I’ve been analyzing and writing a number of radio ads recently, and it occurred to me that the scripts I’m producing are, well … artless.
What I mean is that they’re nothing like the funny, off-the-wall radio spots most radio ad writers go for. In a nutshell, I like to have an announcer read a straightforward pitch, talking directly to the listener. No sound effects. No jokes. No back and forth conversation between friends.
There are good reasons for this. In direct response radio, you usually have 60 seconds. You can’t say much in 60 seconds so you have to get to the point fast and make every word count. And unlike printed ads, you can’t go back and review anything. Your audience either gets it or they don’t. When it’s over it’s over.
Plus, what are people doing when they have the radio on? Just about anything except listening to the radio. Driving down the road. Cleaning the house. Eating in an office cafeteria. Running in the park. It’s nearly always background noise for another activity. So in my opinion, a radio ad isn’t a good place for witty dialog and complex sound effects.
Here’s my advice for writing a basic radio ad:
- Write a simple pitch with the announcer talking to the listener. Nothing is more basic than one person talking to another.
- Write the first sentence as if it were a headline on an ad. Identify a problem or make a dramatic promise.
- Keep the copy simple and direct. No fancy stuff. Get to the point.
- If you’re trying to make a sale, include a guarantee. People have to make a fast decision on whether or not to call, so a strong guarantee is a must.
- If you’re trying to generate leads or inquiries, offer something free. A free brochure, video, information kit, anything. One of the best offers is a free sample.
- If you’re trying to generate traffic to a Web site, you also should offer something free. A report you can download, analysis, trial membership, whatever.
- Give a clear, direct call to action. Repeat the phone number or Web address three to five times. Don’t skimp on the repetition. People often have to remember the number or address. You’re lucky if you can work with a vanity number or easy-to-remember Web address.
- Make the phone number or Web address the LAST thing the announcer says. Don’t put a joke at the end.
- Spike response with a time limit. Simple inertia prevents people from responding even when they want something. A time limit can give them the push they need to respond NOW.
- Edit ruthlessly. Read the script with a stopwatch in hand. Edit some more. I’m good at this because I used to be an announcer and know timing. If you’re not, just count the words. For a 60 second spot, you have about 150 words to work with. For a 30 second spot, you have about 75. Don’t go more than that. Trust me, you won’t like the results if you shovel too many words into an announcer’s mouth.
I have a few other tricks, but this is pretty much it.
Artless? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean it’s not elegant. Radio advertising may be the most elegant of ad media. Even if you’re following a formula.