The Superman Myth of Radio Copy

by Mark Margulies

I loved Superman when I was a kid, with good reason. Superman was amazing -- he could do anything, be anywhere, and save anybody almost at the drop of the hat. He was everyone's hero, and there wasn't anyone he couldn't help. Notice, I say I "loved" Superman, as in past tense. That's because I find I don't love Superman anymore, not because I outgrew the adventures, but because I've watched him come to life in another area -- radio copy.

How many times, just today, as you read this, will you be forced to deal with a copy request that requires so much information be packed into thirty or sixty seconds that you use those remarkable attention getting phrases like, ", don't forget...," and "...there's so much more...," or my favorite, "...and that's just the beginning...?" This is indicative of copy that fits the category of what I fondly refer to as "SuperCopy." SuperCopy is copy that tries to do it all in one spot -- be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. SuperCopy packs as much information into one ad as is humanly possible. SuperCopy is the exact reason your radio copy isn't half as effective as it should be.

Where do you find SuperCopy? How about those bar ads that feature every nightly special they offer? Need you be reminded of the restaurant copy that will attempt to tempt by listing those various succulent, delicious entrees? Or how about the furniture store that mentions all its incredible and amazing discounts and name brands? The stories go on and on and on. And as their list grows, so too does your frustration, because with SuperCopy, your creativity is not only completely stifled, so is your chance to produce a quality return for your client. More times than not, SuperCopy gets lost in the stop set, has a faster "burnout" rate, and becomes less effective with each airing. That creates audience turnoff, limits results, and results in a client who then hates radio because it reneged on its promise of "more business and more traffic."

The SuperCopy problem almost invariably starts with the Account Executive. That is to say, an AE with no grasp of the creative process will "yes" their client to death, promising them an ad that includes everything and anything so they can avoid the possibility of rejection. Trouble is, in most cases, the client really doesn't know any better. Even the ones who say, "Hey, I used to write for my brother's store..." or "I've been advertising for years; don't tell me about how to write an ad..." are, in most cases, completely in the dark in terms of how to truly make radio work for their product. They're looking for guidance from the Account Executive who's so busy looking for the final piece of the puzzle to seal the deal and move on that they don't make time to even think about playing expert. Neither party understands what to expect from the copy. That's when promises are made and YOU end up holding the bag.

So what's the solution? Well, as we've discussed in earlier articles, a radio commercial will only be as effective as its focus -- the marketing objective that has been identified as the key reason the client is advertising in the first place. The single most important thing you must do is garner that focus from the Account Executive when they submit their copy order. Problem is, they may never know that is the key element that you need, unless, of course, you tell them.

So, here's a suggestion: Take the bull by the horns. Talk to your Sales Manager, and together, come up with a strategy meeting where you introduce your salespeople to the idea of focus and concentration. Chances are, they're not operating the way they do because they WANT to give you a hard time -- they're doing it because they just don't know any better. Teach them. Educate them. Show them what they should be thinking about when the client expresses an interest in putting a radio commercial on their station. Tell them what to do when a client starts reading a laundry list of ideas. In the long run, if the focus is captured properly, your Account Executive will become a key part of the creative chain that starts with the client and ends with a successful spot on the air.

Here then are some tips on how to avoid putting a laundry list on the air:

1) Ask the question, "Will it get them to the door?" If the information doesn't stand alone as a draw, chances are it's not interesting enough to draw attention. Deal more in the basics and loss leaders, the high visibility items.

2) Don't try to be all things to all people. If there are many different facets of the business the client wants to highlight, suggest different spots, or spots with rotating donuts. This starts salespeople thinking "campaign" instead of "one week" and creates a longer term buy that has more chance for success. A one-line mention in a spot is not going to grab anyone's attention, unless it's of a great magnitude ("One hundred dollars in cash to the first fifty people in the door..." as opposed to "And don't forget, ACME HARDWARE also carries coolers for those great summer picnics...").

3) Use a loss leader to draw attention to the spot, then re-emphasize it. "Ten percent off" is not going to draw people in. But a hot loss leader like "Zero percent financing for one year on your new Lincoln..." will get attention. Then, add a second or third point and keep re-emphasizing the loss leader. It's the draw your client needs to help create excitement. Remember something very important: your job is NOT to sell anything or anyone. Your job is to CREATE INTEREST. Once you get customers to the door, the client's job begins. So all the incongruous and cumbersome details should be left for once the customer has arrived.

4) Help determine just how much of a percentage of their business will be affected by the fact. To use the cooler example again, how many people do they feel are going to come charging in just because they heard your client carries coolers? Determine realistic expectations and results. That will help trim the list considerably.

So what do you do with Joe or Jane Client who wants it done THEIR WAY? Who won't be satisfied until you mention that they carry both left AND right handed widgets for those three widget-using listeners in the audience? Now is the time to exercise tact and be a professional. Explain to them that you RECOMMEND against their idea because you feel it will be counterproductive. Remember, this is an INTENSELY PERSONAL situation to them, and their egos are on the line. Be upbeat and professional. Make them feel they haven't had a bad idea, just that it needs some direction.

Then, don't just drop the ball there. Give them valid reasons for your reticence and back those reasons up with examples plus first hand knowledge. Suggest possible alternatives that can be used to create the same type of approach. Most clients, WHEN DEALT WITH PROFESSIONALLY, will not get angry but will thank you for your input and, in many cases, will surprise you by not only listening to your advice, but by taking it.

However, for those who STILL insist on doing things their way, put on your cape, stand back and be ready to "leap tall buildings in a single bound...." SuperCopy lives!

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