Revitalizing Casually Terrible Audio Ads
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Pitfalls and Rescues for Stale Radio & Podcast Marketing
Radio & audio spots for local businesses don't have to be boring, utilitarian, or otherwise annoying. Although it may be comforting to fall back on passable 30-year old formats, the message is getting lost on modern audiences. Reorient scripts to focus on "So What" and "Why Should I Care" then work with local creatives and/or real customers that can deliver a compelling, authentic message that resonates and commands attention.
Punching Through Yammering Dialogue
For many of us, the work week starts with a morning driving routine that drops off a few kids at school, files your vehicle into a clogged lane of traffic, and just misses that 45-minute block of music on several of your preset radio stations. That block always ends about 10 minutes before the hour. Because you also forgot to queue up your favorite podcast, you brace yourself for the inevitable onslaught of annoying commercials that still sound like this:
Why are brands relying on this format and spending thousands of dollars to aggravate potential customers who are likely already annoyed that their lane isn't moving while the other one seems to be moving just fine. More shocking, modern professional ad agencies are advising their clients to stick with it while also charging a premium.
Barb: "Oh hi, Tammy! It sure is hot out here but my Azaleas are soaking it up."
Tammy: "You said it Barb and they look fantastic. Hey, did you hear? Mario's Plumbing is offering a free laser gunk-removal treatment on your kitchen line with your first service visit?"
Barb: "Mama Mia!"
This example is only slightly exaggerated and this zombie format can be found shuffling aimlessly around the radio dial to this day. Why create characters and a scenario when no one believes that real people have casual conversations about plumbing promotions? The only reason to keep using this format is to poke fun at it, which some have used to greater effect.
Effective short radio and audio-only ads should incorporate your overall marketing strategy and focus on the needs of the targeted demographic. No need to throw out all of that market research or lose sight of a customer profile just to give your cousin a shot at the material because he does an amazing Joe Pesci impression. It's ok to be funny, when appropriate, but stay on brand and on message to solve the listener's problem.
[Running water, washing dishes]
Son: "Ugh, Mom, what's that smell?"
[Mom turns off water]
Mom: "Huh, yeah, you're right...is it the sink?"
Narrator: Got stink in your sink, call Mario's Plumbing at 555-1234 today to kill it with lasers.
Son: "Woh cool!"
Narrator: Yes, lasers. Mario's laser gunk-removal treatment clears away potentially harmful bacteria that causes that nasty stank.
Son: "Zzzzaaapp, pew, pew, pew!" [fades off into distance]
[Mom turns on water back on]
Mom: "Uh, well thanks for the tip. [sniffs, breathes out] Yeah, I'm caling...this is just foul."
This short example integrates the target audience, a relatable scenario, some production value to sell the effect, a problem to be solved, and of course, humor.
Avoiding Accident-Causing Advertisements
You may not hear Pizza Guy's level of obnoxiousness on the radio these days but the auditory onslaught of shrill and grating voice work is unrelenting. Usually, the culprit is a business owner or a relative who think they sound like a soloist in a chorus of angels on the airwaves. Either owners think this is a cheaper option or they believe the spouse, sister, or nephew has real talent. Having children read all of the marketing copy isn't as cute as you think it is either.
Spend a little bit more to hire professional voice actors. The average cost to hire a voice actor for a 30-second ad is under $200. That may still seem like a chunk of change but it will greatly improve how your copy is communicated and received. Creative professionals add depth and emotional appeal to the project that holds the audience's attention. At the very least, it removes the listener's desire to careen into the nearest guardrail to make the nasally noises go away.
Pizza Guy also reminds us that less is certainly more, especially in the auditory realm. Soundtracks and sound effects don't make flat scripts better. They add a layer of noise that drowns out the weak message. Musical cues can be effective and sound effects set the scene but when it's time to deliver the pitch, keep the distractions to a minimum. Barb and Tammy shouldn't have to shout over birds loudly chirping at each other and Mom should stop washing dishes long enough to learn about Mario's laser-guided gunk bomb.
But Don't Be Boring
Speaking of our imaginary ad personalities, who's worse: Barb and Tammy or Pizza Guy? Barb and Tammy are two-dimensional characters who are deeply in tune with the weather and their potential plumbing needs. Pizza Guy is a larger-than-life cheeseball with an overactive sound board.
Our friends in the screenwriting community suggest that Barb and Tammy are the absolute worst. The cardinal rule for TV and movie writers is "don't be boring" and that applies to audio ads as well. The audience will remember Pizza Guy and he may even grow on you after awhile in a so-bad-it's-kinda-good sort of way. Your target audience will forget about Barb and Tammy milliseconds into the next ad about affordable car insurance for motorists with atrocious driving records.
Whether on screen or through the speakers, people respond to unique personalities, especially in they have an interesting story to tell. When you find these special types of people to read for you, the need for high production value and sharply-written dialogue fades away. If your cousin has those qualities and can communicate a simple message without resorting to that Joe Pesci impression, by all means give him a shot.
It's easy to reproduce the yammering voices ad that's been done for decades or you can simply read your copy into the microphone while a generic soundtrack plays in the background. If you're already spending the time and resources on the ad, it's worth putting in a little more work to make it interesting and create something that reflects your brand's voice. Although, it doesn't have to feel like work. Let those creative juices flow from the objective you set out to achieve, then just have fun with it!