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In Search of the Effective Commercial

| August 21, 2012

By Al Herskovitz

H & H Communications

BRADENTON, Fla. — The radio advertising world is going through a major shakeup.  National ad agencies and the clients they represent are finding that “funny commercials ain’t workin’” as intended.  Research is showing that these spots do get an occasional chuckle, create some brand awareness, may even improve market share a little bit, but have not been as effective as designed in bringing in new customers.  Does this mean the disappearance of the Geico lizard and the spokesduck for AFLAC?  The insiders are not saying, but there are strong hints that changes in approach are coming and soon to a number of national advertisers who have been featuring humor and what is termed as “cuteness.”

In what direction will they be going?  Sources say the Madison Avenue move is going to be to recognizable spokespersons and “scenes from real life”  in order to make an emotional connection with the listener.

There is significance to this for the talk radio sales effort.  The days of the local station and the independently syndicated show having a commercial copywriter on staff are largely gone. Consolidation, automation and the nation’s staggering economy generally have doomed that position.  The effect has been that much of the commercial writing has fallen to the sales rep in cooperation with the talk show host.  What has followed has resulted in hit-or-miss effectiveness.

The recognizable spokesperson has long been in play in talk radio since program hosts, many working from ad lib fact sheets, in reality, are recognizable to their listeners.  While most hosts try their darndest to make their ad lib comments effective, once again the sponsor may find the emphasis just plain wrong.  For the most part, fact sheets are loaded with a lot of less-than-essential facts and radio clichés.

There are a number that I’d like to relegate to the copy scrap heap.  Examples: “We’ll tell you what yourpodiatrist doesn’t want you to know.”  You may replace “podiatrist” with almost any business category.  The line has become ubiquitous.  How about this one? “And tell ‘em Julius Caesar sent you.”  Fill in with any program host’s name.  Who cares?  And of course the ever-popular “in the comfort of your own home.”

Phone numbers, as important as they may, can be a bugaboo primarily because the airways are loaded with them.  Who can remember a particular one from the avalanche of digits?  However, there is a neat way to make a specific number a bit more memorable.  Most numbers are given as follows: two-three-one, three-six-eight, four-seven-five-nine.  Better: two-three-one, three-six-eight, fortyseven -fiftynine. The latter presentation has been tested and proved to be easier to keep in mind.

“Scenes from real life” also are a challenge, the most common of which are testimonials.  With rare exception, most of these do not sound sincere since they are by real folks for whom talking into a microphone is a strange and stressful experience.  And dramatized “scenes” also fail to get a passing grade since they tend to use words and phrases that ordinary, regular people just don’t use.  They really are unconvincing.

What a dilemma!  What to do?!  Hire a copywriter?  Too expensive, you say.  Can’t afford it. There is, however, solid help out there.  It’s the Radio Advertising Bureau.  This trade group is dedicated to improving radio sales and offers terrific services including a number aimed at creating and writing good commercials.  They spotlight award winning commercials. They run webinars on creative writing.  They show examples of effective spots.  Check them out at

Lots of listener calls; high-profile, big name guests; strong ratings do not guarantee success in our business.  But effective commercials do.


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

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Category: Sales