Way Off The Mark!: Clichés

by Mark Margulies

"When you choose BENMARadio, you'll find the freshest copy on the market today. The knowledgeable BENMAR staff will be happy to answer any questions you have and fulfill all of your copy needs. And there's much more--check out their specials on restaurant furniture, automotive and retail copy. In fact, for just about every occasion, BENMAR copy is the perfect choice. And with our group copy programs, you can book your special events with our service and get that great BENMAR copy for just about any occasion. So, for the freshest and finest copy served up by a knowledgeable, friendly staff, call BENMARadio today. And don't forget, BENMAR also has great production too...."

Okay, was I able to pack enough clichés into that spot? Well, I'm sure, given the chance I could have added more. And no doubt, you've got your pet ones that seem to pop up about forty times a day as well.

So how do you prevent clichés from overtaking your commercials? Good question. From our experience, it goes back to two main propositions: first, that the client not have creative control or say as to how their radio commercials sound, and secondly, discriminating evaluation. So, let's start with the client.

Clients are wonderful people. Without them we could not get paid to do what we do. However, because of the nature of the industry, clients exercise undo control, perpetrating the "I don't like this" and "I want more of this" syndrome. Remember again: YES, it IS the client's money, but NO, the client doesn't understand radio. They don't realize the dynamics of what goes into making a good spot or creating one that stands out from the crowd. And most times, "I don't like this" can loosely be translated into either "It didn't make me/my wife/my employee/my cousin laugh" or "I don't think you've said enough about my business." Clients tend to think theirs is the most important radio commercial in the world, that people will hang on every syllable. Again, it's because the client is excited, they're in pain and need relief, and they don't understand OUR business. And that's why they pack their commercials full of information which should be left for the POINT OF SALE (the store, phone, etc.) instead of in their radio ad.

Funny, just as we speak, I receive a rewrite request with the admonition, "Client...wants to add that his specials include salmon, swordfish, catfish, scallops, lemon sole, or halibut served up just the way you like it." Again, here's a client in complete control. Name one restaurant that serves up their meals the way you HATE it. And all the specials need to be mentioned in the ad in case that one person who doesn't like lemon sole, scallops, swordfish, catfish, or salmon, absolutely LOVES halibut and will come charging in to take advantage. This is typical of a radio spot that's doomed to trite and cliche-ridden copy.

Now, when I first started out in radio, there was a pizza parlor that shocked the entire region with their radio commercials. The spots were based around the idea that the client offered the "worst pizza in town." In fact, that's what the entire radio ad was all about: "Come in and try the worst pizza in the city." Business doubled, if for no other reason than every other pizza parlor was so busy telling you about their "fresh ingredients, friendly staff, and best tasting pizza," they forgot one important thing: the cliches made them all sound alike. The listener either was confused, tuned out, or just didn't care; and thus, didn't respond to them. Then came one sponsor with the coconuts to break the mold. And it worked.

So, simply put, try to steer the client away from packaging their ad full of information. Explain how it makes them sound like other ads and that, instead of making people turn TO them, they'll hear the uncomfortable sound of digital radios being tuned to another station. Bye, bye cume, hello unhappy client. Subtly, professionally, make them understand that to influence the listener, they must do more than to try to inform. They must ENTICE.

Which now brings me to the second point, discriminating evaluation. Wouldn't that be a great name for an eighties new wave band? Sorry, bad digression there. Discriminating evaluation means that, if the item can't stand on its own as a selling point, then it probably has no business being in the ad. Will people rush to your store because you have the "freshest ingredients?" Doubtful. How about because you have the "friendliest staff," the "largest inventory," "great selection," or "a knowledgeable staff?" Probably not, AND NOT BECAUSE IT'S NOT ALL TRUE. It's just they've heard it before, again and again, over and over. If it can't stand on its own as a sales point, it doesn't belong in the ad. It belongs in the pitch AT THE POINT OF SALE.

Therefore, you must help the client to discriminate when it comes to information. And that all goes back to what's motivating them to advertise in the first place. Because radio is a qualifier. If you're selling furniture, you don't want to bring in people looking for carpeting. But that doesn't mean the ad has to mention every piece of furniture in the inventory so people looking specifically for sofas will know the client has sofas, etc., unless all the client wants to do is move sofas.

So, say a client presents one of those "I want to be all things to all people" ideas but stresses that their huge selection is one of the important issues as well. They want to be perceived as having the "largest selection in the county." If that's THE important issue, the focus, go ahead; build an ad that stresses how BIG THE PLACE IS AND HOW MUCH MORE OF A SELECTION THEY HAVE THAN THE DOPE DOWN THE BLOCK. Something like that will motivate people who perceive them as having more to choose from. Structured properly, it could also cause them to think "bigger/cheaper" and thus be perceived as offering bargains on all kinds of furniture which includes sofas, etc.. So now you're accomplishing under one idea what would have taken lines of clichés to mention. That means you must help your client resist the temptation to cram in lines like "friendliest, most knowledgeable, with sofas, dining rooms, ad nauseam, ad nauseam." Discriminate, then execute. An image ad, a cute ad, a teaser ad, even a SCREAMER, can be cliché free and targeted without being full of useless information that eventually turns the listener off.

So here comes the inevitable: "But my client WANTS to pack all this information in. They LIKE this type of ad." So who am I to argue? I'm not against happy clients. I'm against a client demanding and getting all these changes, "liking" their spot, then canceling on you in two weeks because, come on, you know the words to this song, "I'm not getting any results." That's a client who may be a victim of cliché. That's what we're trying to avoid.

What most clients forget, and what you must remind them of, is that radio's job is to get people TO THE DOOR. We DON'T SELL THEM. That's the client's job. That's where a radio ad has to draw the line, to stop trying to become everything to everybody. You can't help but pack that type of ad full of clichés, and then it becomes useful to no one--the listener, the client, or the station.

So the next time you hear yourself falling into the cliché trap, check it out. And don't forget that there's more, with literally the best selection and finest production clichés to choose from that are yours simply for the asking. Clichés, like athlete's foot, never really go away; but they also need to be treated before they annoy you beyond belief and make life miserable for everyone.

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