How I Write Radio Ads To Consistently Engage Listeners…
And Infuriate Industry “Experts.”
By Rich Harshaw
Sometimes you just have to dig in your heels and make a stand.
When you are 100% certain you’re right—and millions of dollars are at stake—it’s mandatory.
A few years ago I found myself on a conference call hotly debating the best way to write a window company’s radio ad with an overpriced, over-mouthed radio and television “expert.”
This “expert” was a representative from a marketing research firm that had been hired to evaluate the effectiveness of the radio ads I was writing for my client. The service was paid for by a station that was vying to get their hands on some of the client’s budget; they hired the experts as a “value add” to show that they were committed. Nice touch.
The problem was the “experts” were wrong.
According to them, the ads I was writing were labeled as “ineffective” because they didn’t get to the point fast enough. And they could prove they were right using scientific method.
Here was their testing methodology:
- They gathered a panel of people who were willing to listen to the ads and rate them.
- The listeners were given a dial that they could twist to the left or right depending on whether or not they liked what they were hearing in the ad at a given moment.
- The dial was positioned at 50 (midpoint) at the beginning of the ad; then the listener could twist the dial down to 0 (really hates the ad) or as high as a 100 (really loves the ad).
- The idea is that the dial can be turned in real time as they listen so their reaction to the ad could be measured on a second-by-second bases.
- According to the experts, the dial needs to jump to at least a 60 within the first 5 to 10 seconds or the listeners will tune out—and the ad will be branded “ineffective.”
Which is why they gave me a big, fat “F” for this ad:
This graph shows their tracking for the first 30 seconds of a 60 second ad. As you can see, the lines essentially stay flat at about 50 for the first 23 seconds, then spike upward to the mid-60s. According to the “expert,” under real-world conditions, the listener would have tuned out—or turned the station—before they ever got to the “engaging” part of the ad.
Here is the text of the ad, with the first 23 seconds in red text:
Don’t you hate to wait? I know I do. Red lights?—can’t stand them. Doctor’s office?—I’d rather be sick than sit in that waiting room for a half an hour. If a restaurant can’t seat me in less than five minutes, I’m out of there. So when I started (Client Name) twenty-five years ago, I made a vow that I’d do everything in my power to minimize that intolerable WAIT that you normally have to endure when call for a repair man. First of all, we’ll schedule your appointment for a time that actually works for YOU. During the day, after work, weekends, whatever is best for YOU. Then we’ll give you a GUARANTEED appointment window… and if we miss it… by even one minute, then your service call is 100% free. Yea, FREE. Because I’m serious about getting rid of the wait. It’s just one more way that we RESPECT you as a customer. Call (Client Name) at PHONE NUMBER; mention this ad and receive $XX off any heater repair, or $XX off any plumbing repair. That’s PHONE NUMBER or online at WebAddress.com.
The first 23 seconds is spent SETTING UP THE PROBLEM… getting the listener to fully agree that THEY TOO HATE WAITING. I mean really, doesn’t everyone hate to wait?
Then the next 20 seconds is spent explaining how this company solves the problem of waiting. Here is the “solution” part of the ad:
First of all, we’ll schedule your appointment for a time that actually works for YOU. During the day, after work, weekends, whatever is best for YOU. Then we’ll give you a GUARANTEED appointment window… and if we miss it… by even one minute, then your service call is 100% free. Yea, FREE. Because I’m serious about getting rid of the wait.
But the “expert” insisted that we get to the solutions—and the differentiating points for my client—much more quickly. It quickly devolved into passionate “who’s the greatest pitcher of all time”-style debate.
Which is when I dug in my heels.
To me, it’s real simple: Nobody wants to hear an advertisement; but people do want to have their problems solved. So if I can present the problem in an engaging, relatable way… then people just might listen to how I propose to solve that problem.
Keywords: engaging, relatable.
Then we got to the second ad that was evaluated; according to the “expert,” this one was rated even WORSE because it took even LONGER to “get to the point”—a full 30 seconds!
Let’s say you’re sitting there this summer and your air conditioner goes out. Kaput. Dead. It’s done. Let me ask you this—how fast do you want to get a new unit installed and cooling your home? You might be surprised at how long you’ll have to wait, especially if your system goes out during a peak heat day—which is likely. Most companies have a limited amount of trucks and a limited number of technicians, so you might have to wait for up to a week before they can fit you into their schedule. That’s why you should call (Company Name) instead. We have almost 200 trucks on standby, waiting to help you solve your air conditioning problems. In most cases, if you call us today, we can have your new unit installed and cooling your home tomorrow. That’s right—tomorrow. Call (Company) right now and take advantage of savings up to $XXXX on a new air conditioning and heating system. Our number is PHONE NUMBER; or visit us online at WebAddress.com. That’s PHONE NUMBER, or WebAddress.com.
Here is the feedback on the PowerPoint summary they gave us:
The problem, again, is the difference between somebody “hearing an ad” and “becoming engaged in an interesting and relevant message… that happens to be an ad.”
But wait, there’s more to the story!
They had additional data about people’s reaction to the ads that actually contradicted their advice to “get to the point quicker.”
They had data that showed that people actually liked the ads, and were getting the main points we were trying to make.
This graph (below) shows people’s overall reaction to the ad on various points. Anything over a 3 is considered good, and anything over a 4 is considered outstanding.
The first ad, “Hate To Wait” scored an overall very good 3.70, with an off-the-charts OUTSTANDING on the main point of the guaranteed appointment window. After all, Mr. Expert, the point of the ad is that they offer this guaranteed appointment window. It’s just more favorably received when the listener has a frame of reference to compare it to.
You know, the 23 seconds it takes to get the reader over to our way of thinking:
They also measure something called “Net Brand Gain” where they ask people if they are more likely or less likely to buy from this company based on the ad—or if the ad made no difference to them at all.
This ad scored at net brand gain of 51… meaning that there are 51 more people who said “more likely” than “less likely.”
In fact, out of five ads they tested, all five rated very high on both Overall Reaction and Net Brand Gain. This chart below shows how these five ads rated compared to other ads from other (non-related) companies the company had tested recently:
The “expert” admitted that it is exceedingly rare to have five ads from one company score so well on their charts. He also admitted that he couldn’t explain why these ads that “took so long to engage the listener” were scoring so favorably in terms of listener engagement. That’s just not possible. Very strange.
Think of each of your advertisements as a little sign that runners will see every tenth of a mile during a marathon. You don’t have to score any particular “big win” with any particular ad. It’s not a sprint! Instead, you want to make sure that your marathon running prospect doesn’t get bored with your ads and start to tune them out after a couple of miles. The best way to accomplish this is to tell stories, use interesting anecdotes, find appropriate metaphors… and keep things interesting. Make sure prospects understand the problems and the inadequacy of other solutions they might be considering. Then you can show them a better way—your way—and they’ll be 10X more likely and willing to accept you as the best solution.
That’s expert advice you can take to the bank.
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