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(SALES) Can We Please Try Not To Suck?


When was the last time you heard a bad radio commercial? Sadly, it was probably today.

When only the best will do for your diesel truck. For all your home improvement needs. Spring is just around the corner

Enough already! Its no wonder people hate advertising. After nearly 30 years in the business I still hear commercials that suck.

My wife and I were listening to a local radio station while traveling through Platteville, Wisconsin, this past weekend. We couldnt believe the lack of quality we heard with respect to commercials. Is this just a small-market phenomenon? Sadly its not. Ive heard bad commercials in Los Angeles, New York, and all markets in between. The larger question is Why?

There are qualified people who have spent years on these very pages giving great advice on copywriting and creative commercial construction. Why is it that we still suck? Why do station owners, managers, and program directors let this kind of garbage on the air? If a singer was this bad, the program director would never play the record. Every day, however, despite the availability of great training resources, bad commercials get on the air.

Does nobody care? Does nobody take pride in this craft? Are we so money hungry that we just get it on the air and forget what it is? Dont we realize bad commercials get bad results? (Unless, of course, you have a massive budget and can run two an hour every hour for years.)  Commercials that get poor results mean high client turnover, lost revenue, and poor sales performance.

Want repeat business from your clients? Get results. Want good results? Write good copy. Why is it that people who pride themselves on their ability to relate to people, to develop relationships, and to communicate effectively with clients do such a horrible job communicating to the audience?

Chris Lytle and I talk about the local advertisers dilemma. The problem is that most advertising salespeople spend 80 percent of their time bashing each other and talking about where to advertise, and only 20 percent of the time talking about what to advertise and what to say when you advertise. Our advice? Reverse that. Spend 80 percent of the time talking about what to advertise and what to say, and only 20 percent of the time talking about where. The dirty little secret Ive been sharing with clients for years is that it really doesnt matter where you advertise. You could advertise on the top-rated or lowest-rated station in the market . . . the effectiveness of the ad is determined by the message, not the audience.

In his 1961 book Reality in Advertising, Rosser Reeves shared the three critical components of a good commercial:

1. Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Not just words, not just product puffery, not just show-window advertising. Each advertisement must say to each reader/listener: Buy this product and you will get this specific benefit.

2. The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot or does not offer. It must be unique -- either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising.

3. The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions. I.e., pull over new customers to your product.

Reeves developed the concept of the USP (Unique Sales Proposition).

There are only two types of commercials -- event commercials and branding commercials. At Sparque, we have a simple tool to grade your event style commercials. We provide point values to each of the components. The goal is to not run a commercial that scores less than 70. If youd like a copy of the grading tool, just send me an email and ask.

Branding commercials are more strategy based. By that I mean these are the commercials that are written from the perspective of the USP and whats in it for the customer. Often times they are stories you share that help to dramatize the point of differentiation.
The easiest way that Ive found to help sellers understand how to write commercials is to tell them to stop writing. Just tell me what you want people to know. By having them put the pen down and tell me as though they were telling a friend, they often come up with a much better way to communicate the message. If you wouldnt say it to a friend when talking about a product, you shouldnt write it in a commercial. We also have a list of clichs that you absolutely must avoid. Just ask and Ill email that to you as well.

You make your living selling air time. Clients invest in advertising to get results. Clients arent buying air. They are buying more store traffic, more table turns, inventory moving off the shelves, image in the marketplace. In short, they will buy what good advertising will do for them. I believe we have an obligation to provide them with good advertising.

The first rule of advertising is: People dont buy products and services. They buy what the product or service does for them. Think about this when writing branding commercials. Dont talk about the product, its features/benefits, etc. Talk about what the product does for the people buying it.

Nobody buys a Rolex watch to tell time; they buy it for status. People dont buy mattresses; they buy a good nights sleep. People dont buy a hunk of meat; they buy a romantic dinner. Your clients arent buying air; they are buying solutions to their problems.

Your clients get better when you get better. If you want better results for your clients, write better copy. Spend 80 percent of your time talking about what to advertise and what to say when you advertise. This will set you apart, and it will help you set your clients apart.
Youll find some examples of good commercials, bad commercials, and branding commercials on our website HERE.

This Wednesday Chris Lytle and I are talking branding during the Radio Sales Success Expander webinar series. Click here to find out more and sign up to participate live or on demand.

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and Partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. You can reach Jeff at
Twitter: @JeffreyASchmidt

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- guoguo
(4/10/2014 11:23:00 AM)
All well and good, Jeff.
Yet, I have to wonder: Where do these sales-folk pick up the skills to write exceptional copy? Is it through a process of osmosis? Is it a gift from the gods? Is the copy just what the clients want anyway?

Terrific copy is not something that we copywriters pull out of our butts - at least not for the first decade or so. And that's assuming we are given the go-ahead to generate something worthwhile - a rare occurrence.

I do appreciate, however, the station(s)' reality - as much as it doth sucketh large.

- Ronald
(4/8/2014 8:11:33 PM)
Thanks for all the feedback. I'm happy to have continued this discussion. It is clearly a worthy discussion and one that must continue.

I understand push back. That is why my approach was to go to the sellers. If we as sellers write better copy, nobody is going to complain about it. :-) So if you sell radio for a living, just commit to doing a better job on the commercial copy.

This will help programming and your clients. Who doesn't want to get better?

- Jeff Schmidt
(4/8/2014 3:50:18 PM)
There was a time - not so long ago - when that kind of talk from the likes of "radiomike" would have got him drug out to behind the shed and issued a righteous whuppin' with a hickory switch.

Commercial production as an element of Programming? None of us have been able to even wake that dog up - never mind get it out there to do some huntin'...

- Ronald
(4/8/2014 12:45:03 PM)
From a programmers view, I would add this: Does the commercial make for entertaining listening even if the listener is not interested in the product? That's protecting the audience so that they'll stick around for the messages concerning something they are interested in.

- radiomike

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