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Ron Robinson

The Precision Decision


It was an extraordinarily beautiful thing almost fragrant. And, like so many other beautiful things, it was also extremely rare. I had been called in to voice a TV spot for a national advertiser. I was being shown the video and the music track was in my cans. The producer then said, Voice it however you think it might work. I had to look around to affirm that I had not inadvertently passed through some pearly gates.

It was so easy. There was lots of room in the copy to be expressive and the video cuts were such that there was space for the spot to breathe. There were no demands for behaviors what the agency weenies refer to as calls to action. There were no attempts at a forced intimacy the arbitrary and thoroughly bogus one-to-one experience. Further, the actual product was on-screen for about five seconds, tops.

Later, after waiting a few minutes for approval, there was a question from the client about there being no mention of the brand in the copy. It was explained that the video carried a super that covered that off quite nicely. The client was slightly concerned and insisted the brand name be mentioned in the copy, as well. (Some nerve, I say.) I read a tag as an unimportant afterthought; one of those void where prohibited thingies. The client found that quite acceptable. Satisfied grins, high-fives, and a few knuckle-bumps later, we adjourned for smokes, coffees, and a chat out on the balcony.

And yes, I get it. This was an agency-produced spot with all the cowbells, horns, banners, and multiple, ballooned, production invoices inserted forthwith. Since the producer was also the writer, I quizzed him on the concept for the project and, more specifically, on the lack of product-content.

As it turned out, the client was pretty sophisticated on these matters, and had charged the agency with developing an emotional connection with the target audience. The product was of the high-end variety. Nothing was going on sale. This was top-quality product being offered at full-pop retail. Practically, going for an emotional connection was the only viable strategy. Even while one feature of the product was offered in the copy, any other distinctions that might exist between it and the competition were hardly worth the mentioning.

Meanwhile, out on the balcony, the producer/writer revealed that, once the creative premise was put to bed, the copy, pretty much, wrote itself an intuitive exercise. Plus, he was, after all, an experienced professional. Thats when I mentioned the two main points that were (fortunately) missing from the copy. Those being: a lack of direct instructions being pressed on the audience and the lack of any attempt to connect directly with any particular viewer.

He was considering those points and made a couple of mild attempts at countering them. However, to his credit, and after a few more examples were provided, the fog dissipated and the light of realization popped on. He said, That was just this one spot. There have been a few others. But, most of the time we write and include both of those elements you just argued against.

In the meantime, I thanked him for the opportunity to voice the piece in a way that I thought would be more effective and appealing. Thats when the conversation shifted to the now-decade-old practice of having many more adult males who sound like 15-year-olds voicing an overwhelming number of spots the ol guy next door dodge. I asked him if he had any interest in considering the rationale for such an arbitrary practice. He slurped his coffee, took a long, relaxed pull on his imported Camel Filter and said, Sure.

Most radio and TV copy, I began, is written from an authoritative position while attempting to make a direct connection to a single listener/viewer. I agree, he said. Most of it is. So, I continued, when those positions are already embedded in the copy, engaging an authoritative-sounding, deeper, male voice for the read tends to drive a level of discomfort in the listener to an ever-higher magnitude. Its almost always an imperceptible phenomenon, yet broadcast-media types still recoil as if something weird and disconcerting is going on. Thus, the guy-next-door rationalization and application. Ill go along with that, says he.

Although a reminder could be redundant and unnecessary, it may serve to point out the obvious: No guy next door ever speaks in the manner in which they are portrayed in spots. Nor do they replicate the content across the fence that they do in the body of broadcast commercials. In these cases, everybody involved comes off sounding/looking like idiots a surefire strategy for crippling appeal, credibility, and motivation.

These are elements that demonstrate a drastic need, particularly in commercial radio, for content providers to start paying attention to Clarity and Precision in Communications.

This is the element that constitutes a first priority for any broadcaster who needs to drag their sorry butts out of the glue that has been bogging radio down for decades. Radios salvation will not be rolling down the techno-highway and it wont be as a result of adding more live and local. I am also sorry to report, as much as I agree that, although still required in the mix, it wont come about as a result of arbitrarily attempting to cram more creative into on-air and commercial presentations.

Radio has been the go-to medium for demonstrations of the worst possible examples of so-called professional communications for decades. This has been the status quo for so long that most participants dont even recognize the issue for what it is: that which has already killed the radio star, and that which will be killing much of the rest of radio.

While there is still opportunity, it is well past the time to make a decision for precision.

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