A Pocket Guide by Greg Cyanumon, Ph.D.
Partner and Creative Director at ROI Media Direct
I admit it… occasionally during meetings with new clients where everybody and his pet dog is telling you how to write the commercial, I fantasize of using a comment from Don Draper, a character from the TV series Mad Men. During his meeting with the Samsonite Luggage people, who were describing how their luggage was made of this new, very rare element, a mythical substance, the hardest on earth, Draper replied, “Is this a substance much like bullshit?” “ Welcome to the world of creative commercial writing! One part “psychology,” one part “genius” and one part “BS!” “But isn’t that our job… to package BS so it sounds like cake?”
Let me make you a promise. Heck, since we’re all in the ad game, let’s call it a 100%, unconditional — BUT WAIT — I’ll double your order… money-back guarantee (sorry, occupational habit)! Anyway, if you follow and truly apply what you’re about to learn, I promise you’ll be writing winning copy before you know it — copy that will drive results and exceed your clients’ expectations. In short, I’m about to reveal my secrets to writing radio commercials that turn profits.
If you’re like me, the first thing you want to know is: “who is this cat, what are his credentials, and why should I listen to him?” I present the following in the spirit of modesty and self-disclosure: You hear my commercials (and often my voice) all day on the radio and TV. Rush Limbaugh reads commercials I’ve written — as do Howard Stern, Sean Hannity, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, Glenn Beck, and virtually every major radio personality in America. You’ve heard or seen my handiwork dating back to Hooked on Phonics and currently for LifeLock, LegalZoom, 1-800-DENTIST, Regus Office Solutions, and many others. Many radio insiders will tell you that they can pick out a Dr. Cynaumon / ROI Media Direct commercial because they are unique! They are clear, concise, conversational, motivating – and they sell. Now I’m going to teach you how we do it.
My Behind-The-Mic Perspective
I first got interested in commercials while working at radio station KBRT in Los Angeles. I was the afternoon drive time (3:00P – 6:00P) host with a program that revolved around conservative social issues, politics and some psychology. Clearly, this was the turning point in my career, as it applied getting my melon around advertising and why some commercials produced results for my sponsors while others sucked the tailpipe. I saw first-hand just how hit-and-miss the radio advertising business was with a steady stream of sales people trotting potential advertisers into the station for me to schmooze with before going on the air. After a very short time, I could tell you if a new advertiser was bound for success on my show or destined for failure based on two main variables:
1) If the product or service was a good fit for my listeners – whom I knew intimately because I spoke with them for three hours everyday for years, and…
2) How good or bad the commercial copy I was given to read was.
It irked me and seemed ridiculous that advertisers would invest tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in air time only to see the station turn the creative process over to some intern or inexperienced copywriter who didn’t know his butt from a hot rock when it came to writing a good commercial. I quickly learned that this wasn’t unique to my station… bad copy was a cancer heard on virtually all radio stations and networks throughout the US.
The creative insanity didn’t stop there. About once a quarter, the network that employed me would fly all the hosts into their corporate office where they’d dedicate two days to improving our commercial reads. That was the proverbial putting a dress on a pig — it wastes a perfectly good dress and just annoys the pig. The reason so many advertisers came and went wasn’t the way the on-air personalities were reading the copy; it was poorly vetted advertisers and really weak ad copy. It certainly didn’t take a shrink to know this was nuts.
Those early experiences helped me to identify the creative elements that absolutely, positively had to be present to drive a successful advertising campaign. One day, a new sponsor, The Phonics Game — a learning program that teaches children how to read phonetically — contacted me about becoming a sponsor of my show. Since it was such a natural fit with my psychological profession, I asked the station management’s permission to write all their ad copy. They agreed. Look, I don’t want this to sound grandiose or that I was the only human on the planet who could have made this work, but they went profitable day one. I then started writing their ad copy on other radio networks and television and soon after, was offered the VP of Marketing position. I exited radio and took that position. After The Phonics Game sold, I became an executive at Hooked on Phonics as well as a few other companies. Finally, it occurred to me that I should start my own agency, so I joined forces with two friends and amazing partners (Patrick Lennon and Zeus Peleuses) and we started ROI Media Direct. (www.ROImediaDirect.com).
So now that you know a bit more about me, let’s get on with teaching you the creative essentials to writing winning advertising.
Secret #1: Great Copy Starts with Great Insight
Speaking of insight… One of my favorite Donald Draper quotes from Mad Men came when he was talking with Lucky Strike cigarette executives about their competitive advantage in the marketplace. “All I have is a crush-proof box, and four out of five dead people smoked your brand.” Now that is insight!
I mentioned I’m a shrink by both education and training. I hated it. Nobody who is as A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder) as I should think a career sitting quietly in a pastel 12x12 room listening intently for 8 hours a day is a good idea. In retrospect though, the one thing about the psychological field that really helped me the most in my second career in advertising was how it developed my insightfulness.
Webster defines insight as: an understanding of the motivational (lock in on that word) forces behind actions, thoughts, or behavior. And when you bottom line what advertising is really all about… it’s motivating buying — nothing more, but certainly nothing less. All this is to say, the single most important personality trait you will need to master the art of writing winning commercials is — insightfulness.
Insightfulness starts with identification. The first mistake creative types make in their haste to write is that they don’t slow down long enough to visualize and correctly identify their specific consumer. You can’t possibly motivate consumers to consume if you don’t intimately know your target. An example of that is with our ShoeMint.com client. That’s the retail website that offers a personal shopper to suggest the perfect designer shoes to women.
At first pass, you’d think, since pretty much all women wear shoes (except for in certain parts of Arkansas) this should be a piece of cake. But a 20-something female shoe shopper in Los Angeles will respond to different creative messaging than a 40-something in Baltimore and a 30-year-old in Seattle. One-size creative doesn’t fit all any better than one-size shoes fit all women (again, except for in certain parts of Arkansas). You have to identify your primary target and then be insightful enough to know the way that consumer thinks, behaves and buys. And since I hadn’t worn women’s shoes since an isolated episode in college (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it), I had to interview a lot of women about their shoe buying habits in order to become insightful enough to write ShoeMint.com commercials.
Let’s explore the term identify further. I don’t mean identify as in demographic data (female, 25-54, avg. household income of $50K, etc.). Any ad intern can run demographics. When I say identify I mean who is your audience and how do they think? You have to be intuitive and insightful enough to think precisely like and actually become that consumer. You cannot commit a single word to paper until you have immersed yourself into the brain of your target.
Here’s another example. Another one of our clients is LegalZoom.com. This company is led by some of the brightest entrepreneurs I’ve ever met. Their business model was, and still is, hugely ambitious. Their goal is to attract consumers to their website to self-complete legal documents (e.g., Wills, Trusts, Incorporations, etc.) versus visiting an attorney. The way they’ve gone about their business is nothing short of genius. We (ROI Media Direct) started with LegalZoom very early in their launch cycle and have helped to grow them into the multi-million dollar success they are today.
Let’s say it’s your job to write a LegalZoom commercial. Creatively speaking, it would be a mistake to think you are ready to dive into the creative process simply by identifying the target consumer. There’s nothing particularly insightful about knowing adults 25-49 are the primary demo. Insight is immersing yourself in the consumer’s mind and thinking as he or she thinks throughout your creative process. This is where most writers get lazy and try to short-circuit the creative process. They mistakenly believe that simply knowing what you’re selling and to whom you are selling it… is all it takes. Let’s move you beyond that point right now.
With LegalZoom, the process starts by emotionally investing in how potential LegalZoom consumers think. It’s a total mental immersion into the client’s product through the consumer’s mind that allows you to understand and apply the specific words, feelings and emotions that sell. Just as important is that it allows you to avoid those that do not.
Secret #2: Better to Study Those Who Don’t Buy Vs. Those Who Do
A huge mistake made by most agencies and creative types is that they focus their attention and the creative process on their clients’ customers. I’m not suggesting it isn’t important to hear success stories and to know why customers love your clients’ products or services. But what I am saying is: don’t get caught up in the mental masturbatory feel good process of how wonderful the product is and miss the real intelligence to be learned. Bottom line: it’s more valuable to the analytical process to understand why Joe Consumer didn’t buy your client’s product, than it is to know why Jan Consumer did.
In the LegalZoom.com example, I had to identify what prevents potential consumers from shifting their thinking away from going to a traditional attorney to handling their own legal documents – online. The key was to look for specific feelings or emotions that would cause a consumer to think, “Hmmm… I keep hearing about LegalZoom.com, but it’s probably not for me.”
It wasn’t until I spent enough time using the product, interviewing those who did not use the product, and becoming that LegalZoom customer, that I finally understood what stood in the consumer’s path… ANXIETY! Lock onto that word because anxiety plays a major role in many buying decisions.
When it came time to creatively address the consumer’s reluctance to use LegalZoom, I centered on the term send button anxiety. That described that uh-oh feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you hit the send button and then wonder if you botched something up. But in the case of your legal documents, botching it up was a major hurdle to overcome. It’s not like you ordered yellow roses online instead of red roses. Botching-up your family Last Will and Testament or your company’s Incorporation papers could cause real issues down the road. THAT WAS SEND BUTTON ANXIETY!
My creative challenge was figuring out how to neutralize send button anxiety. I started by calling out strong confidence-building elements about LegalZoom’s amazing customer service. We developed creative such as: If, at any point, you have a question about your legal document, just call LegalZoom and speak with a real person who is available to help you 24/7. Without question, that confidence-building message made a huge difference in assuaging send button anxiety. We piggybacked that message with: At no additional cost, a trained expert will check your document for consistencies. That was a winner as well and it reinforced to the smart LegaZoom Principals that a logical next step in their business model would be to offer a FREE attorney consultation. When LegalZoom added their attorney feature, my copy shifted to, “LegalZoom.com is so blessedly simple, over 2 million customers have used them to create their own superb legal documents. But there are times when it would be great to ask an attorney a specific question about your situation. LegalZoom now offers you a FREE consultation with an attorney. Yes, I said FREE!”
The point is, you MUST immerse yourself and become both the consumer who buys and the consumer who does not in order to know how to write compelling creative.
Secret #3: Be Clear About What Your Are Selling
Before you touch a single key on your keyboard, you have to be crystal clear about what it is you are selling. Before you shout duh — you’d be shocked how many really smart writers mess up and lose accounts because they simply were not 100% clear about what they were selling before they tried to sell it.
Case in point: Regus Office Solutions. Regus is one of my favorite clients because they have a brilliant and complex business model. They have multiple products consisting of: short term office leasing, virtual offices, shared offices, and meeting room rentals in 500 cities.
Before we (ROI Media Direct) took over the Regus account, they had a talented creative agency writing their radio and television copy. My opinion only, but the reason I believe the initial Regus copy did not gain enough traction was that it was trying to do too much in each piece of copy.
Think about it this way: a consumer who is interested in moving from his home office to a Regus office is probably not the same consumer who is interested in having an office in New York and Los Angeles. And that consumer is probably not the same person who is interested in a virtual office where a receptionist answers his phones and receives his mail. Nor is that the same consumer who is interested in sharing a Regus office with lots of different people. In short, they’re different consumers each motivated by different selling points.
Somewhere along the way the creative gurus at the agency decided it was a brilliant idea to present as many of the amazing Regus selling features as they could cram into each commercial. The result was a smorgasbord of products that sounded impressive, helped brand Regus as a total solution for all office needs, but it left consumers asking themselves; so what exactly is Regus?
Job one for us was to separate the various Regus products and treat each as its own special business appealing to its own special consumer. That’s what it means to be clear about what you are selling before you start writing. Good?
Secret #4: The Power of Shared Experiences
By now you’re probably getting a hint that Mad Men is one of my favorite programs. Here’s a beautiful piece of scripting that illustrates how powerful shared experiences are when creating commercials. Don Draper, while describing the Kodak Slide Projector engineered with this round wheel on top, said, “This device isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards... it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels — around and around, and back home again, to a place.”
Another aspect of intuitiveness and a term I urge you to get intimate with is shared experiences. The best way to understand the power of shared experiences in creative can be seen in this ad I wrote for a charitable company named GoodShop.com. When GoodShop.com came to ROI Media Direct, they’d tried the following commercial with marginal success:
Goodshop :30 V-1.0
Work a virtual miracle for your church or charity! At GoodShop dot com over 700 of your favorite online stores have teamed up with GoodShop.com to donate a portion of each online purchase you make to YOUR charity. It costs you nothing! Give generously to your church, charity, or school simply by starting at GoodShop.com whenever you shop online. VISIT GoodShop.com that’s GoodShop.com
Admittedly, this is not a bad commercial. It hits the point, drives it home a couple times, and makes it relevant to the listener’s church or charity. It might have worked… but it didn’t. So what was missing? In this case, it just wasn’t powerful enough to bridge the gap between points A and B. Point A is the moment the consumer hears the GoodShop.com commercial. Point B could be some distant moment when the consumer is making an online purchase. Basically, GoodShop.com had to become top of mind to survive. The advertiser could spend tens of thousands of dollars and never truly motivate a behavioral change among consumers’ online habits because the spot just wasn’t powerful enough to bridge that time span. In short… it lacked the power because it did not tap into the consumer’s emotional shared experiences. That hypothesis was substantiated when I interviewed consumers who were aware of GoodShop.com, but somehow failed to put two and two together and start on GoodShop.com’s website when making online purchases.
I retooled the campaign focusing on a central theme. Instead of telling consumers how great GoodShop.com was because you can give to any charity of your choice, we targeted consumers’ strong empathic emotions with specific, emotional tones in each commercial. For instance, in one commercial, we introduced a small child saying, “I’m Laura. I’m 8 and I have Leukemia. Would you good shop for me?” The announcer then came in and gave the basic call to action with Laura in the background looking… well, sad. The end of the commercial brought a happier, smiling Laura, thanking the viewer for remembering HER when buying online. A bit manipulative yes, but effective.
The Shared Experience of LifeLock
Like most creative minds, you’re probably thinking… duh… even the third guy from the left on the evolutionary chart could tap into the shared experiences for a charity like GoodShop.com. You have a point and it is easier, so let’s shift over to LifeLock for a second look at how shared experiences move the needle.
LifeLock is a great story with a tremendous product to help stop identity theft before it happens. When LifeLock burst upon the market, their CEO became famous by appearing on radio and television commercials giving out his social security number. Brilliant marketing! The only drawback was that LifeLock experienced what many entrepreneurial companies experience after an early success. The early adopters (5%-10% of the population) immediately understood the need for the product and purchased it while the rest of America just didn’t quite relate to the CEO’s message. That’s where ROI Media Direct came in.
For LifeLock to penetrate the minds of Joe Average Middle America, they needed to tap into the shared experiences that affect everyday people. To do this, I concentrated my efforts on transforming a crime as abstract as a cyber-criminal somehow stealing and using your credit card online - to something identifiable and real. I centered on a true LifeLock story.
It seems an actual LifeLock member received an alert from LifeLock that someone was trying to purchase five cell phones using her name and credit card number. The phone store told her that, in fact, someone claiming to be her and using her identity succeeded in purchasing five cell phones that were scheduled to be delivered to her home the next Tuesday. This is a common ploy among thieves who ship items to their victims’ homes and then lie in wait for the delivery. Then, they grab the items off the porch.
Introducing this new creative allowed a typical consumer, who didn’t really relate to cyber crime on a personal level, to experience what it feels like when it shows up on your doorstep. Once the victim said, “I signed up for LifeLock to protect my identity… but when thieves showed up at my home, LifeLock may have protected something way more valuable. I can’t imagine what would have happened if my children had opened the door and come face to face with my identity thief. Thanks LifeLock!”
I hope these examples help you to understand the absolute power in tapping into the shared experiences of consumers and how they transform words into memorable emotions.
Secret #5: Clever Don’t Pay the Bills — Results Do!
The next time you find yourself being too cute and clever in hopes of winning a creative award and adoration, picture yourself handing your plaque to the cashier at your local Piggly Wiggly. Now ask yourself, do you want to make a lot of money for your client and your agency by keeping your account on the air… or, do you want to build your ego?
A while back, I visited a major client for whom we handle radio creative and placement. A separate creative shop handles their television creative. What I’m about to share might sound a little harsh and elitist on my part, but I assure you it’s simply the truth.
During a major marketing meeting with multiple company executives present, I sat across the boardroom table from this other agency’s creative director and the senior writer. Look, I’m actually being kind here when I describe these two as pompous Peacocks who strutted around the room while pitching how much time, focus grouping, and creative genius went into the commercials they were about to reveal. Incidentally, the Peacock’s agency was paid about $200,000 to create these TV commercials. (Can you say, “Wow, I’m on the wrong side of this business?”)
When they shared their commercials, my gut reaction was: these are not horrible, but they will NEVER produce results. They’re marginally clever, moderately humorous and they are void of the main selling features that are producing incredible results on radio.
Still, it was not my place to criticize this other shop’s work, so I went into therapist mode — observe and analyze, and shut up. I watched the reactions among the executives who looked at one another for cues and prompts before deciding if they liked the spot. Peacock #1 couldn’t tolerate the silence and started extolling the virtues of the commercials he’d written and how funny and engaging they were and how they would speak to consumers. That’s when the company executives went soft and decided they too liked the spot. Was I the only one who smelled dog poo? Perhaps I tracked it in.
As we were leaving the meeting, the COO took me aside and asked my opinion. Trying to be as sensitive as possible to someone who had just spent a quarter mil for something I didn’t believe had a chance to work, I replied, “Look, I’m not a fan. I don’t believe they will produce results, but there’s no crystal ball and I could be wrong.” What I wanted to say was, “You just flushed your Q1 profits down the pooper… and have a nice day”.
Vindication came in about 30 days when TV results tanked and they abandoned the Peacock’s cutesy, clever creative. The moral of the story: it’s about results for your client. Cute and clever are fine as long as the elements of winning commercials are first and foremost. Check your ego at the door. It’s not about you.
Secret #6: Lead With a Strong Right Hook
“Got a lot of extra stuff laying around the house or garage?”
Hold that thought because it will all make sense in a moment. I’ve conducted informal research that convinces me of a hard fact: you have roughly 7 to 10 seconds to reach through the radio speakers and grab the ears of your consumer. If you can’t do it within that time, say goodbye to your consumers and while you’re waiving, prepare to say adios to your client too. Let me give you an example I used with Public Storage — the company who rents out storage units.
Public Storage was actively branding their products on local radio stations using pretty good copy that started out with: “Got a lot of extra stuff laying around the house or garage?”
Not to be critical, but here’s my problem with that creative. It asks a question and 9 out of 9.5 times, you want to tell consumers what they need to do versus asking them a question in hopes they decide to do what you want of them. In any event, you don’t want consumers thinking too much and you certainly don’t want them tuning you out to ponder your question.
In this case, the writer likely thought he was onto a brilliant strategy. I’ll get Mary thinking about all the extra stuff she has lying around and once she realizes how much she has, she’ll zip on over to her local Public Storage. Nice theory, but consumers’ brains often don’t work that way. Their minds will wander to things like: Hmmm… where did I put my Christmas boxes? I got to get on Bill to clean the garage? Or, I should really donate all that extra stuff lying around.
For my Public Storage spot I opted to utilize the radio station talent (in this case, John Kobylt at KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles) to open the spot with a hook that would grab the ears of listeners. Here’s what we came up with:
“John Kobylt here and finally, I’m getting help for a personal issue. My issue is that I have too much stuff. I’m the mayor of ‘Stuffville’ and I turned to the pros at Public Storage for help!
In this example, I used a paradoxical approach. Instead of asking listeners if they had too much stuff lying around, I hooked their attention by letting them hear something they’ve never heard before — a host sharing that he has a personal issue! In short, this hook demanded attention and compelled listeners to pay attention because they’d never heard anything like this before.
I’ll give you a second example. We have a client that provides mobile health screenings. One of the fine writers in our agency wrote this hook:
This Heartfelt Health Moment is brought to you by the Health Bus. Do you know the symptoms of what is called the ‘Widow-Maker’ heart attack?
The Widow-Maker. Do you know the symptoms of this silent heart attack? This Heartfelt Health Moment is brought to you by the Health Bus.
As you can see, the first hook isn’t bad. But ask yourself; are you more enticed to listen with the BEFORE hook, or the AFTER hook? Remind yourself constantly that the first seven to ten seconds of your commercial is the primary make or break opportunity. Miss it here and you have no chance at reclaiming the listener.
Secret #7: Telling Stories in a Linear Fashion
Commercial writers frequently make the mistake of spewing stats and deals and information to consumers when the same information could be shared through interesting stories.
People want to be entertained and that applies equally to commercials. By entertained, I mean presenting information in a fashion that engages and holds attention and causes people to actually look forward to your next message. When it comes to engaging the audience and holding their attention during radio commercials, very little will trump a radio personality’s personal testimonial. A well-written endorsement that is freshened-up regularly and is delivered with enthusiasm will outperform virtually all other types of radio commercials.
Case in point, 1-800-DENTIST is a great client of ours. They’ve been on the air for some twenty-five years, but when it was time to freshen-up their creative and buying approach, they came to ROI Media Direct. One of the first things we did was move them into radio personality-endorsed commercials. Obviously the radio talent’s endorsement can be powerful, but moreover, it allows us to tell an ongoing story that captures the listener’s attention. I’ll give you an example:
Deb Lawler at WBZ Radio in Boston: Our initial piece of copy was designed to engage the listener with Deb’s story of how she’d let too much time lapse from her last dental visit. In her first spot, she shared how her dentist had retired and how she had so little time to search out a new dentist. She also talked about her anxiety about going to the dentist – much less a new dentist. She then mentioned that she was welcoming a new sponsor to her show and that she would be calling 1-800-DENTIST shortly and would share what she learned with her listeners.
That spot aired for a week and was replaced by Deb relating some details from her call to the client. She praised her 1-800-DENTIST call experience and what incredible customer service they have and how they matched her with her perfect dentist. She then shared that she would be going in for her visit shortly and invited listeners to call 1-800-DENTIST too and to share their experiences.
Subsequent iterations allowed Deb to talk about her great experience with 1-800-DENTIST and how she wished she had called them months earlier. Our goal was to create an ongoing series of entertaining commercials in which the audience would follow and identify with Deb’s experiences. The results were well worth the extra energy and time it took to create these spots. Bottom line… tell an interesting and ongoing story in a fashion that causes consumers to look forward to the next spot.
Secret #8: Change Copy Frequently
I can’t stress this enough! One of the least understood secrets to winning radio creative is that it has to be freshened-up frequently. Case in point; how often have you found yourself turned-off and tuned-out by a commercial you’ve heard so many times that you have a negative visceral reaction to it. As a rule, and this may not make you a happy camper, if you’re buying an aggressive frequency schedule (and you should be on radio) you need to change your creative every four to five weeks – more frequently if you are doing a host-endorsement. Host endorsement spots fall at the top of the commercial break (cluster) and are therefore heard more often. Plus, simply using the host’s voice causes far less tune-out and therefore will fatigue faster.
But…what if your creative is working? What if the creative is still producing results? Why change a winner? Or as Dennis Prager (radio personality) used to say, “Greg, you wouldn’t freshen-up a mint”. The answer, however is: because it is far better to switch creative at the top of the results curve vs. once it starts circling the bowl and your client hits the panic button.
But listen, if you have a piece of creative that is knocking it out of the park, you don’t need to change it 180º to something totally different. Here’s a little secret that will save you a ton of time and keep your results moving in the right direction. Stick with the same theme and major features of the spot that are producing results, but alter the hook. Remember, the first 7-10 seconds of the spot is where you capture or lose the attention of listeners. If listeners subconsciously (or consciously) tune-out because they’ve heard your spot too frequently, adjusting the hook to sound different, but essentially deliver the same message, will freshen-up the spot without risking results.
Secret #9: Me Mindful of Attention Spans… What? Attention Spans.
Not to sound demeaning or that we as advertising practitioners don’t respect consumers because we do, but honestly, trying to capture the ears and focus of a radio audience is like herding cats. As a creative person, you have to remember that the average consumer has the attention span of a gnat on crack. At best, it’s a challenge to get people’s attention. Now factor in that 60-65% of consumers listening to the radio are doing so out-of-home where they are further distracted by driving, bosses, co-workers, cell phones, conversations and alike. Sometimes I marvel that we are able to make advertising on radio work at all, much less as well as it does.
Previously, we discussed the hook and how you have roughly 7-10 seconds to capture the attention of your gnat. After you’ve successfully nabbed their attention, don’t make the mistake of throwing too much at him or all your work will be for naught. Let me illustrate my point with one of our highly successful direct responses clients — Blinds.com.
We were fortunate to acquire this amazing client right at the beginning of their offline launch. The challenge we faced was to differentiate Blinds.com from a myriad of online and offline competitors. They had the big box stores like Lowes and Home Depot as well as thousands of mom and pop neighborhood retailers and other websites, all clambering for consumers. ROI Media Direct took them out into radio with personality endorsements and it worked day one — and I’ll tell you why. We kept the messaging VERY, VERY SIMPLE. The personalities would order their blinds, shades, shutters or draperies… and they’d talk about their experience on the air. This ain’t rocket science. But another blessedly simple phrase caught on early in the campaign: Blinds.com prices CRUSH home improvement store prices on custom blinds, shades, shutters and drapes. Lower than Lowes and Home Depot. Not to oversimplify the stunning magic we creative types perform, but these two elements went into every winning piece of copy for this client. Obviously, the infectious enthusiasm of the radio personality drafted excitement among listeners, but the simple phrasing of crush home improvement store prices, etc. simply told the story. Again, it wasn’t cute or clever… it just worked.
Having one eye on the attention span of your audience also means NOT trying to do or say too much in every piece of copy. Here’s an absolute: Don’t try to hit more than 3 major selling features in any one piece of copy. Studies we’ve conducted indicate the average consumer can’t retain more than three facts in any one commercial, so more is NOT better. For some reason, creative types seem to want to shoehorn as much verbiage into a commercial as they possibly can. They’ll even make the mistake of asking the talent to read the spot faster to get it all in. Stop it! Slow your spot down. Decide on the two or three most critical points you need to make, hit them once and then hit them again!
So how many words should a well-crafted sixty-second commercial contain? It varies, but if I’m writing for Dr. Laura or Howard Stern, I plan on between 165 and 175. If I’m writing for myself, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, the number can reach 180 to 185 before it starts getting too cluttered.
Secret #10: An Ad Without a Call to Action is Pointless
I am unabashedly and unashamedly a direct response tactician. By this I mean that I do not believe in spending one ad dollar unless you have a strong idea that it will return at least two. Direct response advertising is not for the meek. It’s that level of accountability that drives the masses into brand advertising where they get to measure feel good things like overall brand lift and market share. BS! If you can’t track it… don’t spend it. And if it doesn’t return an immediate profit then we’re not the right agency for you. All this brings us to the importance of the call to action.
CTAs create a sense of gravity or urgency on the part of the consumer to act. Whether the CTA in your ad drives consumers to a brick and mortar location, to a website or to pick up the phone to order a product, if you can’t articulate a strong call to action, you aren’t ready to air your commercial. The challenge for most writers is to avoid making the call to action sound as cheesy as most of them sound. I mean, how many times have we all cringed when the announcer says, “But wait! If you call in the next ten minutes, we’ll double your order! Just pay the additional shipping and handling. But I’m still not done!” Honestly, those spots make me taste bile in the back of my throat. The saddest thing is that they still work on TV.
There is, however, a more enlightened approach to writing CTAs that doesn’t demean the consumer or devalue the product. We’ve pioneered some of these techniques with our clients like LegalZoom.com, LifeLock, Regus Offices and 1-800-DENTIST.
Probably the most recognizable and successful method we practice is the use of a promo code. For LegalZoom.com, it simply works when Glenn Beck says: “Hey, when you visit LegalZoom.com, don’t forget to enter BECK in the referral box ‘cause I was able to get you an extra discount.”
With 1-800-DENTIST, who had never used any promo codes or strong CTAs before we took them on, we successfully launched the following: “I asked my friends at 1-800-DENTIST if I could pass along a gift to get you to try them and they said, sure! How about twenty-five dollars in smile bucks! Say you need your teeth cleaned or whitened. Or you need a check-up or to fix that filling! Call 1-800-DENTIST by Sunday the 19th and you’ll get a $25 reimbursement.
With LifeLock, we found that the combination of a discount and a FREE premium is what it took to move the needle.
Call now and mention RADIO for 30 FREE days of LifeLock protection plus a FREE document shredder with your annual enrollment.
With Regus Office Solutions, we found that once we attached this 60-day offer, inquiries and sales increased exponentially:
Call or visit us online, and mention HANNITY, to receive TWO months FREE! Call 1-800-OFFICES. 1-800-OFFICES.
The point is, adding specials and limited time offers to your CTA creates an inducement for consumers to act swiftly. Best of all, they don’t have to sound cheap and sleazy to work.
Secret #11: Felonies, Misdemeanors and Dumb Errors
I’d venture to say that I’ve made every possible mistake there is to make when it comes to writing commercials over the past twenty years. Some were significant mistakes (Felonies), some were smaller (Misdemeanors) and still others were simply dumb errors. Below is a list of mistakes that, if you simply learn them, the results you bring about for your clients will improve significantly.
Felony: 800s and Web Addresses
What’s wrong with the commercial portion below?
Call Unparalleled Loans at 1-800-327-LOAN. If you need a loan fast… it’s our cash… we make the rules. Call us today at 1-800-327-LOAN. We are a licensed lender with an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. Go online at UnparalleledLoans.com or call us at 1-800-327-3857. We’re on your side. We have cash and we can get it to you, generally within 72 hours so call now.
Felony #1. There’s so much wrong with this copy it’s tough to know where to start. First off, besides being basically weak, it’s loaded with technical felonies. For instance, giving a toll free number early in the copy is a common mistake. Here’s a hard and fast rule: don’t ever put phone numbers or web addresses early in copy. They are virtually unmemorable in early positions and they will distract from your copy messaging.
Felony #2. Remember the law of threes. The brain generally needs to hear a number three times in succession in order to remember it. So by separating the toll free number with other selling features, you’ve just defeated your own purpose. Always (always) give your toll free number THREE TIMES IN A ROW!
Felony #3. Okay, what’s the point in having a memorable vanity toll free number (LOAN) if you’re going to skip past the word it spells and give out the corresponding numbers? Some say, “Yeah, but not all phones have letters next to the numbers.” True, but even knuckleheads can remember vanity names over random numbers and if a radio listener can’t retain your phone number’s word long enough to spell it out, he’s probably too dumb to be a viable lead anyway.
Felony #4. The final felony in this copy is that the writer forgot that the very last thing a listener needs to hear is how to reach the company. You can drive home a great phone number three times in a row, but sticking a company slogan or tag or some ego sentence after the toll free numbers sabotages response.
Felony #5. Most of us are the product of public schools. Good luck finding enough consumers who can spell Unparalleled! If your client has a website name that is too difficult to spell, I recommend either leaving it out of the spot or securing an easier name and putting up a referral home page.
Conclusion: It isn’t pretty… it’s not going to win you any writing prizes… and it does nothing to stroke your clients’ egos, but you know what it will do? It will work. This is how the end of this copy should read:
Visit us at The Right Loan.com or call 1-800-327-LOAN. 1-800-327-LOAN. 1-800-327-LOAN.
The Forward Slash Misdemeanor
Tracking is often one of the biggest hurdles to overcome for direct response advertisers. You will literally drive yourself stare at the light bulb on the ceiling crazy trying to source leads. The truth is, you can get close to correct sourcing, but it’s an inexact science.
Visit us at: www.billybobsfishingtackle.com forward slash radio.
Uh… nope. One of the common errors when trying to set up flawless sourcing is to use the dreaded forward slash URL. The truth is, less than 40% of consumers will use the forward slash. The other 60% know that it’s unnecessary and just go to www.billybobsfishingtackle.com.
Disclaiming Dumb Errors
Here’s a little trick I picked up for dealing with disclaimers at the end of a commercial. First of all, some of you think you’ve outsmarted the dreaded disclaimer by sticking it at the front of your commercial – like it’s a disclaimer for the commercial in front of yours. BRILLIANT! Or is it? Actually, our studies show that two really negative things happen when you do this.
1. If you’re the first commercial out of the break, there was no lead-in commercial to blame your disclaimer on. And…
2. Consumers are onto this trick and the tune out is high!
So, what do you do to get your disclaimer in, but not violate the toll free or URL given three times at the end of the commercial rule? You can mitigate the damage by using a different voice at the end of your commercial to read the disclaimer. I’ve found that by switching from the voice that gives the call to action and contact info to a different voice, it doesn’t disrupt the memorization of data as badly.
For more information or to contact Dr. Greg Cynaumon or ROI Media Direct, please contact Justin at: 949-548-2600 or email Dr. Cynaumon at: firstname.lastname@example.org.