(By Ronald Robinson) Radio communication is considered by a huge majority of broadcasters, I believe, to be a nebulous and “iffy” art, and a closed science. Radio people will assert that everything that needs to be known about radio advertising/communication is already known, and those pesky, creative weenies need only be pandered to, patronized, and shuffled off to a dank and poorly lit cubicle somewhere in the back.
I am reminded of a time when the field of optics was considered a closed science – everything that needed to be known about making lenses was already known. That’s when a guy came along and said, “This is called a ‘laser.’ I wonder what we can do with this!” And that’s when optics exploded into whole new spectrum of possibilities.
Recently, a commentator suggested – with strong support from peers – that what radio copywriters needed to do was become familiar with the work of mid-20th century ad writing wizard, John Caples. He was a print ad copywriter. The commentator encourages modern copywriters to learn the methods of Caples and apply them to radio!
Hence, now we are forced to be dealing with a “C’mon, man!” moment. Given all the neurological research of the last decades, the assertion to model ancient print approaches is akin to representing old-time, tent revival rantings as functional communications. This is absurd! But, the base still seems to hang on. Whether out of desperation or not, I don’t know. But, I have deep suspicions.
Accepting a model of print communications and applying it to radio delivers extraordinarily ineffective copy that is produced and foisted on advertisers, and at the expense and annoyance of audiences on an everyday basis. This is the case at local and corporate stations everywhere.
I repeat: This strategy speaks to the rules that were developed before WWII, and became dogma in the days of print, posters, bill boards, newspapers, magazines, etc. – essentially, an electronic-free advertising environment. The distinctions that many observers and participants fail to make, yet still maintain as gospel, are the ones between the different brain accessing properties of print and electronic media.
Each medium has a different neurological impact and, as such, the “rules” need to be addressed and updated for electronic media. All messaging and advertising do not qualify as worthwhile and effective in the same ways or across all media or platforms. This is no trifling matter, and an appreciation of that distinction is a good place to start before differences, exceptions, and subtle but powerful nuances can be appreciated and applied.
Meanwhile, I read recently that a radio pundit essentially declared that the issue is more about what you say than how you say it. When I read that, I had to check for a pulse – mine! Print (and radio) ads are, often, no more than info-dumps – than what. A well-photographed vegetable comes with copy that reads: “Broccoli. Three for a dollar.” The delivered flyers are rife with that. And for good reason: That’s all that is required. If the produce looks good in the ad, and if the price is right, vegetables will be sold.
What, I wonder, would be the result of a well-crafted radio ad.
“With suppertime approaching, there is time for families to enjoy the taste, nourishment, and freshness of….here it comes: Broccoli! Now at Friendly Fred’s Food Mart.
“Some folks love their broccoli with a little butter and some salt and pepper. Others take it further – with a fantastic melted cheese sauce. There’s a rumor going around that even some kids can be tricked into enjoying broccoli, when it’s prepared with a flourish. Today at Fred’s, broccoli is just three for a dollar! And that’s no rumor.”
Now, another radio ad could have been written that was made up of an unending list of sale-priced products from Fred’s, crammed into a 30-second spot, with a big finish along the lines of “Shop at Fred’s today!” This ad would be about the what. This ad is based on an approach designed exclusively for print. For radio, it’s a buggy whip approach. The former is a “radio massage.” This situation is still alarming. C’mon, man!
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. Email him at [email protected]