One of the toughest challenges in advertising is to write a good radio spot.
Toughest and loneliest. Even in the heyday of the "Golden Age of Advertising" --- the '60s and '70s --- Doyle Dane Bernbach had to run a want-ad in Advertising Age, looking for a radio writer. They had great writers, but they didn't want to think about radio. Radio commercials don't get the attention they deserve, or the creative energy. It's such a difficult area to get enthusiastic about, that there are companies like the Radio Ranch and Chuck Blore in Los Angeles that will write and produce good radio spots for ad agencies all over the country, and get paid well.
Ad agency writers and art directors much rather work together on TV, where the sky's the limit on ideas and, often, the production budgets. Even print ads seem better to work on.
But radio? What can you do on radio? The answer is that you can do anything you can do on television, and then some. Radio has been called "The Theater of the Mind", because the pictures are in the listeners' minds. Your job is to create those pictures. That why many agencies assign art directors to work with writers on radio jobs.
Think of all the amazing things you can do on radio. You can interview a guy hitting baseballs off the top of the Empire State Building. You can sink the Queen Mary, and then raise it up and relaunch it. A football player can pass a bag of potato chips all the way down the field for a touchdown. A symphony conductor cab lead an entire orchestra on bicycles. You can discover life on Mars, or in Cleveland, for that matter. All at a small fraction of the cost of TV.
But you have to forget all that announcer talk, and loosen up. Here are some ways:
1. Pretend you're writing a television commercial. Think of the story, the hurdles, the characters. Then try to create it just in audio. Sound effects, actors, music, conversations shrieks, whatever.
2. Try playing "What If". What if George Washington used the product. Or a mermaid did, or a magician? What if we staged "The Great (Product Category Goes Here) Debate?
3. Stay conversational. Listen to the way people talk. Nobody's perfect. We don't use complete sentences, we overlap while people are still talking, and sometimes say ain't.
4. Use sound effects.Lions roar, trains whistle, planes whine, trucks rumble, taxicabs rattle. Use SFX (that's what they're called) to make the points you want.
5. Be surrealistic. One of the beauties of radio is that it doesn't have to mirror real life. Go a little nutty once in a while.
If you can do radio well, you'll be a hero in advertising. So write some commercials right now.
I'm all ears.