever take time for and that many people consider pie in the sky… delving into issues like your core values, positioning strategy, brand personality and competitive analysis.

So if strategic thinking is not your strong suit, get some help. Find someone who can guide you through the planning process, help you prioritize your messages and hone-in on the dramatic difference that will resonate with listeners. Insist on a thorough strategy statement that will become the foundation of all your future advertising.

Once you know what to say you can begin thinking about how you’re going to say it. That’s where an original idea is absolutely invaluable.

Radio is great for conveying ideas, but lousy for listing details. People tune out when you start throwing laundry lists of products and services at them. You have to whittle it down to one main idea and then hammer that idea home time after time.

Doug Hall, Founder of the Eureka Ranch says, “articulating your overt benefit is a never-ending journey. You can always do it with greater relevance, interest and excitement. “

What you’re after is one idea that has thousands of possible iterations. Tom Bodett’s timeless, down-home humor for Motel 6. The Great American Hero series for Bud Light. Orkin’s authoritative announcer for their product that “kicks fire ant butt.” “Pizza Pizza” for Little Ceasar’s. These are big ideas that have produced big results over the long haul.

radio advertising agencyThere have been many copywriters on the Motel 6 account, but the campaign stays fresh because the idea is consistent, the character is well developed and the writing is sharp. Which brings us to the third major component of great radio advertising.

Every word has to be written with an ear for alliteration. You have to hear it. You have to sound it out. Then you have to edit mercilessly. Dialog should flow naturally, as if from the lips of a real person, not some cheap pitchman. It should be quick. Snappy. And smart.

Easier said than done. Some of the finest fiction writers in the world have trouble writing believable dialog. In Hollywood the problem is pronounced. The major movie studios employ writers who do nothing but re-work the dialog on existing scripts. And even then, there is a lot of really lousy dialog that gets through. It takes a special ear. Just because you got A’s in English class back in college doesn’t mean you can write a good script.

Of course a good script, an original idea and a brilliant strategy won’t get you anywhere if you cut too many corners on production. All the radio stations offer free production services. The sales rep will write you a script and the station’s producer will record the voice-over, add sound effects, drop in a music bed, do a mix, and cut the necessary dubs. The problem is, the producer might have as many as 40 spots to complete in a weekend, and after a while they all start sounding the same.

For instance, finding good voice talent is always a challenge. There are plenty of people on the radio with great voices who can’t act worth a hoot. And that’s what we’re really talking about here. Acting.

We can produce radio spots here in Bend, Oregon while using actors in London. So you don’t have to settle for a local DJ who’s also doing spots for a used car dealer. Keep in mind, your talent is the audio personification of your company. He or she better be able to convey genuine emotion using just the vocal chords. He better be ready to capture the flavor and the inflection of a well-written script without going through thirty different takes. Otherwise, even the most talented audio engineer with all the latest sound enhancement software won’t be able to save it.

The last piece of the puzzle is reach and frequency. That is, how often are your spots running and how many people are listening. (Without getting ill.)

The most common mistake is spreading your budget way too thin across too many different stations. Inc. Magazine recently published some good guidelines for this. “You should be buying more frequently over two weeks instead of spreading it out over a month, and buying 30 spots on two stations instead of 18 spots on three.”

A rough rule of thumb is that listeners need to hear an engaging ad at least three times a week before it starts to break through the clutter. Believe it or not, if your spots are well done you’ll get sick of them a lot faster than the general public will. So resist the temptation to change. Stick with it until the airwaves are saturated.

Radio is a wonderful, cost-effective medium. (Contrary to internet rumor mill, it’s not dying.) When all five elements come together in a 60-second spot it can be pure magic. Remember, you’re looking for solid strategy, an original idea, concise writing, strong production values and plenty of air time. Even four out of five would be nice. But when several of those elements are missing, there’s a good chance your ads will just be turning stomachs. And ultimately, it’s your responsibility as an advertiser to keep that from happening.

Need better radio ads and better results? Contact me. 

Want to learn more about how to devise effective messages for your radio advertising? Try this post.

1 Absolutely better brand differentiation.

What you can learn from a good, strong shot of Vodka.

The first rule of advertising is this: Never take the same approach as your closest competitors. If you want to differentiate your brand, you have to think “different.”  Contrarian even.

”Here’s how:

• Even if you’re selling the same thing, don’t make the same claim. There are hundreds of different ways to sell the benefits of your product or service, so find one that’s different than your competitors. That often comes down to one thing: Listening. The better you are at listening to consumers, the easier it’ll be to differentiate your brand.

• Don’t let your ads look or sound anything like competing ads. Use a different layout, different type style, different size and different idea. The last thing you want to do is run an ad that can be mistaken, at a glance, for a competitor’s ad. If all the companies in your category take a humorous approach to advertising, do something more serious. Find a hook that’s based on a real need of your target audience, and speak to that. Zig when the competition is zagging.

• If you’re on the radio, don’t use the same voice talent or similar sounding music. Find someone different to do the voice work, rather than a DJ who does a dozen new spots a week for other companies in your market. Same thing for tv spots. (This is an easy trap to fall into if you live and work in a small market… there’s not enough “talent” to go around.)

Unfortunately, every industry seems to have its own unwritten rules that contradict the rules of advertising.

These industry conventions aren’t based on any sort of market research or strategic insight. They’re not even common sense. Everyone just goes along because “that’s how it’s always been done.”

The problem is, if that’s how it has always been done, that’s also how everyone else is doing it. In fact, some of these industry conventions are so overused they’ve become cultural cliches.

The rule in the pizza business says you have to use the “pull shot:” A slow-motion close-up of a slice of pizza being pulled off the pie, with cheese oozing off it. In the automotive industry, conventional thinking says you have to show your car on a scenic, winding road. Or off the scenic winding road if it’s an SUV. In the beer business, it’s a slow motion close up of a glass of beer being poured.

These are the images that everyone expects. They are the path of least resistance for marketing managers. But if you go down that road, and follow your industry conventions, your advertising will never perform as well as you’d like. In fact, history has proven you have to break the rules in order to succeed.

Just one execution in the long-running Absolut campaign.

Absolute Vodka is a perfect example. In 1980 it was a brand without a future. All the market research pointed to a complete failure. The bottle was weird looking. It was hard to pour. It was Scandinavian, not Russian. It was way too expensive. It was a me-too product in the premium vodka category.

But the owner of Carillon Imports didn’t care. He believed his product was just different enough… That all he needed was the right ad campaign.

So he threw out all the old conventions of his business and committed to a campaign that was completely different than anything else in his industry. And he didn’t just test the water, he came out with all his guns blazing.

Needless to say, it worked. The “Absolute Perfection” campaign — which is still running today — gave a tasteless, odorless drink a distinctively hip personality and transformed a commodity product into a cultural icon. In a decade where alcohol consumption dropped, Absolute sales went from 12,000 cases a year to 2.7 million. And it’s still the leading brand of Vodka in the country.

The moral of the story is this: When you choose to follow convention, you choose invisibility. To gain attention disrupt convention.

Instead of worrying about what everyone else has done, focus on what you could be doing Take the self-imposed rule book and throw it away. Do something different. Anything! This is especially important for service companies that are difficult to differentiate from the competition.

Take real estate agents for example. Realtors are, in essence, me-too products. In Bend, Oregon they’re a commodity. Even if a realtor has a specialty there are at least 100 other people who could do the same thing. For the same fee. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, even though there’s no difference in price and no discernable difference in service, you could still create a major difference in perception. If you’re willing to think different.

Like Absolute Vodka, a unique approach to your advertising is the one thing that can set you apart from every other competitor. Advertising is the most powerful weapon you have, simply because no one else is doing it. At least not very well.

But putting your picture in an ad won’t do it. That’s the conventional approach.

Remember rule number one and run advertising that says something. Find a message that demonstrates how well you understand your customers or the market. Run a campaign that conveys your individual identity without showing the clichéd, 20 year old head shot. Do what the owner of Absolut did. Find an approach that is uniquely yours, and stick with it no matter what everyone in your industry says. Over the long haul, the awareness you’ve generated will translate into sales. Next thing you know everyone else will be scrambling to copy what you’re doing.

Eventually your campaign just might become a new industry convention.

One of the worst words in marketing: “Huh?”

I am not a stupid person. I can connect the dots pretty well when it comes to concepts, ideas and images used in commercials or print ads. In fact, I bet I’m a lot better at it than the typical Superbowl fan.

And yet, as I watch commercials or read print ads, I  often find myself scratching my head saying “HUH?” What was the meaning of that?

What were they really trying to say?

What are they thinking?

That doesn’t make sense. Why should I care?

Here’s a good example from Sunday’s superbowl telecast… The Godfather spot for the new Audi R8. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_sshN-URJY]

Normally I wouldn’t waste my breath critiquing the commercials that debut during the game, but this one really got me because it’s a brand I adore. I’ve owned three different Audis now, and I love ‘em. Especially this time of year when the roads are slushy by day and icy by night. audiusa.com

But I digress. We’re talking about advertising that makes you go huh, not sports cars that make you go wow.

Some credit to Venables Bell & Partners of San Francisco for breaking away from the usual automotive cliches.  The spot in question is a take-off on the most famous scene from The Godfather, circa 1975. The slow-paced set-up gets your attention right away. And I’ve heard that Godfather fans recognize it immediately… dramatic music with an exterior shot of a gigantic Italian mansion.

Cut to a creepy old guy asleep in bed. He wakes up, pulls the sheets back and reveals, horror of all horrors, the front end of an unrecognizable car. His screaming is really, quite disturbing. Then, finally, they cut to a shot of the R8 zooming out of the driveway.

The tag says, “old luxury just got put on notice.”

HUH?????

I had to watch this spot three more times before I could identify the front end of the car as a Rolls. And the old man is covered in oil instead of blood. Talk about over the top.

In the advertising business that technique is called borrowed interest. Usually it’s reserved for me-too products in categories with low involvement and little inherent interest. Like non-aspirin pain relievers or feminine hygiene products. You have “borrow” interest from something that people will relate to.

But that’s definitely not the case here. Have you seen the R8??? It’s the coolest, meanest looking new car in years. Who needs to borrow an old movie scene to advertise such a great product? Couldn’t the creative team find any inspiration in the R8 itself?

And why, may I ask, is Audi positioning the R8 against an old Rolls Royce? The R8’s a sports car more comparable to a Lamborgini than a Rolls. Not exactly apples-to-apples.

I doubt I’m the only person who’s confused by Audi’s approach. And that’s my point…  why sacrifice clarity for an elaborate spin-off that leaves people feeling completely clueless? Nobody’s going to spend time figuring out the message like I did.

Besides, if I worked for Audi I’d want people talking about the car, not the commercial.

It seems like the R8 spot was conceived with no clearly defined message in mind. Like they said, “hey, let’s spend four million dollars and introduce the R8 at the Superbowl this year. Wouldn’t that be cool.”

Nobody took the time to figure out the strategic intent of the spot before the creative team sat down. In other words, Audi didn’t know what they wanted to say besides “introducing the new R8.”

Was it really their intent to scare Rolls Royce and Mercedes? I can’t imagine. Maybe someone thought the car was a little over the top, so they did a commercial to match. Who knows?

Chances are, you don’t have 5 million dollars earmarked for one, single commercial. But if you did, wouldn’t you want to avoid confusing people?  Wouldn’t you want the best ROI you could possibly get?  If so, then make sure your marketing messages have these three things covered: Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation.

There are thousands of ways you could tell your brand’s story, but the trick is to make your message relevant to the specific group of people you’re targeting at that particular time and place. Is the Godfather really relevant to football fans who’d seriously consider an Audi R8? Will that movie reference resonate more than the car itself?

That’s the trouble with borrowed interest. Super low relevance.

The second thing is credibility. Consumers these days are highly skeptical of any commercial pitch, and a claim that leaves them scratching their head will never pass the credibility test. Confusion’s never credible.

Finally, good old-fashioned differentiation.  I have to admit, the four-second shot of the R8 at the end of the Godfather spot is enough to differentiate it from any other car on the road. All the rest of it’s just Superbowl egomarketing nonsense.

Before you place your next ad, be sure to do the “Huh” test. Listen carefully to the feedback and if a lot of people come away saying “Huh, I didn’t get it,” then you need to rethink the ad. There are plenty of great, creative ideas that won’t leave people utterly confused.

But do your ad agency a favor and get that feedback early in the process.  Before you film anything and blow the production budget. And trust your instincts… if it feels confusing to you, it’s almost guaranteed to be confusing to people who aren’t as familiar with your product or service.

And while you’re at it, also do the “Duh” test. You don’t want that reaction either. It’s never a good idea to make your target audience feel like idiots.