By Al Herskovitz
H & H Communications
BRADENTON, Fla. — It was one of those a-scene-from-life commercials. It went something like this: Woman 1 was the voice on an answering machine. “Hi, This is Madge, please leave a message.” Woman 2 was the caller. “Hi, Madge, this is Marge. Do you remember last week when we were talking about hormonal imbalance?” HORMONAL IMBALANCE? Regular folks don’t chat about hormonal imbalance on the telephone! Not unless they are two endocrinologists. The commercial was supposed to be about a weight loss product, but the premise was implausible. The commercial finally got around to the real topic – belly fat. Now there’s a subject many of us can relate to, and diets are something we could talk about to a friend.
Scenes-from-life commercials are quite common. The challenge is to make them sound like normal conversation. Sadly many of them come off contrived and unnatural because no one repeats an 800 number three times in rapid fire succession or refers to “plenty of free parking, open nightly ‘til nine” in this manner during talk between ordinary people.
Not that there aren’t plenty of good commercials on the air, but the ones that set your teeth on edge are numerous. For example: Who told car dealers to scream their spots? Even if the value and benefits of the vehicle are presented, the volume is distracting at the very least. After all that bellowing and shrieking over loud music you don’t know if they are trying to sell a used Yugo or a custom Rolls Royce.
There has been a proliferation of law firms advertising on talk radio. Well, that is good. However, the commercials all end with a legalism line similar to this. “The announcer is not a lawyer.” This is nice to know, but so what? Is this fact supposed to keep the listener from being duped and saved from some charlatan who has hung a hand-painted sign on the front of the garage offering and charging for legal advice?
This leads me to another dandy – those disclaimers tacked on to the end of auto spots that are read at such high speed that they are incomprehensible. If the information contained is so vital and legally necessary then why can’t it be understood. They are nothing more than fine print in a contract, and with a bit of eye strain contractual fine print can be read if you’re patient, but not absorbed by hearing.
Let’s look at this category: announcements that tell you that a good living is available by working at home. You can earn as much, if not more, money using your computer on the kitchen table than working at a regular job. I suppose it is possible, but there is a deep, dark mystery to all of this. The commercial never says what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s all to lure you to their website. Even then you still don’t learn what is going to produce all this wealth until you sign in.
Then there is the issue of too much verbiage jammed into 60 seconds. If it can’t be said in about 120 words then the message won’t get through. Many of these spots are designed to be presented by the local talk host as if they were “live” in order to give the impression of implied endorsement. But with today’s reliance on automation systems and extended spot breaks “live” becomes “pre-recorded.” The race is on or the ending gets clipped. And while we’re at it, would someone suggest they drop the phrase “and tell them Charlie sent you?” Have you ever gone into your local shoe store and said that? At best all you get from the clerk is a “that’s nice” answer or a quizzical look. It sure doesn’t get you a 15% discount on your new $625 Jimmy Choo round toe pumps.
Too often copywriters, ad agencies, advertisers, etc. fall into the trite trap of contrivance and cliché. When the ad campaign fails and there is little or no response, the station or show are blamed. What can the sales rep do? Unfortunately, other than diplomatically bringing it to the attention of the source, there’s not much that can be done. Believe me. I just recently tried and was roundly rejected. You just have to take your lumps and move forward. Remember, there are good and effective commercials too.
Al Herskovitz is president of H&H Communications, a Bradenton, Florida-based national radio syndication and advertising company. He can be phoned at 941-708-6520 or e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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