Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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

Archive for the tag “commercial”

In copy writing, it’s all about the details

Last week, I wrote and produced a short video commercial for my wife’s business.

There are two problems with that statement.

ID-10021920 (Times Square)

Advertising: These folks know how to do it right.

First, I’ve never produced a video commercial before, ever. I’ve written hundreds of commercials – and produced thousands of radio commercials – but never produced a video commercial. Second, if you have no experience doing something like that and it’s going to have a big impact on the impression people get about your business, I always say it’s best to have a professional do it.

If you’ve never patched a roof before, you’re going to call a roofer. If you need your car repaired and you don’t know the difference between a carburetor and carbon dating, you’re going to bring it to a mechanic. So if you need a commercial or corporate video produced, seek out someone who has more experience than you do. It’s your livelihood, and it should be important enough for you to have it professionally handled.

As I said above, I didn’t do that. I did have some good reasons, though…

Understanding what I wanted to accomplish

Unlike many folks who have never written commercials before, yet decide they need to be the ones to write, produce and/or voice the things themselves, I knew before I even began how the commercial was going to be used and what I wanted to accomplish. This was not going to run on television – it was to be used via the internet (social media, etc.) only, and it was to garner the attention of a specific group of people who were unfamiliar with the specific benefits of the products my wife sells.

I also had 25 years of copy writing and multi-track audio production knowledge behind me (along with some basic video editing experience), so even though it probably wouldn’t be perfect, I suspected it would be suitable for her purposes. And trust me, I’m my own worst critic, so if it was even slightly subpar, I would’ve scrapped it and gone a different route.

Oh, and due to my ACL reconstruction surgery back in March, a major car accident in late winter, and a leaking roof (see above!), I had a zero budget.  So a one-man DIY project was born.

It all starts with the script

Like a novel or short story, there are several things a good commercial script needs to do. In chronological order, they are:

  1. Attract the listener’s or viewer’s attention
  2. Connect on some emotional level
  3. Develop interest
  4. Create desire
  5. Compel action

A commercial should also showcase the product’s or service’s Unique Selling Proposition (USP) – the feature or benefit that makes the product or service stand out from all the others. And in the case of a television commercial, it should be able to get its point across even if there’s no audio. Doctor’s offices might have the sound turned down and sports bars are often so noisy one can’t even hear the person they’re with, much less the TV – so visuals are extremely important.

Knowing the benefits and USP of my wife’s products, I put the script together and realized I wasn’t going to need to provide a voiceover. (Ironic, isn’t it, that a voice guy produces a video commercial he doesn’t even get to voice?) But it didn’t need it, so I didn’t do it.

The commercial and the breakdown

First, let me show you the commercial and then I’ll break down some of the details I was particular about…

As I mentioned before, I knew the specific audience I was after: health-conscious folks who are not opposed to the vegan lifestyle. Of course, one does not need to be a vegan to appreciate botanically-based products that don’t test on animals, but the word “vegan” is so well-known these days that if you hear or see the word, you immediately understand its connotations.

So after attracting the attention of people who can appreciate veganism, I list other facets of Arbonne’s product’s USP: they are gluten-free, kosher, botanically-based. Then, rather than telling the viewer they need to buy something or they need to improve their lives or they need to do something else, I ask a simple question. Having just seen the benefits of the products – without me telling the viewer these are the benefits – the viewer can now make that connection on their own.

And when you can encourage a viewer or listener to draw their own conclusion and subconsciously take part in your commercial…it’s much more powerful than you telling them this and telling them that and hoping they believe you.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

No need for a voiceover; the sounds of nature worked quite well on their own.

Just like most commercials, I show a problem (your health & wellness products are not vegan/gluten-free/etc. even though you are) and I offer a solution (try Arbonne) – but I do it subtly. The call to action is subtle, as well – I don’t command the viewer to buy now, save now, limited time, blah blah…I simply suggest they learn more.

I wanted this video to be almost like a conversation, and being too heavy-handed with my approach would have been counterproductive. That’s why I opted to use some light sound effects of a natural setting rather than a voiceover; I didn’t want the commercial to feel like a commercial.

Three more details you didn’t even notice

One comes immediately after the words “botanically-based.” From the moment the commercial begins, there is a rhythm to each of the words that flashes on the screen…but then there’s a pause before I ask my question. I deliberately did this to allow the viewer to consider what these words have to do with each other and where I’m leading them. If I posed the question too quickly, the USP – those benefits I listed – would not have had a chance to sink in quite enough.

Remember, it’s a conversation – and I didn’t want it to appear the commercial was doing all the talking. As I said previously, I wanted to allow the viewer some time to process the information and become a “part” of the commercial, and “part” of this conversation.

Another detail is that I did not mention the product name until slightly more than halfway through the spot. Some folks will tell you the name has to be front-and-center right from the get-go – but those are the folks who feel advertising is done best when it’s a one-way conversation. The way I look at it, if I’ve been able to keep you compelled long enough to view the commercial, you’ll stick around for the payoff.

The third detail is the little child and mother at the end, which I didn’t include just because it’s my son and wife. The Arbonne company sells its products via independent consultants who are often moms and daughters – and even dads. I wanted to evoke a familial feeling to the spot to underscore not only the Pure-Safe-Beneficial tagline, but the fact that families are buying, selling, and using these products to make their lives better…and a little child with a mom is about the best representation there is of that!

Pay attention to the details

So when you’re writing – whether it’s a commercial, short story, whatever – don’t lose sight of the details. Some might be superfluous (I could have included another word at the beginning and crammed too much info), some might not be on target (I could have listed products, but that wasn’t the point of the spot), and some might just be too wordy.

Know when to leave those out.

But other details – like knowing who you’re writing to, understanding what you want to say, and spending some time determining the best way to connect with the viewer/listener/reader – are imperatives.

If you write a picture book, short story, or commercial in less than one day, you’re either really lucky or you’re doing it wrong.Please don’t do it wrong.

If you don’t know how to do it, hire a professional. Your commercial and your roof will be better for it.

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Did 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 with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo 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!

 

Someone spent a lot of money promoting their competition

I think I’m a fairly low-key, easy-going guy. I tend to take things in stride, but every now and then something will get me all worked up to the point where I’m jumping around, hollering like an idiot.

It’s usually due to moron drivers and bad commercials.

In this case, I felt compelled to share my discontent because we’re dealing with a bad commercial featuring people driving! And really, it’s not that bad a commercial…it’s just advertising the wrong business. (Which I guess makes it a pretty bad commercial, after all.)

Check out this commercial for Fiat:
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Oh, wait – that wasn’t a commercial for Fiat. That was for Lexus! Oh, stupid me…my bad. You see, I just spent 60 seconds looking at fine sports cars and seeing the sleek “F” logo popping up in my face. Can you blame for mistaking this for a Fiat commercial?

Seriously, Lexus: the viewer only gets a few quick glances at the Lexus “L” logo on the cars…and unless the viewer’s attention is completely focused on the commercial, he/she will never realize those are all Lexuses (Lexi? What, exactly, is the plural?).

Here’s how I presume it all went down:

- Someone at the Lexus corporation said, “Let’s call our new model the same letter that our competition’s name starts with.”
– Someone at the ad agency said, “Let’s flash the first letter of the competition’s name throughout the entire commercial – and be sure not to show anyone the Lexus name or logo until after they have determined it’s an ad for the competition.”
– A whole bunch of executives said, “We agree! That’s a great idea!”

I’ve written before about what happens when a good story goes bad, and this is one of those times. And as always, I critique these spots not out of displeasure with or dislike of ad agencies – heck, I’m a voiceover guy, I LOVE ad agencies! – but out of love. Tough love,

So now that I’ve had my rant, I’m going to go take a rest. But be forewarned – if Ford Trucks comes out with a TV commercial featuring a male sheep, I might need to write another blog post.

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Did 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 with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo 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!

National Poetry Month: Thinking Like a Poet

I get asked many questions many times by many folks…all about the same subject:

NPM-2005-White“Isn’t poetry hard to write?”

“When did you start writing poetry?”

“Why do you write poetry?”

…and so forth. The answers, while simple, could be more elaborate if I wanted to take the time: Yes; almost forever ago; and because I have no other choice.

It’s not that I don’t want to take the time to offer more detailed responses; it’s just that most people aren’t really looking for that. It’s like when the cashier at the grocery store asks, “How are you?” She’s expecting a nice, short, “Good” so she can continue on about her duties. If you respond with, “Well, my dog died, I lost my job, and I just found out my wife is cheating on me with someone from the NSA…want to hear about it?” chances are, she’ll drop the eggs on the floor and not know what to do.

Better to keep the answers safe and simple, and not throw any curveballs.

But since this is my final blog post for National Poetry Month, I thought perhaps I could expand on some of my answers and try to explain – especially to non-poetry types – why poetry is not some sort of worthless academic pursuit and can actually be beneficial in your life.

Thinking like a poet: how?

First of all, it helps to think like a poet. Understanding poetry means understanding that there is always much more to life than just…life. By that, I mean, everything you see, touch, or experience is much more than what it appears to be.

coffee-mate_creamerA nonfiction writer friend once asked me to help her think like a poet. She wanted her writing to be less dry and a bit more creative and lyrical. So as an exercise, I placed a small, empty, white plastic coffee creamer cup on the table and asked her to make a list of everything that came to mind. Not just adjectives describing the cup, but every word, phrase, or vision that popped in her head – even if it didn’t make sense. I did the same, and timed us both for 2 minutes.

When we were done, we compared lists. She had words like ‘white,’ ‘drink,’ ’round,’ ‘striated,’ etc. Although we shared some of these obvious descriptors, mine were generally a bit more…imaginative:

‘Upside-down top hat.’

‘Cup runneth over.’

‘A White Hole. ‘ (Instead of a Black Hole.)

The exercise demonstrated that while she saw things as they were, I saw things as they could be. Just that one lesson opened her eyes as to how a creative type such as a poet views the world: with imagination, curiosity, and an open-mindedness that allows us to believe anything can be more than it seems. Indeed, there is more to nearly everything than meets the eye – and if you are willing to take the time to observe long enough, you can begin to view life through a poet’s eyes.

Thinking like a poet: why?

This is where things can get really interesting. I’ve found, over the years, that having a poet’s thought process allows me to conceive ideas from angles that others may not see.

This has been especially useful in radio copy writing, believe it or not. On more than one occasion, I have had to come up with commercial scripts that are unique, attention-getting, and most importantly – relatable to the listener. While different copy writers use different means to find an emotional connection with the listener for the product or service about which they are writing, I find that thinking like a poet (e.g., trying to find connections and imagery others might not see) has served me well.

Not that thinking like a poet means you have to rhyme – I’m primarily talking about thinking more creatively and making unusual connections – but let me share an example of how poetry really did work in my favour. A local restaurant needed to let people know they existed – their location, while prime, was at a 4-way intersection and easy to miss. But it was a small, family-style restaurant that, at first blush, did not appear to offer anything out of the ordinary.

What to do?

Now, normally I absolutely detest rhyming commercials. You know the ones…they always sound amateurish and dumb, and are a total tune-out. But I knew I could write a good one – and if I did it right, it would be ear-catching, memorable, and successful at getting its message across to listeners. The following commercial was written out of a need for listeners to know who the client was, where they were located, and what they offered:

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Note two important things about why this commercial worked and most rhyming commercials don’t: One, I kept the lines metrical. I was very careful about keeping the script flowing and fun – too many words per line (or the wrong words) and the commercial would just collapse under its own weight. The other thing I did was refrain from using “easy” rhymes. I could have written a line that ended with “toast” and rhymed it with “most,” or used “steak” and “bake.” but that would have made the commercial sound cheesy and predictable – which I definitely did not want.

The unusual rhymes and bouncy cadence of the verse is what made the commercial work, in my opinion – and although any person could write a rhyming commercial, without the skill of writing metrically and knowing how to rhyme effectively, the commercial would not have been as humourous or, more importantly, as effective.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thinking like a poet: when?

All the time! The more you start to actively think about the things around you – from your home and family to things as simple as the car you drive, the road you travel on, or the food you eat – the more you’ll start becoming aware of all the possibilities for inspiration there are out there.

Think about possibilities, think about similarities and differences, think about “what if!”

“What would a picture of my kids look like, if I couldn’t include their faces?”

“A home with no windows or doors is like a _____.”

“If I could take this elevator anywhere, where would I go?”

“Why might a pencil be considered a religious talisman?”

“What if crows were a different colour?”

Yes, these are pretty random questions – but they can be examples of ways of thinking beyond what is comfortable and concrete. Question why an apple is red, but not because of any botanical reason. Imagine what love would look like if it could be held in your hand.

Wonder to yourself how to describe music to a deaf person or a sunset to someone who has been blind from birth.

Think about that little coffee creamer cup, and see what you can create out of it in two minutes. You might surprise yourself!

Poetry = Life

For me, I’ve always enjoyed the rhythm and rhyme of words and the imagery a writer can create – whether it is via a poem, short story, or other form of writing. Poetry, though, is a perfect vehicle for showcasing compact vignettes of emotion, enlightenment, pain, and all sorts of fascinating aspects of humanity. The poet takes a scene, feeling, or object and distills it down to it’s essence – and sometimes goes even beyond that, to create new associations with other scenes and feelings the reader had never before connected

I started reading picture books of poetry as a child, and began writing poetry in earnest in high school. Since then, I’ve written poetry and songs throughout my life because I have a compulsion to do so. Most writers will tell you the same thing, too – that they write because they have this urge inside, this burning desire to get something in their head out on paper.

Poetry can be quite hard to write, but also immensely fulfilling. Even short, 3-line haiku poems, which might seem simple, are much more complex than they may seem. Sort of like humans.

And come to think of it, that observation might make a good poem.

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2014kidlit_progpoemOnly TWO DAYS remain to poet Irene Latham’s 2014 Progressive Poem! Each day throughout the month of April, a different poet has added a line to the poem, and we are very close to completing our journey!

Today it heads over to Ruth at There is No Such Thing As a God-Forsaken Town, but here is the complete list of contributors:

1 Charles at Poetry Time
2 Joy at Joy Acey
3 Donna at Mainely Write
4 Anastasia at Poet! Poet!
5 Carrie at Story Patch
6 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
7 Pat at Writer on a Horse
8 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme
9 Diane at Random Noodling
10 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
11 Linda at Write Time
12 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
13 Janet at Live Your Poem
14 Deborah at Show–Not Tell
15 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
16 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
17 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
18 Irene at Live Your Poem
19 Julie at The Drift Record
20 Buffy at Buffy Silverman
21 Renee at No Water River
22 Laura at Author Amok
23 Amy at The Poem Farm
24 Linda at TeacherDance
25 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
26 Lisa at Lisa Schroeder Books
27 Kate at Live Your Poem
28 Caroline at Caroline Starr Rose
29 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
30 Tara at A Teaching Life

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Did 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 with your friends and followers!

PoetsGarage-badgeTo 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!

 

 

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!

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