Q It Up: Creative Commercial Success Stories - Part 1

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: Describe one of the most successful commercials you’ve been involved with creatively. What was the concept? Where did the idea come from? How successful was it for the client? Why do you think it was so successful? Was there anything special about the production aspect of the commercial? If you have a copy of the commercial, please feel free to send it along with your answer, and we’ll feature it on the RAP CD!

Angie Beers [abeers[at]cjay92.com] CJAY/VIBE/CKMX Radio, Calgary, Alberta, Canada: {Audio on RAP CD.} This is a recent campaign the producer and I have been working on.  It’s for an upscale Billiards room called Stix – who does not want to be known as a pool hall.  He had never been on radio, but somehow signed a 6-month deal to do overnights on our Rock station CJAY 92. So we went to the drawing board for creative. He wanted all the annoying info in — open late, great specials etc., but wanted to stand apart from other pool halls. We brainstormed as a creative department a bit, and I was struck by the thought of how important the White Ball is to the game, so I focused on that. Then, I sent him his first script to which he replied, “Uh, no! I’d rather do something like, ‘Take a break at Stix Billiards, you know, have a deep voice guy and fast music and lots of pool breaks in the background…’ blah, blah, blah!”

I could’ve given in, but was feeling rather feisty that day, and brought the rep in on the battle, explained to the client that with this idea we can do a series of commercials that will keep the listener intrigued and give this “Upscale Billiards Room” something that actually sounds different from other pool halls. We can provide an atmosphere, a story, and still get all of his facts in. He finally gave the go ahead, provided he could approve the audio too.

Now for the second battle: the producer (Ryan Stockert) came back to me with a totally different, out of the box, sound that I hadn’t even pictured. (It’s really nice to be surprised by your producers now and again.) I play it for the guy, and of course he’s totally unsure and doesn’t think it will work for him. Uneasily he lets us play it, holding us solely responsible for what he’s sure will be complete failure. When I get back to him to freshen it up a month later, he sends me this email:

Hi Angie,

Well done! I like it! We are doing a few different promotions along with the radio at the moment, and the combined effort of radio, gift certificates and amazing customer service have resulted in October 2003 being the best monthly sales in the 9.5 year history of Stix, and we still have 5 more days to go.

Thanks,

Jerry Charlton

So all in all, it’s been very successful, especially for an overnight campaign. This just proves that sometimes, okay most of the time, it’s worth battling for good creative. It’ll benefit the client and the sound of your station.

Monica Ballard [mballard[at]onhold exchange.com] OnHold Exchange Productions, Austin Texas: I produced a jingle and commercial in 1999 that is still effective, even though it hasn’t run!  It was for a promotional products company called, “Advertize Me” and the jingle was sung to what is more popularly known as “The Can-Can Song.”  Considering the “grocery-list” of products they had available, the jingle was a fast-paced overview of the kinds of items they could stamp your name on, including toilet paper and underwear. The spot tied for first place in the RAP competition in 1999 as Best Medium Market Commercial. But two years later, after moving to Austin to work for Roy H. Williams, I got an e-mail forwarded to me from my Clear Channel cohorts in Greenville. It seems someone running for mayor of Asheville, North Carolina asked Advertize Me to do their campaign stickers, buttons and placards. When the proprietor of Advertize Me asked why they had chosen a company almost 50 miles away, the client replied, “It’s that jingle of yours that I hear all the time!”  Although the client tried to tell them that they had not run that spot since Spring of 2000, the customer insisted they had heard it continually, last time being “just a few days ago!”  The client e-mailed the station to make sure the spot wasn’t running by mistake over the last two years and they just hadn’t been billed, but that was not the case. According to the staff at Advertize Me, this was not the only incident of the spot working long after the schedule ended, but it was the greatest elapse of time. The jingle got stuck in the phonological loop of their brains, and was still effectively working in 2002, even though the schedule has not run since 2000!

Dave Foxx [DaveFoxx[at]clearchannel .com], Z100 Radio, New York City: The best commercial campaign I ever had anything to do with was for a chain of Pizza Parlors called Shakey’s Pizza. To help you understand why it worked so well, I have to give a little background. At the time the Shakey’s people came to my station there in Provo, Utah, Campbell’s Soup was running a national campaign in which a guy would call someone at random (sure!) and offer them a free case of Campbell’s Soup if they could sing the Campbell’s jingle. You know, “Mmm-mmm good. Mmm-mmm good. That’s what Campbell’s Soup is, mmm-mmm good!” It seemed to be on the air every 15 minutes.

So Shakey’s comes in with NO budget (naturally) and wants us to do some spots to drive more business through the door. The first spot I did was a direct rip-off. I called someone and offered a free pizza dinner if they could sing the Shakey’s jingle. Then I cut to the Campbell’s spot where they sang, “Mmm-mmm good. Mmm-mm good....” I cut them off before they mentioned Campbell’s Soup, saying, “No...nope...sorry. That's not it.” Then, after a big sigh, I suggested they visit Shakey’s to find out what the jingle was.

In the first week, the downtown Provo Shakey’s franchise got over 900 people walking through the door, asking what the Shakey’s jingle was and incidentally buying a pie or two. The big joke was, Shakey’s HAD no jingle. We followed the first spot up with people singing other famous jingles and, of course, never winning the dinner. Over the course of 6 months, Shakey’s realized a net growth of over 400%.

A few months later, I left for bright lights and big cities. Shakey’s local franchise owner has long since gone out of business, but then...he didn’t have me to do his creative advertising.

Blaine Parker [blaine.parker[at] salemla.com]: {Audio on RAP CD.} Our 2000 Radio Mercury Award winner for Brazos Red Eye Bloody Mary mix (which also won Mobius, ADDY, and Silver Mic but, oddly, just a RAP runner-up). It’s the model of synergy: the right product, creative freedom, and a desire to win. Intense editing and collaboration helped ring the bell.

The product is a habanero-spiced Bloody Mary mix. As a lover of all things spicy (and occasionally Bloody), I was the target audience. And it was a packaged good screaming for outrageous treatment: a contrast of pepper pain versus pepper pleasure

After researching both the product and the peppers, the concept leapt fully formed from my head and onto the page. It could’ve gone right to production. But I kept editing until it was tight enough to bounce a quarter off it. Next requirement was a producer who Gets It.

Bob Holiday has an excellent sense of caricature. He read it and said, “It’s a documentary. Complete emotional detachment while the guy says things like ‘The lion takes down an antelope on the Serengeti.’” The model for the voice is Will Lyman, whom you’ve heard on a million of those things. (You can also actually see him on TV in Threat Matrix.) Hanging around Jay Rose/Sound in Boston in the ‘80s, and being exposed to extraordinary talent like Jay and Will, left an indelible mark. (Thanks again, Jay.)

We recorded a couple of takes. The first pass was good enough. But “good enough” isn’t—especially with such a potentially obnoxious concept. So we spent two hours re-editing the copy, re-recording it, finding the music in the read and making it pop.

We finally knew we were finished when it made us nervous.

It also seems one measure of an award-winning spot is the ability to play it repeatedly without tiring of it. After the Mercury ceremony, an RAB staffer told me he’d heard the commercial incessantly. People in the office kept playing it over and over for giggles.

Despite crushing workloads, ridiculous deadlines and uninspiring clients, it’s occasionally possible to do work that competes on an agency level. The key is complete awareness of where the bar is set, and then going over it with determination.

As for the client’s success, that’s another story. Had the rep been more tuned in, it might have been possible to parlay it into a client success story as opposed to merely a personal one. It’s a creative success—but a commercial failure.

Cate Crowley [ccrowley[at]dfwradio .com]: I’ve written commercials for an accountant named Margaret Atchison in Bend, Oregon for several years. It’s something I still do even though I don’t live in the market anymore. Margaret’s specialty is helping people who have problems with the IRS. Bad problems. Go to jail problems.

A couple of years ago the IRS wanted to improve their image. Hmm, the IRS has a negative image. There’s a shocker. Anyway, they wanted Americans to embrace their softer, gentler side. I don’t even want to think about being the IRS’s PR person. I couldn’t resist using that as the basis for an ad called “Soft and Fluffy.”

The idea was simple and the ad started like this: “They want to work on a new image. Less intimidation, more soft and fluffy, but bottom line, they are still the IRS, and if you haven’t filed a tax return since Reagan was running the show, you probably should be concerned, no matter how soft and fluffy they are now.”

Margaret’s phones began ringing off the hook, and they’ve never stopped. She had people who hadn’t filed tax returns in twenty years calling her—literally back taxes from the Reagan era and beyond. The biggest compliment though came from an IRS agent who, during a negotiation, told Margaret how much everyone at their office loves her commercials. I just hope they never find out who writes them!

There’s nothing special about the production of this ad. It’s probably one of the most simple under produced spots I’ve ever done. It’s just me doing a dry read. I wanted it to be bleak. It was designed for people who were panicked about their taxes, and it worked, big time! Every so often we put it back in rotation, and it still draws a huge response. Margaret just moved into a larger office. As a matter of fact, it’s directly under the offices of the IRS. Oh, the possibilities.

Part 2 next month!

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