Notes Off the Napkin: Survey Says!

Notes-Off-the-Napkin-logo1By Andrew Frame

Two hundred word :60 spots. One hundred word :30’s. Every item sold in the store listed. Bars telling you what they’re doing every night for the next week. Car dealers blasting you with prices, discounts, down payments, and a phone number to call. Cliché’s layered together to create these genetically altered phrases that should have been left to wither atop the blood agar in the Petri dish.

When you write a sales message, you have a finite amount of time to work with in most cases. That means a finite word count. So shouldn’t the words “count”? Filling copy with empty phrases, bad metaphors, an arithmetic primer full of numbers, and situations no human beings have ever actually been through, is a waste of that finite amount of words and time.

We’ve all seen some sort of “advertising cliché” list, but I wanted to see if anything’s changed in the last few years. I’ll go ahead and tell you that with the exception of the use of website URL’s in scripts, the same junk verbiage that’s been in copy for the last half century is still in copy. No surprise, though, right? Advertising basics are still the basics. Creation of effective sales messages still follows certain pathways into the brain, no matter the media.

I asked some colleagues what their most hated advertising bugaboo was right now. I broke it down into two categories: “phrases” and “situations.” But along the e-mail thread it got mashed up, as threads often do. I started the riot by throwing a few out that I find annoying:

PHRASES

  • “Friendly, knowledgeable staff”
  • “Conveniently located”
  • “For all your (item) needs”
  • “...your (item) headquarters”
  • “And much, much more”
  • “Just in time for (season/event)”
  • “Like never before”
  • “Lowest prices of the year/season”
  • “It’s that time of year again”

SITUATIONS

  • Anything involving two people talking about a product, especially if they include phone numbers
  • Use of the words “everybody”, “just”, “or “only”
  • Using percentages on how much “better” something is
  • New AND improved. (One or the other, guys.)
  • Large chemical companies trying to look “green” by using renewable energy to make toxic products.
  • Chronic use of classic rock songs to appeal to boomers, especially when the song has no relevance to the product
  • Ditto on alt songs to appeal to Gen-X
  • Driving a car is not orgasmic. Neither is shampoo or pasta sauce.
  • Women empowered to prance about in joy by products aimed at the menstrual cycle.
  • Anything with Billy Mays.
  • Pharmaceutical ads
  • Pharmaceutical ad disclaimers
  • Obvious product placement, i.e. the product brand label always faces the camera regardless of the scene.

It didn’t take long for opinions to be spoken:

Chris Coleman, Production Director at Millennium Radio Group in Atlantic City came across with “Give (person) something (person) really wants this holiday season!” He added, “As for ‘for all your (item) needs’, I don’t produce any spots with that in the copy.”

Eddie Garcia at WMTK and Chuck Matthews at ChuckMatthewsvoice.com echoed each other, saying “Don’t start a spot by asking them if they need the product. Tell them they do or will. If you offer a choice, they might say, ‘No’. Don’t roll those dice.” “Never say ‘we service what we sell’. Why? Is it gonna break down? Never ask a question at the start of a commercial. Don’t give the listener the opportunity to say ‘no’.” And Chuck blasted cliché’s like “The tent is up, and prices are down.”

Then Brandi threw in “Hot deals on cool wheels,” “Temperature is up so prices come down,” and “Wall Street and Main Street” for a few more similar word-wasters.

Big Dan Osborne, Production Director at Emmis in Indianapolis brought up a few: “We have the BEST GREATEST MOST and all the words that can be challenged by anyone with half a brain. You have until midnight tonight and once it¹s gone, it¹s gone. Then, they’re back in a month saying the same thing. We’ve got the deal of a lifetime... and anything that’s just a grocery list of items.” Situations Dan ranks as low are bogus testimonials, and ads that speak to large groups of people rather than personal one to one.

Drew Wilson at WKDZ dropped a line to add “The very best of/in...” indicating that you don’t “intensify a superlative.” Plus, “…anything that can only be ordered via an 800 number especially when the items are so valueless to begin with they have to double the offer twice before the ad is over. Call before midnight tomorrow!”

Jeff “Powderpig” Bolt at RadioNL.com came out from behind his mic long enough to add, “Phrases like ‘best kept secret’ and ‘x-number of years experience’.” Poor writing that includes a physical address, telephone number and website URL in the same copy also will get you ejected from his office with the business end of a ski pole. Interns beware.

Jennifer Blackwell, Production Manager at Z93Yuma.com referred to one of my peeves with, “Well, since you are a man, you would not believe it, but I dance through fields of beautiful flowers when it’s my time of the month. Nothing says excruciating cramps like dancing while wearing an all white tennis outfit. I also hate: sellout, blowout, and basement bargains.” Interns beware, here, too.

Josh Mackey at KOGA threw in “Phrases? How about “That’s right! Only (price)!” or “We encourage you to look into...” or “Are you tired of (any list of disliked or uncomfortable situations/people)?” These lines step up a couple rungs when they are delivered by a client, too. He dislikes “testimonials that are scripted, most clients that choose or are persuaded to do their own ads when they really shouldn’t, and advertising agencies that get the station to produce the spot and still pocket the commission.”

Laura Lynn of Redfire Creative questioned the effectiveness of car dealerships that have a remote at the same time every Friday all year long.

Lori “Mom” Rentsch, production dominatrix in Raleigh, wrote, “My biggest pet peeve is sirens and/or screeching brakes/crash sfx! We will not air them on our station. Why would anyone want to risk the possibility that their spot or promo could actually cause an accident or at the very least, the message not get heard, because the listener turns down their radio to look around and find out where the siren is coming from?”

Mark Nelson, one half of The Cartwright Brothers, offered up one of his dislikes, “The Superhero. Person states problem. (Swooshing SFX) Who are you? I’m (insert brand name here) Man!”

The Voice Of Carrolton, Michael Vincent came up with two, but they certainly are in the top ten on anyone’s list: “Your Friends At (store), and, Your One-Stop Shop For (item).”

Mike Lindsey, Creative Services Director at J93 Atlanta offers a simple overall writing philosophy, “Don’t mention price or specials. Most spots should be based on provoking thought or emotion and should leave you wanting more or to know more.”

Pamela Stone, creative coordinator with MandatoryFM.com says her most hated is “for all your (item) needs!” But also saying “they got” instead of “they have,” “mention (station) and get 10% off,” “don’t forget...,” and “that’s right...” rank as well. “For situations? Production people (bad ones) thinking they need to use every effect in one spot and then making all spots sound the same. Hard sell spots for non-hard-sell shops/services. Trying to read copy with little to no punctuation. And in those Cialis commercials, I want to know who has bathtubs at the end of a fishing dock? Why are each in a separate tub? Kinda hard to utilize your chemically enhanced sexual prowess if you’re in separate bathtubs. It just doesn’t make sense to me...”

Nor to many of us. But if it’s brand recognition the Cialis people are after, looks like they’re getting it, in spite of the “two-tub” presentation, which, to me, is more of a throwback to “I Love Lucy’s” Ricky and Lucy having separate beds... then along comes Little Ricky. Maybe they only had one shower?

Roy Cunningham is a paid-his-dues veteran hippie musician, booth announcer, music producer, ad agency guru, and purveyor of used aircraft parts. He wrote to say, “Subway’s Five Dollar Jingle Spot is a fantastic jingle ruined by a yammering ‘contemporary’ voice, then further ruined by supposed everyday people singing the jingle! I can’t stand the Dodge Ram spots with the faux cowboy tough guy types spewing macho while saying the same old automotive pitch lines. McDonald’s McCafe beverages spot where two Ivy league types discuss the fact that now they don’t have to pretend to be intelligent to drink foofy coffee from a drive through.”

Tommie Lee, head wordsmith at Tealsea.com and WAOR South Bend gets his britches twisted over, “There’s NEVER been a better time....” He adds, “Um, yes. There has. Plenty of ‘em. Quit insulting us and making yourself look stupid. And anything involving discussion of a physical malady at the office that you wouldn’t even mention to your own mother.”

Travis McGinnis, owner of Aimstudios.net send over his own list: “Now is the time to buy!” (As if I’ll never had a time to buy ever again?). “We’d be happy to talk to you” (I would sure hope so, that’s why you’re in business, right?). “A free, confidential, no obligations consultation” (Just like everybody else). Anything involving a husband and wife. The husband is the dumb one and the wife brilliantly knows all the phone numbers, prices, specials, store location and tag line! Screaming car spots. Abstract metaphors pulled from nowhere; we once had a sales rep write a script that started like this: “Would you pour sugar on a T-bone steak? Of course not! That would be silly! So why would you try to cut down that tree in your front yard? Instead, call XYZ Tree Services.” “Producer” and “voice guy” spots... with the voice guy ruining every line and the producer cutting in to correct him until finally the voice guy says something off the cuff that the producer loves! Any ad that refers to itself as a radio ad: “We couldn’t possibly tell you about all the amazing things we have to offer in this 30 second radio ad....” Wow. you just used ten seconds to tell me that you don’t have enough seconds to talk.

We also had a quick offshoot-thread about the use of “www” in copy. Jay Johnson, head cheese at the company that bears his name said, “To this day I will not put “www” before any URL ever. Unless it is one of those “approved-copy” clinical test solicitation scripts. Every other script, the “www” gets bounced.”

Joey Cummings, Big Kahuna at KKHJ American Samoa let us know that his experience with New Zealand based clients has them asking him to say it as “dub dub dub.”

And I’m with Jay, I drop the “www.” Sometimes I’ll do it as I hear on some Aussie, Canadian, and UK work: “triple-w dot...,” but most of my American clients scowl when they hear it, so I leave it off.

I got from this thread that most of us are -- if not on the same page -- at least working from the same playbook for most of what we write. The same old junk is still in circulation, and with the limited amount of time and words we have to work with, it behooves us to keep it out.

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