Way Off the Mark: Oh, It's Supposed To Sell Something, Too?

by Mark Margulies

You've got this really killer idea. I mean, this one is going to slay 'em. You put it together. You voice it, produce it, then you listen to it; and this big smile comes over your face from ear to ear. This commercial sings. It's tight. You hit your marks. You start fantasizing about your Clio acceptance speech.

You play it for the client. THEY love it and give you a complete thumbs up. It runs on the air. And, suddenly, three weeks later the Account Executive comes into your office with this puppy dog mist in his eyes saying, "The client just pulled their spot. The ads weren't pulling for them." In a New York minute you go from rational to nuts. You are furious. "It's a great spot!" you roar. "What kind of idiot would pull it!?" The AE shrugs, says he knows how hard you worked on it, and thanks you for the effort; but the client wants it off.

No! It's got to work! You forage through your archives, dig out the reel, rack it up, and listen to it, time and time again. Your anger subsides. "Damn good spot," you say to yourself. Then shrug your shoulders, dub a copy off to add to your personal reel, and file this whole incident under "S" for "stupid client." We've all done it, and like many before you, what you've completely missed is that YOU may have made a major mistake that cost you this client.

Folks, I'll be the first to jump on the bandwagon and tell you your client is wrong, because ninety-five percent of the time they are. Ninety-five percent of the time they're being steered in the wrong direction by an Account Executive who has no concept of how to fulfill the client's copy needs. All they're trained to do is close the deal. But there are times, too many times, when we, as creative people, miss the ball. We swing hard, think it's going out of the park, and end up popping out, all because we didn't spend time to close our audience.

Think about this for a moment. Listen closely to your radio commercials or look them over carefully when you're writing them. Does the spot clearly tell your audience what you want them to do? Did you, in essence, ask for the sale? No, no, I don't mean did you mention the phone number in the last ten seconds with a line like, "Pick up the phone now and call 5-5-5-1111" or tell them to stop by in the last ten seconds with the infamous, "Ted's is open till 7 Monday through Friday, so stop in and see the selection." I mean, did you really ask for the sale? Did you close the deal? Did you communicate to the audience what this commercial is supposed to make them do?

Look and listen harder. Is the client expecting their phone to ring, and did you create a spot that drives the listener that way? Did the client want to move sofas, and did you speak directly to the people in your audience who are ready to buy sofas? Did you tell them what to do? Or, did you fall into that trap of thinking that the creative idea was so good, the production so brilliant, that people would be so "into" the ad that they'll naturally respond? That's a big assumption to make when dealing with a listener.

Radio commercials are not meant to SELL a product or service in sixty seconds. That's not the function of radio. This is one of the reasons you get into knockdown, drag-out marathon screaming sessions with your AEs when they come back to you with all the information that the client wants in their ad. They will "yes" a client to death because the client wants the commercial to "sell" their product. And the client figures, if the audience is as big as the AE says it is, and they have sixty seconds, they're going to use every second to make sure everyone knows who they are and what they have to offer.

But remember this: no commercial sells a product unless it's a 1-800 or 900 number, and even then, it's difficult at best to do it on radio. What a commercial has to do is sell the audience on REACTING. "Go." "Do." "Buy." "Browse." "Write." "Call." We motivate them to get to the store, pick up the phone, write in for more information. Once we get them to that place, the sale begins. So our job is tell the audience, in no uncertain terms, what we want them to do. Otherwise, they listen but do not respond accordingly.

So, next time you create any spot, from a regular old straight voice-over to a killer creative spot, think carefully about what you have to ask your audience for. Then, run through a little simple checklist. Namely: Did you make it clear and tell the audience WHY they needed to come in? Did you make it clear and tell them why they need to act now/tomorrow/next week? Did you make it clear and tell that potential customer when to call, where and why? Did you make it clear and tell that potential customer what they're supposed to do? Did you close them? It sounds simplistic, but too many times we let that idea slip through the cracks because we get so wrapped up in a spot. Unless you're writing an image spot, put your commercial to this simple litmus test. If the answer is "no," do a little rebuilding. It could mean the difference between a killer spot and a spot that really kills 'em.

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