(By Ronald Robinson) After swapping a few very cordial emails with a well-known and credible sales-man/copywriter, it was confirmed: He and I are operating, generally, from polarized models-of-communication for radio. Besides being an impressive, creative talent, he is very much a copywriting traditionalist. But then, so is everybody else. The copy edicts – the “givens” – are those I, too, have been hearing for decades.
“The Book” on copywriting was written a very long time ago, originally for the print medium. At the time, David Ogilvy and Marconi were still hanging out. The copy-and-paste transference of the material to broadcast was accepted as seamless, appropriate, and effective. Few distinctions, if any, were made between print and radio. Since then, the principles have also gone completely unchallenged. “The Book” had become a hymnal.
Now, I would be foolish to argue all “typers of the hype” are writing copy that is utterly ineffective. (Radio does plod along without me.) My proposition is that copy, and on-air presentations, need to and can, drastically, be made more effective. My friend forwarded mp3’s of a dozen ads he had written. Here is a portion of my (edited) response:
“Having listened again to the mp3’s, I can reiterate I was hearing the work of a talented and skilled practitioner of the trade. Plus, the creative twists were welcome and appreciated. I should point out that I am, much too often, voicing scripts that don’t hold a candle to yours. What follows, then, is not a critique of your work. That would be insulting and of no practical use. I want to avoid all that.
Rather, I want to (very briefly) introduce to the conversation a different and contemporary model. The traditional template could be labeled “Old School” – adhering to the set of copy writing, carved-in-store rules and regs on which we were both raised. The model I promote might then be (formally) called “The Whizzy, New, Advanced Model.”
Please appreciate: I didn’t pull this material out of my butt. It was not a revealed truth – no stereo voices from the lilac bush, either. I had already been a trained “Old School” radioman for about 15 years (on-air and copy) before crashing into these new materials.
I had begun studying to work as a counselor. I was always intrigued by “mind stuff.” The first shock came from my being piled high with texts on the complexity and power of language. I mean, I was already (supposedly) a “professional communicator.” The reams of researched, rule-governed, tested, and already successfully applied information demonstrated I was anything but. Nevertheless, I was absolutely thrilled when I realized this material could sound natural and be incredibly dynamic when transferred to radio.
I began applying the precise techniques, strategies, and methodologies to my on-air and copywriting work, with extraordinary and spectacular results. I won’t bore you with the “this is me diggin’ me” specifics.
In a recent Radio Ink piece, “Radio’s (Un)Comfortable Pew,” I invited readers to do an online search of just one portion of the material: “psycholinguistics.” That one introduction alone can send a writer scurrying for cover in much taller timber. Although there are many techniques – bold and nuanced, obvious and subtle – I will provide a couple of basic premises, as they apply to radio influencing listeners.
The First Big One (“You”)
Radio has never been able to single-out or identify any individual who is listening. The reality is: Many people are listening at any given time and we can’t identify any of them, not in real time. The singular “you” becomes a jolt, an affront to their identity and space, particularly given that a direct connection to any listener has never been confirmed.
I do agree that “you” tends to (briefly) get somebody’s immediate attention as in “He said ‘you,’ so I guess that means me.” Unfortunately, whatever message goes with the “you” almost always has nothing to do with the majority of listeners. I also point out that since the “you” shows up in virtually every piece of copy, its desired impact gets weakened, even annoying. No sane listener ever accepts the explicit intimacy.
I don’t know everyone responsible for the original dogma, and that is what it has become, a series of unproven, unsubstantiated edicts. It is wholly inaccurate to claim radio is a “one-to-one medium”. Nor is radio a direct medium. Rather, it is a “one-on-unspecified” – an indirect medium. Are listeners individuals? Certainly! But, we have made no connections. We address individuals as if we had at our peril. Practically, the second person (“You”) is distorting and destructive! Without further, detailed explanation, the provided alternative is to go to Third Person. (More later.)
The Second Big One (“Do”)
Writers and on-air folks are constantly telling people what to do. We justify the practice by identifying it as a “call to action”. Listeners who have never heard of a “call to action” are still getting smacked with “demands for behaviors.” This element shows up in every writer’s copy. It’s easy, expected, and as natural as breathing. To a listener, although subtle and usually an unconscious process, it is still insulting and annoying. Where else in our culture – unless somebody is a cop, boss, or a Mom – does anyone have the explicit authority to tell anybody else to do anything? Do jocks and copywriters get a pass? I think not. The demand can be as subtle as “Get 40% off” or as outrageously direct as “Do it today!” The quick solution is to imply everything. (More later.) Meanwhile, I invite you to print this email and re-read it as hard copy. The reason: Print and electronic media have completely different brain access!! (More later.)
So. Those are just two of the many planks making up this platform, this “New, Advanced, Whizzier Model.” Please appreciate the information also screwed me up for a good while, until I started implementing it, and began enjoying amazing results.”
Ronald T. Robinson has been involved in Canadian radio since the ’60s as a performer, writer and coach, and has trained and certified as a personal counselor. E-mail him at [email protected]