Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Tying together poetry, parenting, and advertising in a neat little package

Archive for the tag “commercial”

One busy night

I’m a day late. Sorry.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I had blog posts written a week or more in advance. But with a right knee still recuperating from a torn ACL, stay-at-home dad duties for a 4-year-old and 6-month-old, AND my voiceover business…getting a blog post done can sometimes be challenging.

I had planned on writing the post Mon. night, in advance of Tue. publication. Thing is, priorities take – well, priority. And I had a bunch of ‘em…

Business before pleasure

AC pic

A small section of the interior of American Cottage Rugs’ showroom

Once the kids were in bed, I had to get hopping. First up: radio commercial production. A good client of mine, American Cottage Rugs, needed four :30 commercials edited down from four :60s we had produced last fall. While there was no new voicework involved in these new spots, there was a BUNCH of editing, which takes time to do correctly. I figured if I could get them edited, I could fine-tune and mix them down on Tue., which is what I did.

I also needed to get a voiceover audition submitted before the end of the night, so I took care of that, as well.

And wouldn’t ya know – more auditions came in while I was working, so I had to sift through them to see if there was anything appropriate for me. Having completed my studio work for the evening, I set to work on my other pursuit.

Those manuscripts aren’t going to write themselves

As you may know, I write children’s literature. For the past week or so, I’ve been working on a rhyming picture book manuscript that I really want to see completed. Sometimes it feels like I’m flying through it - and then I get stonewalled by a rhyme or plot issue and the process draaaaags. Keep in mind, I’m used to writing poetry, so anything longer than 16 or 32 lines is a tremendous challenge for a brain like mine. I needed to work on this, because I need to get the first draft done to see if what I’ve written is worth polishing.

But…

I also had to help a fellow writer and friend edit another picture book manuscript that we co-wrote over the past year, so that came first. I think it’s gone through 17 drafts at this point (I’ve lost count, honestly) but I’m pretty sure we’ve finally nailed it. I will admit I’m afraid to check the Google Drive for fear she’s made another tweak. We seem to do that to each other. A LOT.

Speaking of poetry…

A poem of mine has been accepted for publication at the online journal, The 5-2 : Crime Poetry Weekly. In addition to the text of the poem, the editor, Gerald So, likes to include readings of each poem he publishes, so I wanted to record my audio and email it to him in time.

So guess what I did before I went to bed?

DSCF2068 (Mic - Katie)Interestingly, the fact that I was so tired at that point helped my recording. I wanted the reading of the poem to exude a tired, run-down kind of emotion to it, and that’s precisely what I got!

Funny how if you put yourself in the position of where your character is, you can often nail the read. I once had to voice the part of an aerobics attendee who was out of breath, so I jumped up & down in the studio for a few minutes; when I opened the mic, my read was spot-on.

But wait, there’s more!

Did I mention our 6-month-old woke up at least three times while I was doing all of this? She normally sleeps through the night, but the poor little thing is teething like crazy and has a hard time staying comfortable. Her first tooth came in a week ago, and there’s at least one more trying to push its way up; needless to say, she’s not pleased with that. Life is pretty rough when you’re a baby.

I couldn’t wait to fall into bed around midnight. Until, that is, I remembered I still needed to do my second set of “prehab” exercises in advance of my ACL surgery later this month. Half an hour later, I was finally sleeping. As I think about it, I don’t know if I even completed the exercises – but at least I was on the bed when unconsciousness hit me.

So my Mon. night, as you can see, was a bit…full. I managed to get some of my blog post prepped, but didn’t write it until now. I’m very happy with my responsibilities – dad, hubby, voice talent, children’s writer, poet, blogger – but cramming all of those responsibilities into a 4-hour time frame can wear a person out.

Now, then…time to get working on that picture book.

Did I just hear the baby?

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

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The importance of being earnest…enough to advertise

Most dictionaries would probably define “earnest” as “serious in effort” or “sincerely passionate.”  If someone is earnest in what he or she is doing, they put their full heart, body, and soul into it. Which is why, if you’re trying to motivate people to take a specific action, it’s important to tell them.

I felt like I needed to post a short reminder about the importance of advertising, following a conversation I had with a political candidate over the weekend.

ID-10021920 (Times Square)

Hey, wait a sec – did I just see an advertisement?

If you have a great message and no one hears it…does it make a sound?  I’ve written about the subject before, but if you missed that previous post, my main point is, if you want others to know what you’re doing – you have to let them know.

That should be obvious, but unfortunately, it’s not always so.

Political season gears up

Over the weekend, I had a wonderful opportunity to chat with a political candidate during a meet-and-greet sponsored at the business of one of my clients.  She was in the early stages of the campaign - just starting to reach out and let folks know who she is and what she stands for – but was very well-spoken, friendly, and knowledgeable.

The attendees and I talked with her about what she believed, what she thought she could accomplish, and why she was running. Each time she was asked a question, she responded with a direct answer and was unapologetic for her beliefs.

I was surprised that a person this comfortable with public speaking had not run for office before.

And then she told me…she had.

You ran for what? When??

I was shocked to learn she had run for another political office a mere three years ago.  I stay pretty well-informed about our government and political issues, so it came as quite a surprise that she had run a campaign for an election that featured at least two other candidates – and although I remembered both of their names, hers did not ring a bell at all.

I told her I apologized for not remembering her, and half-joked about the importance of advertising…but the fact is, it’s not even close to a joke.

Of course, campaign fund-raising is important, and it can be very difficult to do any kind of promotion without a significant budget these days. Campaigns have to deal with a lot of quirks that normal businesses do not, such as having to raise vast amounts of cash in a short time for the express purpose of advertising; having to pay radio, TV, and newspapers in advance, before any advertisements or commercials can run; and trying to grow as quickly as possible, rather than being able to take a longer, more measured approach.

But the fact is, you won’t get the results you’re looking for – whether it’s an increase in widget sales, customer volume, or an election win – unless you advertise.

If you’re not advertising, you’re keeping it a secret.

shutterstock_134415755 (blurred lights)

There are a million messages out there. Is yours getting lost?

How do you plan to let potential customers or constituents know what you can do for them? How do you plan to showcase services, products, benefits?

If you’re not budgeting for it, how do you expect to get the word out?

Next time you’re reading the local newspaper, try this:  search through the pages quickly and make a mental note of what types of ads you saw. Then flip through it again and pay attention to all the ads, and see if any new ones pop out at you. Finally, flip through it a third time and scan each and every page until you find an advertisement you didn’t notice the first two times.

Then ask yourself, how many people who weren’t diligently scanning the paper missed that ad?  How many people do you think actually saw it and were moved to action?  Was it money well-spent?

It’s not about money; well, ok, it is

Yes, money helps buy commercials and advertisements…but actual “advertising” is more than that. It’s word-of-mouth, it’s meet-and-greets, it’s press releases, it’s phone calls with news directors and show producers, it’s talking to everyone and anyone who’ll lend an ear.

ID-10039778 (stand out in crowd)

It’s great that you’re different. But if no one knows, does it really matter?

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure to help businesses spread their message and grow, and I know for a fact that if they weren’t online, on the radio, or on social media, they wouldn’t be where they are now. Money will buy you the number of ads you’ll need, but the real value is in the message itself – what it says about you or your business, how it portrays you, and how your business can help the people you’re trying to reach out to.

So don’t let that message go unheard or unseen.  Advertise.

The people who hear about you today will become your customers – or, in some cases, your constituents – tomorrow.

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

From torn tendons to tenderloin: a week’s worth of life lessons

This past week has been another crazy-busy one. I know everyone has more and more responsibilities weighing them down these days, but for me, sometimes it’s hard just keeping those responsibilities straight – much less actually accomplishing them.

As a stay-at-home dad to my 3-year-old son and 10-week-old daughter, it’s a constant struggle trying to take care of them while running my voiceover business, writing my children’s poetry and picture book manuscripts, being a supportive hubby to my lovely bride, and trying to find a few spare minutes for myself to be able to recharge.

Grey - baking 4

My sous chef, working on the pizza dough

Oh, but first, I need to get a load of laundry in.  Hang on…

Ok, now as I was saying, I — oh, dang, wait a sec – I forgot to load the dishwasher…

Anyway, my point is – ugh, I just realized I was supposed to vacuum the house today! Oh, well, it’ll have to wait…

Before I try to write anything else, let me just put the dogs outside in their kennel and give the baby some milk so she can nap. I’ll have to pay these bills later today.

Let’s stick with bullet points

Indeed, that may be the best way to put this post together, all things considered. You see, although it’s been a stressful and challenging week, there are always rays of sunshine peeking through here and there – little glimmers of inspiration or encouragement that you might miss if you’re too busy trying to just get through the day. Here’s what my past week has been like:

- My Men’s Over-30 Indoor Soccer team’s first game of the season was last Tuesday night, and although we lost, it was to a team that has been playing far longer than we have. We held our own and did an admirable job. Of course, I would have preferred not to have torn a tendon in my left middle finger, but it happens. My finger will be in a brace for the next 6 weeks, but I’m not letting the injury stop me. I won’t be goal-keeping for half the season, but I don’t need fingers to play defense, halfback, or forward!
Lesson learned: Don’t let adversity stop you!

finger

Like I would let THAT stop me!

- A good client of mine asked me to produce a new series of radio commercials for her. We met at a recording studio and, as we have in the past, talked about her business and the various points she wanted to focus on.  I then had the audio (about an hour, total) sent to me, and I’m in the process of cutting up all her good parts into testimonial- style commercials. It’s a major project, and I anticipate being able to produce about 14 or 15 commercials, which she’ll be able to use throughout the rest of this year and next. Why so many? Because there many angles to her business, and I don’t just ask her questions when we’re recording; I listen to her answers. We converse. And that sense of comfort comes through.
Lesson learned: Talk less, listen more!

- One day last week, the baby started crying and wouldn’t stop. She had been changed, fed, held, rocked, changed again, held again, and nothing I was doing was altering her decibel level. Knowing that babies cry because – well, that’s just what they do - I tried not to let it get to me. Eventually, after holding her for what seemed like 182 hours (I’m pretty sure it was less than that, but my arm felt like it had been 182 hours), I decided to try putting her in her baby swing. She immediately stopped crying, closed her eyes, and fell asleep for 2 hours, allowing daddy to finally get some work done. At that point, all I really wanted was a really quiet massage – but since that was out of the question, I decided to work on those commercials.
Lesson learned: Patience, patience, patience!

Best Green Bean Casserole

I could buy 2 pounds for $50, or make twice that for $6. Let me think about that…

- I received a mail-order food catalogue over the weekend from a company I’d never heard of, but which tried tempting me with photos of succulent tenderloin beef, sirloin steaks, and filet mignon. I really wasn’t interested in anything that cost $48 per pound – I kid you not! – but I figured I’d continue to peruse the catalogue and see what else they offered. Then I came across the Green Bean Casserole. Yes, that’s right…the dish your grandmother used to make for Thanksgiving was available by mail-order, for only $25 a pound! Green beans, cream of mushroom soup, and cheap fried onion-things on top, and I could have a 2-pound package sent directly to my door for only FIFTY DOLLARS.
Lesson learned: If I ever have so much money that a $50 Green Bean Casserole sounds like a deal…slap me.

Pay attention to Life!

We don’t always have to be hit with disaster or suffer a major traumatic experience to recognize when Life (or God) is trying to teach us something. Really, there’s something we can learn in everything we experience, if we’re willing to look.

Like you, I get busy, I get stressed, I get uplifted, I get shot down. But in each circumstance, there’s wisdom to be gleaned. I’ve lost out on voiceover gigs; perhaps that’s Life teaching me tenacity. I’ve had numerous children’s writers tell me how much they love some of my poetry; perhaps that’s Life encouraging me to keep writing.

I have four projects I need to work on right now; perhaps that’s Life’s way of teaching me time management.

Or, maybe Life is just telling me everything’s going to be OK.

Either way, I’m listening.

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest,

The stand-up comedy rule that can make you be a better writer

IMG_1839

photo courtesy of Linda Baie

At the “Highlights” workshop I told you about last week, we discussed a variety of things, from how to write better poetry to how to better perform our poetry. One of the topics that came up was how to find a unique angle to write about. After all, every topic in the world has already been written about – so how does a children’s poet (or ANY writer, for that matter) figure out how to create something new and different, with a fresh perspective?

One of my ‘tricks’ which I shared is this. It’s a way to discard the worn out phrases, the clichés, the ‘also-rans’…and find something special, whether you’re writing poetry, novels, or even commercials.  This was only the fourth post I ever published on my blog (Aug. 13, 2012), long before my followers numbered in double-digits!  So I thought this might be a good time to resurrect it in case you, too, have struggled with finding your own personal spin on a subject. And please let me know your thoughts, below – I’d love to read your comments on this!

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See if you can come up with a humourous joke or ending to this line:  “Rutgers University fired their head coach for verbally abusing players…”

It’s ok, I’ll wait…

So, how long did it take you to come up with your response?  Fairly quickly?  Or did you take some time thinking about it?  If you answered with the first thing that popped into your head – congratulations!  You’re just like most people.

If, on the other hand, you took some time to think about your answer so that it would be unique, unusual, unexpected…you just discovered a stand-up comedy rule that can help you write better stories, poems, commercials, even Facebook comments and Tweets!

Before we go any further, take a look at this. Go ahead and skip to 1:09 and see what happens:

Example #1:

Now, whether or not you like Jay Leno, he and his staff know how to write comedy.  The thing is, you don’t need to be a comedy writer to follow this rule:

Never go with your first impulse!

That’s the rule, plain & simple.  Don’t go with the first thing that pops into your head!  If you’re taking the SAT, well, sure – your first impulse is probably the right answer.  But when writing creatively, your first thought is most likely the same first thought as everyone else, and for someone who’s trying to appear original…that’s not good.

ID-10048131 (basketball)In the video clip, Jay makes reference to the embattled coach and shows video footage of what happened to draw you into a certain premise – that this is all real.  However, the surprise at the end of the news clips is funny because the audience never anticipated it.  He could have said something simple, like, “It’s so bad, Rutgers is considering hiring Bobby Knight!” (For those who don’t know, he’s another controversial head coach)  Now, that line isn’t extremely funny, but I can certainly see someone posting that on a Facebook or Twitter page.

But Jay takes the idea of the coach throwing basketballs to an extreme (exagerration is another trick to writing stand-up), and gets laughs because a) the image of the ball coming from out of nowhere during a news report is funny in and of itself, and b) it was unexpected.

Look at it this way:  how many times have you come across an interesting Facebook post or news article and was going to leave a witty comment but noticed someone else had already written it first?  Or how many times have you seen a comment that you just knew someone was going to write?

Example #2:

The following is a radio commercial I wrote, voiced, and produced for a Mexican restaurant called El Jimador that had just opened in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.  I think it’s a good example of how not to go the route everyone else might, and create a commercial that will stand out from the multitude of other restaurant commercials out there.

Backstory:  I was told the restaurant featured truly traditional Mexican food, not the Americanized fare with which most of us are familiar.  They offered all the items one would expect (tacos, burritos, etc.) but many items that might not be so familiar.  And they were just opening, so they wanted to get people’s attention, quick.  Yes, I could have started off by saying, hey, here’s a new Mexican restaurant, featuring all your favourites, blah, blah, and blah…but we’ve all heard those commercials and it really wouldn’t tell the whole story.  The story was about not just what they were, but why they were.

I grabbed a menu.

The cover featured the restaurant’s namesake, el jimador (an agave farmer), and explained who he was and why they named their establishment after him.  I loved it!  I took that information, condensed it, and used it as the basis of the commercial:

El Jimador_Image 6-7-11 (REV)

Notice I don’t even mention the name of the place until halfway through the spot.  Some advertising gurus will tell you that the client name should be mentioned in the first 5 seconds and at least 5 or 6 times throughout the commercial; that’s hogwash.  I eschew the ‘early and often’ rule of copy writing in favour of the ‘make it compelling and they’ll keep listening’ rule.  I could go on about that, but I’ll save it for a future blog post.

Also note that I didn’t spend a lot of time reading a laundry list of items; I did need to include some of the traditional items offered (at the client’s request), but overall, I’d say you probably have not heard many restaurant commercials like this one.  Most talk at the listener; I prefer speaking TO the listener.

I took a route that was unusual; I didn’t settle for the first thing I came up with.  For someone in the business of writing…

Steer clear of the trap of being predictable!

Trust your gut; it usually knows what it’s doing.  The next time you’re going to write something – anything – ask your gut if it thinks someone else would have thought of it, also.  Say, ‘Hey gut, old friend, what do you think?”   If your gut tells you it’s the same thing it would’ve said…scrap it and come up with something better.

As I said earlier, this rule applies for any kind of writing.  Whether it’s a novel, tweet, children’s literature, or blog post – use a critical eye.  Step back and look at what you’ve written objectively, and think before you hit ‘submit.’

You may be surprised at how creative you can be, when you force yourself to think just a little bit harder!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

When a good story, well-told, doesn’t tell the right story

I wasn’t planning on posting another commercial critique today.  I had customer service, rate integrity, and children’s books on my mind.

But then I came across a new commercial for Chipotle Mexican Grill, and new I had to share it.

Before we get to it, however, I’d like you to check out the commercial I featured last week HERE.  In that blog post, I explained why good stories are important in commercials, and why telling them in a compelling manner is important, too.  I also noted why the closing lines, voiced by an off-screen announcer, were so effective.

So with that in mind, take a look at this brand-new commercial (which, at over 3 minutes long, is more of a game trailer/web video) and see what you think:

Attracts your attention and creates interest? Check.

Compelling story? Check.

Emotional connection to the viewer? Check, check.

Clear message and call to action?  Uhhhhh….

As good as this commercial is, I don’t like it.  Not because it’s not a good story, and not because it’s not well-told.  This commercial fails, in my opinion, because what it’s promoting is not what the viewer thinks it’s promoting.

Throughout the spot, we see the industrialization of agriculture destroying the American way of life – a common theme in many of Chipotle’s past spots.  So the message is: Locally-sourced, sustainable, non-GMO food is better for us, for the animals, for the world.  (Keep in mind, I’m not here to debate whether this is true or not; I’m just pointing out that that’s the message.

Then, after three minutes of them pulling me into their story, their call to action is…download our app???

Did I miss something? I was just having my emotions played with and my heartstrings tugged, and was all set for Chipotle to suggest I visit them – but instead of asking me to dine at one of their restaurants, they want me to download a game app!  Talk about missed opportunities.

Had the story encouraged me to feel compelled to download the app, I’d probably love the commercial. As it is, though, this story made me feel like supporting local agriculture, buying chemical-free meat, and going to Chipotle Mexican Grille for dinner…

…but, OOPS!  That’s not what the folks at Chipotle want me to do. They don’t want me to patronize their restaurant.

They want me to download an app.

Another fail – and a BIG Plus

ID-1009466 (veggies)

“Eat FRESH!” Oh, wait – that’s a different company, too.

One other thing that caught my attention – and not in a good way – comes at 2:17, when the scarecrow goes to the farm and picks a fresh vegetable from the vine. Now, he could have picked any veggie there – tomato, onion, corn, whatever - but the very first one he picks…is the Chili’s Grill & Bar logo.  I know, I know – Chipotle uses a chili pepper as their logo, too – but Chipotle’s is a black & white artistic rendering of a chili pepper, not a bright red, curvy chili pepper with a green top that looks like it was just pilfered from a Chili’s Bar & Grill sign.

Not a good idea, when you haven’t stated the name of your business in your commercial yet – or haven’t even hinted at a call to action yet.

Which brings me to the Big Plus. For years, I’ve been telling clients and sales reps that the business name does not need to be mentioned in the first 5 seconds of a commercial, nor does it need to be splattered throughout the body of the spot 20 times to make sure the listener remembered it. Heck, I’ve written and produced 60-second radio commercials that don’t give the client name until 45 seconds in!  If the story is compelling, the listener (or viewer) will wait for it – and remember it.

I also have to give a “little plus” to their choice of music:  the song, “Pure imagination” from the 1971 movie, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory fits the mood of the production perfectly.

This commercial will help Chipotle get people in the door only because the public has grown accustomed to their style of commercial and their message (even though it was quite muddled this time).  I’m sure it’ll become somewhat of a viral hit, too, which will be a positive.

So to say the video won’t be effective is doing it a disservice; a commercial is effective if it works.  In this case, if Chipotle gets more people through their doors – but very few download the app – can it be considered an effective commercial or not?  What do you think? I’d love to get your thoughts!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

A good story, well-told, always trumps the gimmicks

This is going to be a short post; as you may know, my wife gave birth to her second child a mere 3 weeks ago, so neither of us have been getting much sleep lately! Granted, I get more than my wife since she’s nursing the baby, but all that means is that I get 4 hours of sleep compared to her 2…so neither of us is ‘winning’ in the REM-stage department.

Because of this, it’s all I can do to help keep the house maintained while trying to actually do work. So I was considering  posting a short blog entry today when I came across this commercial; as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to share it.

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I’ve written previous posts about the importance of storytelling in commercials, the necessity of keeping the story and your message straightforward, and of the value of using language everyone understands.  I’ve also given numerous examples of why a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is so important.  Even if it wasn’t an advertisement, the following commercial is a terrific example of storytelling.

It does not rely on sexy women, talking animals, precocious kids, fantasy dream-sequences, or multiple jump-cuts. It is not funny, stylish, artsy, outlandish,or hip.

Rather, it features a simple-to-understand and emotionally stirring plot, and because it is told more visually than verbally, anyone watching it can understand what’s going on. Although the USP may not be explicitly stated, this is a brand most folks recognize as being unique unto itself, and the ultimate message of the commercial – that it’s a special kind of person who uses this product – is unmistakable.

That message is driven home by the last sentence spoken at the end of the spot:

Move over, Budweiser Clydesdales…there are still more heartstrings yet to be tugged, and Guinness has a firm grasp on them.

What do you think of the commercial – as an ad, or simply as a story? I’d love to get your thoughts!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

Truth, honesty, and shredded cheese

It has occurred to me how easily annoyed I am by bad, confusing, or poorly-written commercials. Some folks would just let it be. Not me; I’m in this biz, after all.  I try to turn these lemons into luscious lemon curd. (With lemonade, all you can do is drink it; lemon curd, on the other hand, is useful for hundreds of desserts!)  So starting today, I plan to spotlight different commercials now and then on this blog, individually.  That way, rather than spending a lot of time analyzing several commercials in one post, both you AND I can get through it all much quicker…

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Something has been bothering me for months.

It’s a question I never realized even needed to be asked; that is, until I saw a TV commercial for Sargento® brand shredded cheese.

One does not need to be a culinary genius to assume – correctly – that pita chips come from pita bread, graham cracker crumbs come from graham crackers, and those little crushed Oreo® pieces you find in cookies ‘n cream ice cream are, indeed, actual Oreos.

Imagine my confusion, then, when this popped up on my TV:

So, it’s cheese…that’s been shredded…from a big block of…cheese.

I have a friendly message for the good folks at Sargento.  If you’re introducing cheese that is shredded from a big block of cheese as a new product – be prepared to answer the following question:

“What the hell were you selling BEFORE??”

All these years, I’ve held the crazy notion that packaged shredded cheese always started out as a big block that was subsequently shredded. Apparently, I’m way off base here.

This commercial annoys me for two reasons. On one hand, I think it’s great that they’re selling real shredded cheese – but if that’s not the way packaged shredded cheese is produced by other companies, TELL ME MORE. Tell me what shredded cheese actually is.

The other thing that bothers me is that it’s being promoted as something “new.” If they said shredding the cheese off the block is the way they’ve always done it, then it would underscore their commitment to quality and tradition. But by saying it’s new, they leave customers wondering how it’s different from whatever they sold previously.

Truth is good. Quality is good. Unique Selling Propositions* are good.

Confusion…not so good.

.

* Unique Selling Proposition:  an industry term referring to the one thing that sets that business apart from all the others.  Ultimately, it’s the answer to the question, “Why should I give you my money, instead of the guy next door?”

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week - on Tues. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

An ace up your sleeve: making clichés work

ID-100105596 (waitress)“Quality ingredients!”

“Friendly staff!”

“Just like homemade!”

I think if I hear another restaurant commercial with these phrases in it, I’m going to do something embarrassing, loud, and possibly violent.

These are advertising clichés, and you don’t need to be a commercial copy writer to recognize them when you hear them. We’ve all heard car dealer ads that promise “no-hassle sales” and “ASE-certified mechanics.” We’ve all gone to restaurants with “reasonable prices” in a “comfortable atmosphere.” We’ve all been told that “conveniently located” businesses holding “inventory clearance sales” offer “rock-bottom savings.”

And we don’t buy any of it.

Worthless words

What’s that, you say? You use quality ingredients? Oh, what a relief – your competitors down the road probably use really crappy ones.

A friendly wait staff? Wow! I had gotten so tired of dealing with the witches at all those other restaurants.

ID-100174426 (mechanic)Let me tell you something: I’ve been producing radio commercials for nearly 30 years, and I still don’t know what “ASE” stands for, what it means, or why it’s important. (You’d think if it was THAT important, someone would have told us by now, dontcha think?)

Oh, and another thing: the next time you hear about an “inventory clearance sale,” just remember…

EVERY sale is an inventory reduction sale! That’s the point of a sale – to reduce the inventory!!

Whew, glad I could get that off my chest. Moving on…

Giving meaning to the meaningless

We hear these clichés so often, they’ve lost whatever meaning they may have had - if any – when they were first used. Having written and produced so many commercials over the years, my brain has a sort of cliché-radar, and I’m always quick to try to avoid them.  But then along came this client…

It was a new Italian-American restaurant that was opening soon, and they wanted radio commercials that would get their selling point (or, Unique Selling Proposition) across without sounding like every other commercial out there. Yes, they served delicious food made with quality ingredients, had a comfortable atmosphere and reasonable prices…but we couldn’t say that because no one would believe it. And if you serve good food with nice people – how do you set yourself apart from all the other places out there?

Answer: clichés.

I decided to utilize some of those overused, meaningless phrases and turn them on their heads, to illustrate why this particular restaurant was different. The client loved the premise, so we put together 3 different commercials, each one focusing on a slightly different aspect of the restaurant. They had to be :30s – I would have preferred :60s – so word economy was very important. When I was done, here’s what they sounded like:

I think that first line of the first commercial was what sold the client on my approach. Telling the listener to “go ask mama to make you something” completely turns the tables on the “home-cooked food” cliché, and sets the tone for the rest of the spot as well as the other two. The client was happy, the radio station was happy, and so was I!

All’s well that ends well

Just remember that when it comes to clichés, every cloud has a silver lining.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade; it’s for the best. If the cat has your tongue, take one step at a time – what’s the worst that could happen? And if you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.

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Did you like this post? Find anything interesting somewhere in this blog? Want to keep abreast of my posts?  Then please consider subscribing via the links over here on the right! (I usually only post twice a week - on Tue. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day!)  You can also follow me via Twitter or on Facebook.

Direct Mail Can Be Hazardous to Your Health – Your Marriage’s Health, That Is

It was an enticing offer. It seemed so innocent, yet perfectly-timed. Coming from a reputable company, it offered exactly what I thought my wife was looking for.

MH900387606 (mailbox)It was, in fact, the last thing she’d ever want.

The letter that started it all…

One beautiful, sunny afternoon, I walked to the end of the driveway to check the mail and see what goodies the Postal Service had left for us that day.  I opened the mailbox and pulled forthwith a bounty of bills, automobile sales flyers, and oversized, multi-colored envelopes from Publisher’s Clearing House emulating Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and exhorting me to cut, paste, sign, and stamp my way to financial bliss.

Tossing the electric and phone bills aside along with my opportunity to be one of the 10,000 guaranteed potential winners of a chance to qualify to win another opportunity to receive more envelopes, my eyes settled on a blue-and-white envelope from my eye doctor’s office. I opened it and read the letter inside.

Although the message was not utterly compelling…it was intriguing.

It was also, apparently, not completely read. That was my first mistake.

What could be wrong with an eye doctor?

First, a little history. My wife and I were married a few years ago and were still in the process of combining marital things like utility and bank accounts, bathroom supplies, and Christmas card lists. One of the things my wife wanted to do, now that she was living almost an hour from where she had been previously, was find some new doctors closer to our home: a general practitioner, a dentist, and an ophthalmologist.

MH900422196 (eye dr)That’s why this letter from my eye doctor’s practice caught my interest. They had just hired a new doctor! Now, I didn’t know if my own eye doctor, a wonderful fellow, was accepting new patients – but this new doctor was. Both my wife and I had been meaning to call my doctor’s office, yet for whatever reason we just hadn’t gotten around to it. This letter served as a perfect opportunity to call and find out.

Plus – and here’s the kicker – every new patient of this new doctor would receive as a gift a free bottle of high-end, scientifically-formulated, super-duper skin cream…and what woman doesn’t like expensive skin cream?? My lovely wife certainly does; she’s the first to admit she’s as as girl-girl as they come. If it’s pink, sparkly, soft, or cuddly, she’s all over it.

So here it was:  an appointment with a new eye doctor at a well-respected practice, and a bottle of fancy lotion-y stuff I just knew she’d love. I set the envelope and letter, face up, on her desk, so she would see it as soon as she got home.

That was my second mistake.

Ohhh…that kind of eye doctor

My beautiful bride hadn’t been home for more than 10 minutes when I heard her shout out, “What is THIS?!?”  The fact that she was in the living room and I was outside in back of the house should give you an idea as to the sheer volume of that shout.

Unaware of my transgression and oblivious to the reason for her outcry, I came in and asked – in an admittedly muted tone – “errr…what’s the matter, Honey?”

My jaw dropped when the love of my life held up the papers and shook them in front of my face.

“You think I need a PLASTIC SURGEON???”

Reading = good.  Skimming = very, very not good

I was dumbfounded. If she had no idea what I was thinking, I certainly had no idea, either.  I asked, foolishly, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you think I need a PLASTIC SURGEON???” My wonderful wife repeated her question word-for-word. I’m not sure if it was for emphasis or because she was so stunned she couldn’t think of anything else to say. It was probably for both.

Still not knowing what to say, I took the papers she had been holding – well, actually, she kind of threw them at me – and read more closely. The new doctor was, indeed, a plastic surgeon. He had been hired to do facial treatments, eye lifts, Botox, and that sort of thing.  I had mistakenly figured eye doctor + new patients = good idea.

This was so not a good idea.

“You think I need BOTOX?!?” my gorgeous life partner asked me -  rhetorically, I assumed.  Now, she had mentioned once or twice in passing that she might be willing to try it in the future if she ever got old and wrinkly enough, but I wasn’t about to open up that can of worms.  I just immediately said no, of course not, and tried to explain my confusion.

After a few minutes, she understood that I was not a shallow, demeaning, chauvinist trying to encourage her to change her body or looks to suit my preference. I was simply an idiot.

We both accepted that fact, and have, I’m happy to say, moved on.

ID-10019632 (Botox)Let this be a lesson!

The takeaway from this little episode, of course, is that one needs to pay attention to the messages that bombard us every day.  Conversely, those of us in the advertising industry should take notice and make sure our messages are clear, as well. I’ve written previous posts about things like the importance of knowing your audience and having clear, specific messages.

This is why.

If you’re an advertiser, you have to assume some of your potential customers will be idiots like me and completely miss your message. Can you make your message 100% idiot-proof? Not always. But you can certainly increase its effectiveness by editing, reviewing, and testing.

If you’re a writer, ask others to read your work and see if they get your message.

And if you’re a consumer….read the fine print.

No bottle of free body cream is worth the aggravation.

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Did you like this post? Find anything interesting somewhere in this blog? Want to keep abreast of my posts?  Then please consider subscribing via the links over here on the right! (I usually only post twice a week - on Tue. and Fri. - so you won’t be inundated with emails every day!)  You can also follow me via Twitter or on Facebook.

If you have a great message and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

As a children’s writer still searching for that first publishing deal, I know what it’s like to write and write and write and wonder if anyone knows or cares.

This blog is helpful in making known my name, abilities, and style…but still, if I only posted once every couple of weeks, it would not be as effective. I wouldn’t have the number of people, like you, visiting, reading, commenting, and sharing.  Conversely, if I was to post more than twice a week, my blog could, perhaps, gain more followers, acquire more voiceover or copy writing clients, and pique the interest of an agent or publisher.

I mention this to make a point. No matter what type of promoting you’re doing – marketing a book, promoting your blog, advertising a business – what you say is only important if other people read it. And the only way others will read it is if they know it’s been written.

I know, I know…this is all pretty self-explanatory. But let me explain where I’m going with this…

Image courtesy of ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.netThe necessity of advertising

Many of the folks with whom I correspond hate the idea of advertising. They know it exists and they know I make a pseudo-living out of it, but they feel like advertising is a 4-letter word. That it’s somehow subversive, mind-altering brainwashing that I’m involved in.  They hate Facebook ads and Google ads and TV & radio commercials and billboards – and act like they’re above it all because they don’t fall for any of corporate America’s ploys.

They’re too cool to be influenced or swayed by a message provoking them to turn over their money.

They don’t realize how ubiquitous advertising is, nor how effective it is, even on people like themselves.

No matter who you are, advertising affects you. We wake up in advertised beds, brush our teeth with advertised toothpaste, drink advertised coffee or tea before we leave our house or apartment (which was advertised before you bought it), and head off to work wearing advertised clothes while driving advertised cars, advertised bicycles, or walking on advertised shoes.

Nearly everything we own in our lives has been advertised, and we choose one product over another because of the benefit(s) we perceive from that product.

(Keep in mind, also, that advertising doesn’t necessarily involve money. Jesus advertised everlasting life, and never asked for a penny.)

Psychological egoism and why we’re all looking out for #1

hobbes

English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), a proponent of psychological egoism

Psychological egoism is a richly debated theory that states that every voluntary action one undertakes is done for that individual’s self-gratification. In other words, everything that each of us does is done for our own self-interests (you can learn more about the specifics of this doctrine here).

Why do we buy a red car instead of a blue? Because we like red more. Why do we choose the steak over the haddock filet? Because we like steak more.

Why buy Colgate instead of Crest? Because of the perceived benefit of using Colgate.

Of course, some folks will argue that selfless acts of kindness or sacrifice negate this theory; however, one can argue that engaging in a selfless act of kindness is also done for one’s own gratification. For example, if I have $100, I could pay some bills, donate it to a local food shelter, or go to a strip club for a few hours.  The choice I make ultimately depends on which option brings me the most satisfaction or happiness.

And chances are, I’d be paying bills for products or services that were advertised, donating money to a food shelter that had been advertised (perhaps via a news article or Public Service Announcement), or going to a strip club that was advertised.

Now, about that message…

It’s not what you said, it’s how (often) you said it

Getting back to my initial thoughts, what if you had a great message and no one knew?  You could create the world’s greatest widget and develop a unique, effective commercial ad campaign…but if no one hears or sees it, you might as well not have bothered, right? That is where frequency comes into play.

In radio and TV, the more often you air your commercial, the better – because the more people will see or hear it. Run one commercial a day on radio and a few solid potential customers might take notice, but run it several times throughout the day – at various times in the morning, midday, afternoon, and evening – and then you’re really connecting with lots of potential customers.

But that many commercials costs a lot of money, right?  Well, let me give you a real-life example of how running on a low budget doesn’t mean you can’t attract big-budget numbers of people.

Many years ago, when I was working in Vermont as a radio producer, our sales manager met a restaurant owner who wanted to advertise but didn’t think he could afford ID-10068993 (sound mixer)4 or 5 spots (commercials) every day. So we suggested doing something unusual: we would run 10 spots one day a week – Friday. While this wouldn’t give him the weekly exposure of a more expensive schedule, he would pretty much own the airwaves that one day, with his commercial airing almost every hour all day long.

Within just a few weeks, he told our manager that customers were telling him they not only heard about his restaurant on our radio station, but they were telling him they were hearing him all the time!

“I’m always hearing your commercials!” one person told him.

“I hear you every day!” said another.

In the battle of perception versus reality…perception won, again.

Get your message out there!

Are you selling cars, furniture, or fertilizer? Are you selling yourself, your abilities, your experience? Whatever it is – whether you realize you’re selling something or not – spend some time determining the best way to promote your message. If you’re a business, a writer, a job seeker…you have to let people know you’re there!

And if you’re the type who doesn’t like promotion, advertising, or marketing…enjoy your obscurity!  You might think your message is awesome, but it’s only awesome if someone hears it.

Your product might change the world, but only if the world knows about it.

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I’m obviously happy to talk to anyone who has questions about advertising and copy writing and that sort of thing…if you have questions about creating a commercial or getting voice work (like on-hold messaging or video narration) done for your business, feel free to contact me at matt(at)mattforrest(dot)com!

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