My artless radio ad formula for generating sales, leads, and traffic

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:

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.

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7 Responses to “My artless radio ad formula for generating sales, leads, and traffic”

  1. Jay Ehret on February 19th, 2008 3:25 pm

    Dean, you give a good, technical overview here. With radio ads, I think you also need to evoke emotions and create desire. Use of Dan and Chip Heath’s principles of stickiness in Made to Stick would also be helpful.

  2. Dean Rieck on February 19th, 2008 3:35 pm

    Jay: You’re right. All ads need to evoke emotion. I’m just saying ads don’t have to be clever or funny or entertaining. That’s where a lot of radio (and other) ads fail. I’m speaking from experience, not preference.

    I think the goal should be to aim for “interesting” rather than “entertaining.”

  3. Jay Ehret on February 19th, 2008 4:33 pm

    Dean, I agree. Ads try to be entertaining because they don’t have anything interesting to say.

  4. Ted Grigg on February 20th, 2008 10:01 pm

    As with any medium, communicate the benefits. And the strongest benefits provide emotional gratification. That usually means discovering the single, most important benefit. Then zero in on that main selling proposition.

    Tough to do in 150 words or less. But that’s the job.

    Thanks for the perspective on radio. It’s a tremendously powerful DM medium that is often overlooked.


  5. james on May 28th, 2009 12:56 am

    My new Venture into internet radio has shown me that if you don’t do something snappy with computer teck you will loose. Internet radio allows for so much more sound and creative flash that you can’t keep a lister with out it.

    My last ad for a bird hunting service included the sound of a grouse flying from far left to far right. it sounded like the bird was in the room. bird hunters know that sound and remembered that ad.

  6. Mike on April 23rd, 2010 4:16 pm

    You need to find a way to get into someones head and stay there. A tagline or a jingle told over and over again will always work. It can be clever, funny, emotional, or straight forward. If you don’t run the ad enough it won’t work or be remembered. The lack of frequency is what makes a bad ad.

  7. Dean Rieck on April 23rd, 2010 4:22 pm

    I’m talking about direct response radio ads here, not branding ads. With direct response, you can test them over a weekend to see if they work or not.

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