How to Create a Memorable Radio Commercial

In today’s online obsessed world clients and agencies apparently think radio advertising does nothing to lift sales or improve brand perception, so they steer clear of using the medium.  They seem to believe that radio advertising is just a waste of valuable dollars.

Why is this so, when more than half the population are listening every day?

Unfortunately, most radio advertising is boring and annoying to listeners, and without an emotional spark between your radio commercial and the audience, you will never sell anything.

Much like good content marketing, the most appealing and memorable radio ads are those that are insightful, tell a compelling human story and aim to create a strong bond with the audience. Although there are hundreds of creative spots written and on-air, only a very few have the magic ingredients needed to cut through the clutter, and those commercials can make your bottom-line jump with joy, as well as build your reputation. These gems are the ads that people remember.

Whether sales promotion or image building, no matter what you’re selling, your target audience is listening and a remarkable radio idea is waiting to be born.

Writing memorable radio advertising is only one part of the equation; writing a concise piece of communication that delivers both sales and higher brand awareness is even more challenging.

With sound effects, music, brilliant scripting and creative production, a well-crafted radio spot can stir response like no other medium.

Be Inspired. Dramatize the proposition

Here is what you need to aim for as you develop your radio scripts.

The entire thing should be framed as an experience for the listener. The world you transport them to in your creative commercial may be the kitchen, the garden, a foreign land, a different time in history, another planet even, or in any place or situation you can think of. This is theatre, so be theatrical. Leap off from the obvious and create a story that tells the audience exactly what you came to say and is compelling at the same moment.

All this in just 30 seconds is a tall order for the writer.

Creating great radio commercials comes straight out of the story your brand has to tell; the intrinsic reason why you’re in business, and the very nub of your service or product proposition. When a radio spot connects with the essence of your company, the story you tell cannot help but be believable, and the message reaches straight into the hearts and wallets of your audience.

The commercial must have a big promise to make people interested and then buy. This is not to be confused with a discount or promotional promise, though they can also be creatively driven; the spot must give an assurance of your product’s quality in its mood, the story, and the message. If your ad expresses the character of your business perfectly, from very formal to really light-hearted, the consumer will respond to your communication with a new sense of trust.

Exactly the purpose of the whole exercise.

Your 30-second spot must be easy to recall, maybe funny, unusual, or musical – but it must be something that is uniquely yours and generates a passionate reaction. The pictures drawn in the commercial should appear vividly in the minds of the people listening and make them act.

The magic of a hook

Before I forget, the spot must have a real hook – something people will remember.

A memorable radio ad should be so good on the ear that people will ring up the radio station and ask for the commercial to be played again! If you can get them laughing, or better yet, joining in on the joke, then your ad will be a sure-fire winner.

There are radio ads in Sydney where a mother and son duo speaks to each other with a great sense of humour about household appliances. Their shtick is that they really are mother and son and their mock arguments, and loving banter are sometimes hilarious but slam the message home with their store name and their value proposition continually being reinforced over many commercials. It is likeable and humorous advertising, and of course, their business is flourishing.

They do not read boring announcements, the type a radio station or unimaginative ad agency produce, they have been creative, spent just a little money, and it has been paying off handsomely.

These commercials, like all well-crafted radio spots, are pleasing to the ear. Not raucous screaming discount offers, or overloaded with words. They are clear and easily understood.

I have heard and written radio spots using superheroes, two cats talking in a soft purr, a man in a vineyard cellar, another man on a very tall crane, an architect describing a building as if it’s already finished and two lovers discussing their engagement ring with a jeweller. Tomorrow I may take a trip to Hawaii and go out on a surfboard.

In the arena of the mind, anything is possible. Telling stories, creating emotions, and making your ads as unforgettable as the latest hit song are all achievable.

It takes a storyteller to tell your story

The radio script must fill exactly 30, 45 or 60 seconds, a very short time by anyone’s stopwatch. You need to build a picture and a sales story in no more than 75 words over 30 seconds at normal speaking pace, but that is non-stop voiceover: ‘wall-to-wall’. You can add music to summon a mood, and there are tricks with echo and other voice effects to make the spot sound louder or crisper, but the real currency for memorability is far more complicated.

The radio script writer must be a storyteller, a salesman, a friend and confidant to the listener. They must have an unbridled imagination and a special way with words because in a radio script every word matters. The radio copywriter must know their way around the recording studio as well and bring that knowledge to bear at the script stage; in short, they need to be able to ‘picture’ the final spot in their mind as they write.

As a client you must also be able to get a picture of how the final commercial will sound just from reading the script.

Effective radio scripts are written in a very particular way, almost like a stage play but with more emphasis on the sound effects (SFX.) Here is a one made up only to show you how a scriptwriter sets out a script ready for the production studio:

30-second radio.

SFX: Man in the shower. Humming to himself

SFX: Phone ringing in another room. (Continues throughout.)

Man: ‘Oh, not now!’

SFX: Shower turns off

SFX: Man grunting as he gets out of the shower. Door opening.

Man: Grunt, squeal, scream as man hits something.  Ouch (include slip SFX.)

SFX under. The sound of bookshelf breaking. Then tumbling of books. Phone stops ringing.

Man: groaning. “Hullo?” Hullo?

SFX: End of call tone. Followed by more grunts. Then, dial tone. Followed by ringing tone

Man: Honey, you rang, now my toe is bleeding!

Voice over: Aren’t you glad you have (insert brand) caller ID?

And here, for your enjoyment, are some award-winning radio ads from down the years. These should give you a feeling for what is required.

The magic letters: ROI

Using the medium well in your marketing plan is difficult, and creating something memorable and that actually works is even harder. Make sure you choose the right radio station for your target group and create your commercials accordingly.

Because radio production costs so little, say $2,000 – $6,000 for a radio spot depending on the complexity, music choices, etc., and that includes studio time and two or three voices. These days a quality TV commercial production can cost from a minimum of $100,000 to a couple of million dollars.

The ROI for radio, if you have the right commercial, can be the best you’ll ever realize. With 14 million plus listeners on an average day, you can be sure that radio will reach your target audience in droves.

Radio can drive people to your content and into becoming customers. You can make your brand name or your website famous overnight with a memorable commercial on the right stations. It just takes a great concept, fluid writing skills, the touch of talented actors and a recording studio expert.

Once you have your audience engaged, you need to have excellent follow up when they Google you, with well written, professional web content to match.

(This post was authored for Article Writers Australia by the late Mark Amdur, and was based on his extensive experience as an advertising copywriter).

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