By Ryan Ghidoni
Thursday May 5th, 2016
Audio Active Advertising – Episode 16: Learn the rules and when to break them.
Radio ad writing is a form of creative communication. Your goal is to communicate with your target listener in a way that is meaningful and memorable to them.
The rules of “formal writing” may have served you well in your post secondary education BUT radio advertising is all about writing informal and genuine conversations with real people.
So today I present my Top 3 list of “formal writing” rules you should toss to make your ad copy more engaging:
Tossable Rule #1: Use a sophisticated vocabulary with terms that are accepted in the topic’s field.
I’ve been married for over 11 years and I’ve seen a lot of romantic comedies. You know how to spot the bad guy that the girl will not end up with?
Chris Sarandon as Prince Humperdink in “The Princess Bride”
Look for the guy with the sophisticated vocabulary…because society has decided that this means he is a smarmy elitist and will ultimately put himself before others. An ad that gives off this impression and talks down to it’s target won’t be very convincing.
Instead, try writing in the language of your target consumer.
If you find it difficult to lock in the lingo of your target because you’re a 20 something male and you’re trying to write to 50 something females, then go to a website that is written for your target and emulate the style. A brief look at betterafter50.com tells me that 50 something females struggle to prepare their adult children for independent life, enjoy the music of Prince, and find Donald Trump’s hair amusing. Feel free to borrow certain phrases, terms and insights. Just make sure you have a 50 something female proof your copy to make sure you haven’t used something out of context.
Use “terms that are acceptable in the topic’s field” if you are addressing people within that field. For example, if you’re trying to convince dentists to join an association of regional dentists, then feel free to talk about the benefits of correcting malocclusion while the mandible is still malleable.
Don’t use them if you are addressing people outside the topic’s field because it will confuse and alienate them. For example, if you are trying to convince homeowners to get a new roof, then using roofing terms like “end laps” and “selvage” will make people fear dealing with your roofing client.
Tossable Rule #2: Avoid a “first person” perspective. The formal writer is disconnected from the topic and does not use the first person point of view (I or we) or second person (you).
My intro to the power of “First Person” was Wolfenstein 3D
You’re writing on behalf of your client’s business and trying to build a bond between them and the listener. Why would you avoid writing from the perspective that is the most personal? During my career, I’ve worked with announcers that didn’t want to say “we” because they were not paid representatives of the client’s business. I respect this perspective and only use these announcers on ads where first person isn’t required. At the same time, I actively search out voices that are willing to voice in the first person because it’s more genuine and more likely to connect with people.
Explore more about the difference between first and third person at: http://www.skillsyouneed.com/write/formal-or-informal.html#ixzz47bc6G1Oi
Tossable Rule #3: Always use Proper Grammar
Igor and the Grammar Slammer in “The Hilarious House of Frightenstein”
Proper grammar is of the utmost importance…if you are writing for academics and robots but 99 percent of the time…you’ll be writing for regular people. You’re more likely to reach these people if you are willing to just “shoot the shit” with them. Here is a list of very successful ad campaigns taken from about.com that would have been dreadful if proper grammar was observed:
Grammatically, that’s not good at all. If you were to put that through the grammar filter, it would come out as something more like “Do You Have Milk?” But that’s dry, and awful. Got Milk? was catchy, simple and created a craze. It helped sell a lot of milk, and was endorsed by many major celebrities.
Think Different – Apple
If it were 100% correct, it would be Think Differently. Again, that’s not a strong piece of communication. Tonally, it has less teeth. It’s stiff. Boring. Think Different was bold and brave.
Make Summer Funner – Target
A lovely little campaign from a few years ago. Grammatically speaking, it’s an F. But “Make Summer More Fun” is bland. The incorrect version works.
The Few. The Proud. The Marines. – U.S. Marine Corps.
Three two-word sentences back-to-back? That’s not good. But it is. A good, simple sentence should have at least a subject and a predicate. However, once again the rules have been broken to create a phrase with impact.
If you are a badge wearing member of the grammar police…I recommend that you explore another perspective and check out the full article “Grammar. Don’t. Matter. – Perfect Syntax is No Substitute for Great Communication” at http://advertising.about.com/od/copywriting/a/Grammar-Do-Not-Matter.htm
I also recommend reading “There Is No Proper English” by Oliver Kamm of the Wall Street Journal at
Picture featured on torontorealtyblog.com
Rules are helpful when you are trying to organize information to share with people. I’ve used “rules of radio” a couple of times while compiling these articles. BUT I want you to understand that for every rule I’ve learned about radio advertising, I have witnessed the opposite approach succeed. How is this possible? The writer knew that any rule can be and should be tossed if it results in more meaningful and memorable communication. So learn the rules…then learn HOW and WHEN to break them.
Ryan Ghidoni is an 18-year veteran of radio advertising and has worked with some of the most creative sales reps, writers, producers and voice talent in the business.
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