Successful radio commercials and promos paint pictures in words, and touch the audience emotionally. But how to do it in 60, 30 or even just 15 seconds time?
How to write copy for spots that communicate what your listeners need to remember and need to do? 10 radio copyrighting tips for radio commercials and promos that work for your advertiser or station by combining creativity and effectiveness. From the secrets of visual copyrighting to the insights of audience psychology.
‘Advertisements for expensive cars
Are not about expensive cars’
The underlying action motivator is to achieve or maintain an exclusive lifestyle and status image
1. Choose one core message
Before you begin to write, know what you want to say and why. The most important questions are:
• What’s the target audience of this message?
(Is it aimed at every listener of my station, or only at a specific part of my audience?)
• What’s the main goal of this message?
(Should it, for example, introduce something new, increase overall recall, or trigger immediate response?)
• What’s the key USP of this message?
(Why should the target audience choose this company, brand, product or service over another?)
Having a Unique Selling Proposition is crucial. Make a list of each unique aspect you can think of, and pick the one that stands out (or combine multiple ones into a single one). Because a narrow focus leads to big results (and a broad approach leads to small results), one spot should focus on one message only, that is often the USP. Make every word support the core message. You can let 5 people read your copy, and ask them individually what they think is the single most important thing in this text. Unless all 5 name the same thing you intend to communicate, rewrite your copy and test it with 5 others. Once that works, record your copy with a voiceover, and test that with 5 more people (but just play it to them once). If necessary, re-write, re-record and re-test your demo until it’s perfect.
Call to action, call now, phone icon, Determine one action step
Just as important as communicating one clear USP is having a single call to action. Giving people (too much) options creates ‘analysis paralysis’ and cuts the response dramatically. Instead of saying: ”visit us in Flower Town, call us toll-free at 1-800-FLOWER-SHOP and visit FlowerShop.com”, just choose the one thing that you want your listeners to do today. Why not direct them to your website, where they can find all details?
3. Include powerful action motivators
Advertisements for expensive cars are not about expensive cars. They actually speak to people’s desire to improve or confirm their self-image. There’s a lot of psychology involved to get audiences to do what you want. Most marketers define 7 basic action motivators:
• Anger: ‘Aren’t you frustrated that your money in the bank is worthless? Invest your money here.’
• Exclusivity: ‘Don’t be like everyone else. Show your excellent taste with this exclusive car.’
• Fear: ‘Don’t jeopardize your health. Take this, and make sure you’ll live much longer.’
• Flattery: ‘You deserve to look fantastic and feel great. Treat yourself with this.’
• Greed: ‘Hurry to save 50% on our entire storage. Discount ends Saturday!’
• Guilt: ‘Don’t deny these children what you’re giving yours. Donate now.’
• Salvation: ‘Do you suffer from migraine? This will give you relief.’
Include one in your copy, and your spot will be more effective. Combine several action motivators, and the effect will be even greater: “Are you mad at bankers? They make millions with your money, and give you 1 cent on the dollar. Turn your back on banks, and invest your money wisely. Our new fund guarantees you a 15% return in 5 years! But don’t miss out. This offer ends Friday. Call us now, 1-800…”
‘Humor is a great way to
Add emotion and create rapport
While it easily grabs attention and engages listeners, humor should always support the main message
4. Use a conversational approach
Over the years, audiences have become allergic to anything that even sounds like a commercial. So make sure that your (in-house produced) spots and promos don’t feel like commercial advertising or heavy self-promotion. Instead of mentioning your brand or solution right away, rather have a real conversation with your audience first. Avoid red-flag words like ‘sale’ and typical clichés that turn people off (or turn on their anti-BS mode). Don’t push it. Focus on the listener benefit; not on you and your great product or service. “Don’t talk to me about your grass seed, talk with me about my lawn”, is an often-heard expression among marketers who understand consumers. Your audience will ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ and ‘why should I listen to this?’ whenever a spot comes on, and people’s attention span is short. So communicate a benefit right from the start or use a creative workaround – like an opening that draws them in.
Reflect people’s personal thoughts
Address one person by saying ‘you’ (instead of ‘we’ or ‘us’), and use the same words as your listeners do in everyday conversations. Get inside the mind of your audience to reflect how they think, so you can trigger silent feedback. If they ‘don’t want to be bald at this age’, why not bluntly ask: “Are you afraid to become bald?” in a spot that promotes a hair loss cure. Don’t replace ‘bald’ it by the fancy ‘dilapidated’ or the euphemism ‘hairless’. Tell it like it is.
6. Tell (funny) compelling stories
One of the best ways to create an exciting radio commercial or promo is to engage listeners with humor or storytelling (or both). Facts tell, stories sell. Humor is a great way to add emotion and create rapport, but it should never overrule the message. Otherwise people will share the story with a friend, who will laugh and say: “what was it for?”, after which they go: “uh, I don’t know, but it was funny”. By the way, stories not necessarily need humor. Any compelling story, where people want to hear the end, can work, but some fun certainly can be a big plus. Good spots position the core message in between (or right after) the story.
‘A commercial is not a company website
7. Paint pictures with words
Great commercials and promos are using storytelling on a higher level. Research shows that most people will only do something after having imagined it first, and radio is a theatre of the mind! Visual copywriting helps to engage your listeners and trigger their imagination, so the subject of the spot (like a product) is in their thoughts as a ‘mental picture’. They already see themselves driving that Mercedes! As the human brain is wired to fill gaps between desire and reality, there’s a good chance that one day they will actually buy it (or first think of a Mercedes when it’s time for a new car). Some visual copywriting tips for radio:
• Avoid cliché openings like ‘picture this’ or ‘imagine that’ (and just start with the story instead)
• Name things that people can picture easily, and avoid any abstract words or expressions
• Use active and present tense verbs in the second person (e.g. ‘you can drive this car’)
• Put a noun before its adjectives; not after (e.g. ‘the water is crystal clear and blue’)
A powerful part of visualization is to let people see (how they feel about) the end result of whatever it is you sell or promote. Instead of “WAXY gives you a chance to win 6 first-row tickets to see Lady Gaga in Paris!”, write: “Do you like all your friends to adore you? Listen for a chance to win a trip to Paris for you and 5 friends, where you get eye to eye with Lady Gaga, standing front row at her concert in the City of Light! WAXY is making you the star.”
9. Throw out all waste
It’s nice to win an award for the best-written commercial. It’s better to turn an advertiser into a life-long client (as his campaign is effective). Write to communicate; not to impress. A commercial is also not a website, so leave out that the company is there “since 1973” and avoid addresses and phone numbers that people can’t remember (unless it’s 1-800-FLOWER STORE). Advise your client to have a site with an easy to recall (and easy to spell) address (e.g. Flower Store.com). If you practice ‘less is more’, the more your 15-second spot is to the point or the better you use your 30 or 60 seconds to tell a compelling story that highlights the essential Unique Selling Proposition. Make sure that your spots have a strong beginning and end, as listeners are most likely to remember those two parts.
‘Live a full life and explore many new things’
10. Widen your creative imagination
To create output, you need input. One part is seeing movies, attending concerts and reading magazines to stay in touch with today’s pop culture and current affairs. Another part is living life: getting married, having children and (hopefully not) getting divorced. It’s easy to find inspiration if you live a full life and explore many new things. In Yes Man, Jim Carrey commits himself for a year to just say ‘yes!’ to anything that the universe is offering him; from Korean courses and guitar lessons to a lot more. The advantage of having a wealth of skills and knowledge is that you can easily associate things, and play the ‘what if’ game to make new combinations of basically unrelated existing things. What if Jim saves someone’s life because he understands Korean and plays guitar? This question might have led to that movie scene! You can use the same creativity technique for your radio copyrighting.