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Creative Departments Part XXVI


Much has been offered by so many expert sources on the creation, care, and feeding of radio commercials that anything I might add could easily be referred to as Part XXVI. But, since the Romans had such a strange way of writing numbers, I want to avoid having even astute readers go back to using fingers (and toes).

Radio commercials are the least expensive form of advertising being generated at a professional (read: for fees) level. An individual outside of radio -- including a listener -- can be forgiven for wondering how it is that when the only elements that are necessary in a radio commercial are spoken words and maybe some supporting sounds, the majority of the product being offered drives them to distraction.

The value of creativity in radio advertising has been bandied about for years. Unfortunately for all concerned, this has not always been an exercise conducted by people who actually knew about what they spoke. Just as well, as I wont be addressing creativity in this piece. To be candid, I am unconvinced that off-the-wall or entertaining creative is absolutely necessary in all cases or at all times, anyway. Preferred of course. But, not required.

There are other elements and factors to radio commercials that have, so far, gone almost completely unnoticed. They have to do with the implementation and effect of the process we in the trade like to call: Talkin effective English." After all, speaking English is all we have to deliver a message whether it is by a live (perish the thought) on-air presenter or through a prerecorded spot. The degree to which we apply our language is the only determining factor we have for any messages offered on the radio. That is, unless the content is overwhelming in and of itself. Not too many client, station, or jock-offerings are good enough to accomplish that!

There are three regular sources that provide radio commercials: In-house, agency-produced, or client-supplied. Almost none of the people who represent these sources, to my knowledge, have even begun to pay attention to the incredibly powerful benefits of using precise strategies in the application of English that are, and have been, available for decades. Yes, there are many clever and creative individuals slaving over their copy keyboards cranking out the odd, nifty spot. But, for the greater part, its mostly about typing the hype. There are, meanwhile, a few high-end agencies that are, in fact, paying extremely close attention to these matters. However, to engage them is to plop huge wads of cash on their tables. These folks dont even sniff around radio budgets if they dont have to. Most dont have to.

Regular readers already know my position on the ineffective, fraudulent, but universally-held proposition that radio is a direct and, therefore, a one-to-one medium. Yet, there is hardly a spot that goes by that isnt operating on that assumption and its a poisonous assumption that works directly on the minds of our colleagues and our listeners. Like the dead skunk on the side of the highway, the spots stink to high heaven and nobody seems to notice. When they do pick up on an offensive anomaly, they have great difficulty articulating what it is about the commercials that are irritating them, making them cry and, generally, just tickin them off. My rants about radios use of the Second Person (You) are available in previous articles and readers are invited to churn through those for more details.

However, it gets worse. Somewhere along the radio timeline, somebody decided that speakers on the radio, including those in the commercials, had actual authority over the listenership. Actual authority! That is to say, they presumed they were in a position to tell people they didnt know, couldnt see and about whom they had no knowledge whatsoever (if those unspecified people were even listening) to do stuff! Are they crazy!? Working on the premise that anybody on the radio can demand any behavior at all from a listener suggests the speaker is just, as the psychology industry might put it, a stone cold wack-job.

One of the reasons we dont get direct responses from our listeners on these issues might be audience indifference. With the exception of some genuine personalities on the air, it could be said that radio presenters have so little credibility as to be unworthy of any direct communication no matter what they are babbling about. A simple and easy tuning out gets the desired result anyway. That we are constantly telling our listeners what to do is beyond disgusting, it is insulting to them, jeopardizes whatever intelligence we might claim for ourselves, and only makes the speaker out to be the goof-in-question. Listener behavior seems to suggest an attitude of: Let the poor, stupid, sleeping cur just lie there. No point in kicking it and inviting trouble.

Is it really any wonder any mystery at all that we can claim only seven percent of available advertising revenue? Sure, many advertisers get splendid results from using the medium and we need to thank all our lucky stars for that. But, since we refuse to upgrade our methods of jock-presentation and spot-generation, we might be well served to just accept what we get, walk away, and stop bothering people. (This, by the way, is a very pervasive management position anyway.) We are using copywriting and presentation methods that were even dysfunctional when Alan Freed said, Ive got to get a name for this crap! Fortunately, in the early days of radio playing rock n roll, there were no other media that could directly compete.

This is not the first time I have had this discussion and I didnt pull the material out of a rabbit last Tuesday. I have already heard most of the objections many of them rattled off as a panicked and unconsciously produced defense of a strongly and long-held, but unsubstantiated position. When radio-folk are presented with this information, most either want to run away with their hands clasped over their ears or work it out with me in the parking lot.

Some Creative Directors and most agency weenies will claim that all that is being inserted into the spots are Calls To Action." This makes for a quaint but weak and wholly unsatisfactory justification. Even when some poor sod of an announcer is compelled to apply their most affected, superficial, and (allegedly) inviting tonality, they are still telling a listener what to do, where to do it, and to do it right freakin now! Charming? Not. Effective? Hardly.

Those are only two of a substantial number of elements available for writing and presenting the language through an electronic medium much more effectively than we ever have. If I have said it once, I have said it MLXXII times: I believe we really do need to consider getting this part of our act in order. For many of us, the same-ol same ol is not acceptable.

Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian Radio since the '60s as a performer, writer and coach and has trained and certified as a personal counsellor. Ron makes the assertion that the most important communicative aspects of broadcasting, as they relate to Talent and Creative, have yet to be addressed. Check out his website

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