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The Seller’s Spots Dodge

11-27-2013
   
Chris Lytle, a stellar radio sales-guy and respected fellow blogger, recently provided a piece dealing with the obnoxious clichés that are still rampant in radio spots and that show no signs of being discontinued. I won’t have to repeat them all as they would come as a surprise to no one. What did catch my attention, again, was his inclusion of salespeople writing their own spots!
 
This pervasive practice is just one more piece of evidence that much of the radio industry continues to be running a scam. Given the share of available advertising revenue available, one could make the argument that radio seems to be getting away with the practice. But, at around a 5 percent penetration, it would be in the “just barely” category.
 
Further, if anybody wants to leap out of their socks with the justification that this strategy of having sales-folk crank out the copy is a method of maintaining control over costs, they will have just qualified to win a package of valuable coupons and an insulated box of still-steaming, unspecified, mammalian droppings.
 
Before any already offended salespeople get even more flustered, I agree that many radio sales departments have some very clever and intelligent folks on board. How many, though – and I mean, really – have a background and a significant education in the generation of appealing and effective commercial material? For that matter, how many people in creative departments – that is, those that remain as anything more than a skeleton crew that gets shown off when clients roam the offices – are there that have the requisite experience, education, and history of producing appealing and effective spots?
 
This is inexcusable. It was inexcusable 30 years ago when most stations had some semblance of a creative department or, at least, a space with a couple of desks and a few (mostly) women slaving over their smoking IBM Selectrics. (Younger broadcasters can Google the equipment.) Even then, the clichés were as pervasive, and the requirements on insulted copywriters to obey client demands were as insufferable as they have ever been.
 
Nevertheless, this pathetic exercise of accepting copy from just about anybody, including the client, their office managers, or a station janitor who has, after all, been in-country for awhile, could be described as just this side of criminal behavior -- just this side of fraud and theft. Plus, as in other such circumstances, “ignorance” is no defense.
 
Let us consider, then, how it is that these innocuous clichés remain in so many of the ads that are being written for tomorrow’s run. While only a partial list, we can consider the following:
 
Most clients have very little to offer that would, at any given time, be extraordinarily appealing to an audience of potential consumers. Given the multiplicity of retailers and service-providers, it’s safe to say that many of them are offering similar deals as is the radio advertiser during the time of the campaign.
 
Automotive dealerships are particularly stuck in that their industry requires of all of them to be first-rate and competitive. When a spot for a car-guy reads “Service, Selection and Savings!” it is because the dealership has nothing much else of any unique significance to promote. No dealership is going to advertise their staggeringly gorgeous receptionist, or the one with a great “personality.” It is no wonder that the dealership – expecting there is a direct, uninterrupted line between the hearing of a spot and the closing of a deal – is quick to get the “yell and sell” on the air. This would include the carney-call of “Come on in an’ make your best deal!”
 
The Easy Way Out. There are no spots easier to write than one that is full of content (price/product) and which can be wrapped up with a couple of clichés.
 
Writing terrific spots that are both appealing and effective is no errand for an ill-equipped part-timer. So complex are the intricacies of writing for broadcast that only high-end agencies and far fewer radio stations are currently engaging people who have the necessary knowledge, skills, and yes, talent to move broadcast audiences to action – and not always immediate action, either.
 
Then there is the standard filler “Plenty of free parking.” In some heavily populated, urban areas, this benefit may be the only appealing part of a spot. Here, in Toronto, availability of parking is the first consideration – even if the retailer is selling $10 bills for five bucks apiece. (“If we can’t stop – we can’t shop.”)
 
Here is, what I believe to be, the most staggering part of this discussion. It is that we are having it in the first place. Our model of delivering radio to audiences on behalf of advertisers is so limited as to be almost destitute. As an exciting and appealing advertising companion, we are just a few steps and a couple of showers away from being considered just another homeless person selling pencils from a cup.
 
As providers of dynamic advertising, we are in competition with the kid wearing the goofy costume, waving a sign along the side of the road offering $5 pizzas. We might also add some of the dazzling copy that can be found on the bulletin board – “over to the laundromat.”
 
Our commercial content – and other aspects of our broadcast communications – are so incredibly wanting, insulting, patronizing, and anemic, we in radio can count ourselves as being lucky the cops aren’t banging on our doors. It is not much of a compliment, either, when we walk by and other scam artists step aside and tip their hats.

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 www.voicetalentguy.com




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