Way Off The Mark: Maybe She's Trying to Tell You She's Sleeping With Another Guy Behind Your Back!

by Mark Margulies

Provocative title, huh? Well, the content has nothing to do with what I'm about to discuss with you. The headline, however, is another story.

Hopefully, it caught your attention. You wanted to know more. Now envision this as a hook for a radio spot. For the right client, you could develop some killer creative behind this as a kickoff point. Yet, lurking out there somewhere is the client who will tell you flat out, "No. Tone that down. I don't want people to hear that." And therein lies a unique paradox.

Clients want to get noticed. They want people to hear about their product. But they're very conservative in most cases about how that should be done. Ignorance of our medium is part of that problem. Image, and its perceived reception by the audience, is a big part as well. So while they want to get the audience's attention, they want to do it as "nicely" and "pleasantly" as possible.

And that's the dilemma, because most people advertise in radio to get noticed. In its most simplistic form, that really is what radio advertising is: it gets people to notice what you do, what you have to sell, what services you offer, etc.. Yet you'd never be able to figure that out after hearing from many of your station's clients.

Growing up in the mid-seventies, we were taught that advertising was something created to cause a reaction. Somehow, if you could reach your audience on an emotional level, you were accomplishing your goal. That meant everything from touching their hearts to making their palms sweat. It meant making them laugh or making them nervous and edgy. Advertising that made you smile or squirm helped to get a point across, and it got your client and his product/service noticed.

But listen carefully to the radio today. Listen to your station and to the competition. You don't hear aggressive advertising anymore. And it's sad. Radio programmers set the tone, having yanked the personality out of the formats and turned it into a research-driven-liner-card-dominated medium that sounds alike whether you're in Memphis, Seattle or Tulsa. And radio advertising has followed form. But that's because we've decided to let the clients call the shots instead of standing up and advising them like the professionals we are.

Case in point: how many times have you had your Account Executive bring a client a cutting-edge type of spot, a spot designed to elicit an emotional reaction from your audience? Maybe it was a tough, attention-getting open. Maybe it was a controversial or risque conversation. Maybe it just used forceful "hot button" words. And how many times has the client, through that same AE, sent back a message saying "I don't like this at all. You have to soften the approach?"

Well, there's that old bugaboo again, that "like" word. The client doesn't "like" his copy. Oh, but the client is not afraid to cancel his contract after two weeks because the copy they did "like" wasn't pulling for them. So now, the client wants you to "soften the approach." Soften the approach? In plain English, what that means is they want you to go back to their comfort zone, using phrases like, "We'll make sure everything is just the way you like it," or "We care about our customers." Don't forget about how "they take pride in their product" because it's the "freshest and finest" brought to you by a "knowledgeable and friendly sales staff, ready to assist." The bland replaces the bold. The calm replaces the storm. The cliche displaces the original. And another client falls into the abyss of radio sameness and plainness. The message gets lost. They get no results. They cancel and they blame your station...again. But hey, they're just glad no one was put off by the harder-edged approach. What they totally ignore is the fact that no one noticed them at all.

Advertising is not meant to be bland. It's meant to attack the conscious and subconscious to cause the listener to act in some positive, responsive way--call, buy, get hungry, get thirsty. It's not meant to sit there nicely waiting its turn. It's designed to grab attention. It jumps up and down in the middle of the room and screams out, "Pick Me!"

So stop allowing your clients to injure THEMSELVES. Stop letting them tell you to "tone it down." Again, be sensible and respectful. We're not asking you to litter your copy with four-letter words, sexual suggestions or offensive language. Don't be rude or socially retarded. You can be bold and cutting in good taste. Remember, copy that offends an audience is as useless as copy that does nothing to them at all.

So be bold. Be aggressive. Use creative new scenarios, voices and angles. And when your client inevitably talks about being "uncomfortable," go in with your AE to the next meeting and explain professionally that's exactly the point. That's the reaction you want. That's the reaction you're hoping to turn into new customers for your client. The bottom line is, the client who's uncomfortable with a reactive ad will love you to death when that cash register starts ringing.

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