Does “Creative” = Wasted Effort?


(By Ronald Robinson) From time to time, a local station will crank out a brilliant piece of creative advertising. The staff will gather around, howling with delight while offering kudos all around. “Let’s enter it for an award!” they will exclaim. Salespeople will hold their tongues and grudgingly wince out a qualified smile as they wonder to themselves: “Nice. But, will it sell anything?”

It can’t be effectively defended that a “direct response” ad won’t work – at least to some degree. Of course it will work – again, to some degree. It is also true that the copy for these ads can be pulled off a template and produced in just a few minutes. The advertisers want little else and audiences expect little else. The sales folks are also part of this unacknowledged agreement. They, too, expect little else. Some might enjoy a little “creative” to take to the street on occasion. But, they won’t be holding their breath, either.

For “creative” to be appreciated and preferred, a number of elements have to be considered and understood, first. That these issues have yet to be put to bed, tucked in, and kissed has always left me baffled. I have always flaunted the idea that properly constructing “creative” is a more effective approach to radio advertising. Neither have I spent the totality of my radio career in Rakabakastan.

My “thing” in this space has been about making huge improvements in the writing and delivery of those very same “direct response” ads – something else that radio refuses to consider, never mind undertake. I have also been promoting the idea that on-air presenters are, likewise, desperately in need of similar improvements.

Here then, is a reminder of what radio advertising must include in order to be as effective as possible:

  •   Gain and maintain audience attention. This is not as simple as it might seem. An audible beer-fart will get an audience’s attention. The challenge is about what happens after that.
  •   Generate an appropriate and previously chosen emotional response from the audience.
  •   And, if the advertiser is a stickler for such things, introduce the brand and/or the advertiser’s offer.

I believe most astute readers would agree that the capacity to accomplish all three of these (above) elements in a standard “direct response” ad is severely limited – right out of the chute. We are all stuck with the required, traditional form: “Tell ‘em who you are and how terrific you are. Tell ‘em what the ‘deal’ is. Tell ‘em how much it’s not going to cost. Tell ‘em to buy now. Then, tell ‘em again.”

I accept the reality that even this banal, superficial, insulting, and boorish approach has effects. This has been radio’s bread-and-butter reality for many decades. Having made no significant improvements, if any, however, leaves radio exactly where we have been for those decades – stuck in the glue.

Radio is in a position to consider more and better sales-oriented materials. The potentials to improve on revenues through more effective sales presentations are improving on a regular basis. For some, that happenstance would be cause for relief, maybe even celebration.

The material that hits the air, however, has been carved and left in a small park on the side of the road as if it were a stone memorial for lost opportunities. Any station that can make even subtle improvements in the quality and influence of its locally produced commercial content will have access to even better results for its advertisers.

Creative radio commercials might be recognized, one day, as a gold standard and a necessary component of successfully effective radio advertising. However, this proposal has been discounted by the industry as no more than a cute, novelty strategy. “Creative is all right,” they would say, “as long as producing it doesn’t take up time and resources.”

The suppression of “creative” radio advertising is also indicative of a more general approach to broadcast communications. Available, updated processes in the writing of “direct response” ads have also been bottom-shelved and forgotten in some recess of the janitorial supply room. The same can be said for the attention paid to the communication skills of the on-air folks.

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]


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