Turn It Up

Learn what your radio ads need to succeed, and get ready to make some noise.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the January 2004 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Radio campaigns are standard fare for many entrepreneurs nationwide. But do you know what turns a ho-hum radio concept into a terrific ad and what makes for the most effective on-air copy and execution? It takes more than amusing your audience-though that helps.

"People don't mind being sold to, if you're going to entertain them along the way," says copywriter extraordinaire Adam Chasnow of Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, whose work for Hollywood Video and Saturn, among others, has earned four coveted Radio-Mercury awards, including the $100,000 grand prize. Chasnow believes there's "a wall of terrible radio advertising out there that's annoying to listeners," and entrepreneurs often end up spending thousands of dollars on ineffective campaigns. So to get the best results from your radio efforts, follow these three guidelines for commercials that make listeners sit up and take notice:

1.Grab attention. Right from the start, a great spot should grab and hold the listener's attention. Comedy is a common technique. Says Chasnow, "It's easy to get people to stay tuned if you're going to make them laugh." Though not all subject matter can be treated with knee-slapping comedy, your spot can include some degree of humor, be uplifting or at least include a positive spin on your subject. With clever writing, the product itself can be the antidote to a comedic situation, for example.

Many successful spots use sounds such as an unusual voice or compelling music to get people's attention. But don't use music that blends in too thoroughly with the station's programming. You want your spots to stand out, though not in a jarring way. The key is to understand your target audience and fit your musical choices to their preferences.

2.Keep them listening. The best radio spots make you want to listen all the way through. For that, an audience must be able to relate to the story. In other words, it has to ring true. "There has to be a truth that relates the listener to the product or brand," says Chasnow.

If you really want listeners to hang in there with your radio commercial, focus on a single message, and resist the temptation to include a laundry list of features. Listeners will also pay more attention to your spot if it's part of a campaign. They'll associate each new ad with the previous ones and listen for the latest twist, helping to extend your brand message more successfully than if you were to run unrelated spots.

The quality of your on-air talent is critical, too, although you don't have to use a large cast. In fact, the 2003 Radio-Mercury grand-prize-winning commercial, created by New York City advertising agency DeVito/Verdi for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, used just one voice for the body of the spot. It's entitled "Dinner Date," and the adept actor portrays a racetrack announcer who "calls" the low points of a bad date-from no reservations to a peck on the cheek-as if it were a horse race. (Hear the spot at

3.Reward the audience. Radio isn't a direct-response medium, although some advertisers mistakenly use it that way. While most listeners probably won't recall a telephone number at the end of a spot or a complicated call to action, what they will remember is how what's being advertised is going to make their lives better. Just as the punch line at the end of a joke rewards the listener, your spot should close with a solid payoff-the resolution of a humorous situation or some final bit of information that helps listeners take advantage of what you offer.

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