The No-Resolution New Year

(This post was originally published in Jan. 2013 – a mere 5 months after I first began this blog. Since it has been 5 years since it had seen the light of day, I felt today might be an appropriate time to dust it off and share it again!)


(The original title for this post was, “The No-Resolution New Year, or How the Portable People Meter Can Help You Not to Stress Over Your Resolutions.”  But that was a bit wordy.  Read along and it’ll all start to make sense.  Perhaps.)

For two weeks now, I’ve been reading and hearing about everyone’s new year’s resolutions.  Most folks want to lose weight.  Exercise more.  Eat healthy.

Some have very ambitious, specific resolutions, such as resolving to publish a book or to make a specific more amount of money each month.  Others are a bit more ambiguous, like trying to be a better person – which is nice, but what does that mean?  Are you only moderately tolerable now? Specifics, people!

Anyway, I appreciate why folks make new year’s resolutions…but if you ask me for mine, I’ll tell you I have none.  And it’s not because I don’t think I can’t make improvements in my life, or don’t see the value in setting goals.

I simply don’t see the point in setting a date to start on those goals.

Why wait?

A few years ago, I was talking to some friends about wanting to leave my place of employment and strike out on my own to work for myself as a voiceover artist.  It was autumn, and I recall explaining to them that there were a number of things I would need to do in order to make that change possible.  I would need to build up contacts and clients.  I would need to make sure my finances would be able to handle the initial reduction in pay.  Most importantly, I would need to have the physical tools available to work from home, such as a new computer and editing software, a better quality microphone, and sound dampening equipment to prevent ambient noise and echo in my recordings.

One of my friends suggested it would be a good new year’s resolution to work toward that goal.  I agreed – although I saw no need to wait until the new year to begin setting the plan in motion.  So I began auditioning more, prospecting for clients, and connecting with more people through social media.  I also started buying some new equipment.

I knew my finances were not going to allow me to leave work that following year, but at least I had begun moving forward.

Eventually, I got more gigs, built up a clientele, and this past summer was finally financially able to leave my position as production director for a 5-station radio group and work for myself.  A month later, I began this blog – another item on my to-do list.

And you know what?  The 2010 new year, 2011 new  year, and 2012 new year had nothing to do with any of it.  It was done through sheer determination, and determination is available 365 days a year.

Image courtesy of Music Row

The Portable People Meter

The Portable People Meter (or PPM) is a small device developed by the company Arbitron to measure how often a person listens to different radio stations.  You may have heard of Nielsen ratings for TV?  Well, Arbitron is the radio equivalent of Nielsen, and ratings are very important because they show how many people are listening to different stations, how often they listen, what times they listen, and that sort of thing.  Radio and television stations then use this information to assist them in selling advertising and setting their rates. (UPDATE: 9 months after I published this post, Nielsen acquired Arbitron, so they are one company now.)

The way it works is, a random person is equipped with a PPM and it automatically keeps track of which stations he/she listens to throughout each day over several weeks.  (Back in the day, people were asked to keep written diaries, which can be fallible – so the PPM was a huge breakthrough in radio station monitoring)

Ratings are broken down into ‘Average Quarter-Hours,’ which simply means a minimum of 5 minutes for every 15-minute block, if you divide your clock at :00, :15, :30, and :45 minute increments.  For example, if a listener tuned in at 6:00am and tuned out at 6:07am, that would count as one quarter-hour, because he/she had listened for at least 5 minutes.  If that listener tuned in at 6:10am and tuned out at 6:20am, it would count for TWO quarter-hours (5 minutes in each quarter-hour block).  However, if he/she tuned in at 6:11am and tuned out at 6:19am, that radio station would receive NO quarter-hours, because the 5-minute minimum per quarter-hour had not been met.

“Your point, Matt??  Get to the point!”

Ok, ok.  You see, the PPM blew away a rock-solid radio programming axiom that nearly everyone in radio obeyed.

Before the PPM, radio stations believed that each hour’s first quarter-hour (from :00 – :15) was the most-listened to of all the quarter-hours.  This is because the hand-written radio diaries often had the first quarter-hour listed.  So if that’s what people are writing down, it must be the way it is, right?


With the advent of the PPM, the number-crunchers at Arbitron realized that each quarter-hour was more or less equally listened-to.  People were tuning in to radio stations not at the top of each hour…but whenever they darned well felt like it.

Shocker, I know.

Thing is, it was a shocker to a lot of radio stations, who for decades had deliberately played their hottest songs, or some other type of important, exciting, must-tune-in elements, at the top of each hour.  Turned out that that listeners were writing down the top of the hour on their hand-written diaries not because they were tuning in at the top of the hour, but because it was easier to write”11am” instead of 10:54am (which, you’ll notice, is an all-important quarter-hour!).

No time like the present

I’m explaining all of this to show that it’s irrelevant when to begin improving your life.  The important thing is that you have a vision for that improvement.  And if you don’t have the determination, that’s ok – take some time to find it!  It doesn’t matter if it’s the top of the hour or the beginning of the year – a radio station needs to have good programming every minute of the hour, and you make changes to your life every day of the year.

My wife and I met in September 2007, were engaged that following Christmas, and were married in August 2008, one month before we’d known each other for a year.  While some might say we rushed into things, I say we seized an opportunity.  We knew how we felt about each other, we knew our feelings would not change…so we figured, why wait?  One never knows what might happen tomorrow.  Carpe diem, and all of that!

Whether it’s the top of the hour or the beginning of the year…it’s just a spot on a clock or calendar.  You can make those resolutions whenever you feel like it:  losing weight, making more money, being more tolerable.

And if you do make a resolution that fails or for some reason doesn’t come to fruition…

Today is as good a day as any to start again.


Ordering personalized signed copies online?
Oh, yes, you can!


You can purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and nearly ALL of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)


Thank you to everyone for your support!


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!

SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post once or twice a week – usually 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, InstagramPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Learn to draw a T-Rex w/ “Don’t Ask a Dinosaur” illustrator Louie Chin!

Want to learn how to draw a T-Rex? Then I have just the thing for you!

Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018) illustrator Louie Chin recently visited the studios of KidLitTV in New York City, where he showed viewers his step-by-step process of drawing dinosaurs, specifically the T-Rex from our picture book. Louie breaks down the method simply, so the 5-minute video is great for both adults AND kids. Whether it’s you who wants to learn – or your child! – you’ll both enjoy watching the dinosaur come to life on the page.

My thanks to Julie Gribble and Tracey Cox at KidLitTV for featuring Louie. If you spend some time searching around their website, you’ll find all sorts of other cool videos, too…like THIS ONE with Flashlight Night (Boyds Mills Press, 2017) illustrator Fred Koehler chatting about his process for creating the amazing illustrations in that book.

Well, today is the first day back to school for my kids, and I’m sure if yours haven’t started yet they will be soon…so enjoy your week!


Ordering personalized signed copies online? Oh, yes, you can!

  (coming Sept. 25, 2018!)

You can purchase personalized signed copies of Flashlight Night, (Boyds Mills Press, 2017), Don’t Ask a Dinosaur (Pow! Kids Books, 2018), and nearly ALL of the books or anthologies I’ve been part of!

Just click the cover of whichever book you want and send the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH a note requesting the signature and to whom I should make it out to. (alternatively, you can log onto my website and do the same thing) They’ll contact me, I’ll stop by and sign it for you, and then they’ll ship it. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)


Thank you to everyone for your support!


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!

SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post once or twice a week – usually 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!

When people stop trying

I’ve been noticing something a lot lately. I’ve been noticing spelling errors made by people who are supposed to know how to spell things. I’ve been reading errors in grammar made by people who are supposed to know how to write.

I’ve been hearing things spoken incorrectly by people who get paid to speak.

Is the world becoming more and more full of folks who just don’t care enough to bother, or am I becoming a curmudgeon?

Thankfully, I’m still an exuberant, virile, young man…so the answer appears to be the former.

Poor little guy had no idea he was going to be the basis for a blog post.

Lack of communication in the communications industry

Seriously – what is going on these days? Everywhere I turn I’m bombarded with mistakes made by precisely those people who should not be making these mistakes.
A few examples:

– A radio news reporter was relating a story on-air about a domestic dispute involving a man, his girlfriend, and his dog. When the woman doing the reporting made reference to the man’s “dash-hound,” I had no clue what she was talking about until it occurred to me she apparently had never heard of a dachshund. Granted, the average American might not recognize that word as being pronounced “DAHK-suhnd,” but one of the first lessons in radio I ever learned 25 years ago was, if you don’t know how to pronounce something – ask!

– A local TV news outlet shared a news story on their Facebook page recently, recognizing the anniversary of the discovery of the bodies of two young girls, whose killer is still unknown. The headline noted that the girls have never been found. Now, not to be insensitive, but if their bodies were discovered some 15 years ago, I’m pretty sure the girls aren’t going to pop up anytime soon. Who writes this stuff??

– The other day, I heard a radio commercial I almost couldn’t stand listening to. The audio was thin and distorted, the person speaking sounded completely unenthused about whatever he was talking about, and I can’t even remember what they were selling because I just kept waiting for it to end. The commercial sounded like it had been recorded over a telephone…because it probably had been.

Make an effort, people!

Granted, you may be prone to a malapropism from time to time. You might use less-than-perfect grammar when leaving a Facebook comment. Heck, even I find spelling mistakes in this blog sometimes months after I’ve posted!  But these are examples of glaring errors made by people paid to not make these mistakes.

The person who didn’t know what a “dash-hound” actually mispronounces words all the time; it became a nearly daily occurrence before I stopped listening altogether.

TV news departments have large staffs of people who are paid good money to communicate the news, so grammar and syntax should not be a problem area.

No radio commercial should ever be recorded over the telephone…ever. Even the ones that are written to sound like they’re telephone conversations should be recorded in-studio. The particular commercial in question is either the result of a lazy producer or a sales rep who was given way too much control over the production process.


Human error…or something worse?

We all make mistakes. As I said, I understand that. But the preponderance of examples such as these leads me to wonder if something else is going on…something much worse.

In each of the three cases I shared above, a simple solution would have been to take one extra step. The radio reporter could have asked someone how to pronounce this word she’s never seen before. The TV news headline writer could have had someone proofread the post first. And the business owner who recorded the awful commercial could have come in to the studio.

But instead, that one extra step was neglected. It could be called laziness or ineptitude.

I prefer to call it apathy.

…and apathy IS worse

Laziness is a human condition, a state of being. Ineptitude is a lack of skills capable of completing a task.

But apathy is a lack of concern for that which one should have concern! Apathy, as inactive as it may seem, is actually a very active thing. It prevents people from producing good work not because they are lazy, inept, or otherwise incapable. It prevents them from performing because they just don’t care.

So whether it’s your job, your marriage, or any kind of project of which you find yourself involved, don’t be apathetic.

Don’t not care.

And if you recognize that you truly don’t care about the project, step back, step aside, or step down – and let someone who does care do the job.


This just in: I had not even had a chance to hit “post” when a Facebook friend shared this ridiculous headline about an “amphibious” pitcher!  That’s right…he doesn’t just pitch with both hands, folks, he can live underwater, too! Once again, where’s a proofreader when you need one??

SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)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!
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!

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.


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!


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…


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?”


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!

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

As a writer without an agent – in other words, a writer who has to submit manuscripts to publishing houses on his own – 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 might perhaps gain even 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

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 if donating the money to the shelter brings me the most happiness, that’s what I’ll do – for the benefit of Number One.

Ultimately, I’d be paying 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 it exists.


Purchasing personalized signed copies ONLINE? Yes, it’s true!

I’ve teamed up with the good folks at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner, NH to present an option for people who would love to have a personalized signed copy of one of my books but don’t live anywhere near me!
Just log onto my website and click the cover of whichever book you want, and MainStreet BookEnds will get it to me to sign and send it off to you. Try doing that with those big online booksellers! (Plus, you’ll be helping to support local book-selling – and wouldn’t that make you feel good?)


Thank you so much to all the librarians, bloggers, and parents who are still discovering “Flashlight Night!” 


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!

SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post once or twice a week – usually 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!

Commercials: The little things are starting to pile up

Last week, I wrote about details in writing – whether it’s for commercials or creative writing. I spotlighted a couple of commercials that I thought could have been improved and one that I felt was well-done.

And because there seems to be no end to the number of TV commercials that annoy me…I present ‘Part 2.’

I hadn’t planned on doing another post on commercials today – or even on advertising in general – but soon after I had finished writing last week’s diatribe, I felt another one welling up inside me.  So please forgive me for indulging in a second little rant; heck, it’s my blog, after all!

Of course I hope, as always, that some of points I make about copy writing and production can be directly correlated to other types of writing such as poems, stories, and books.  Continuity errors, misleading untruths, and confusing messages are hardly confined to the advertising realm.

Which unravels faster: the clothes or the message?

Some things get better with time: wine, cheese, friendships. A sales message should not be one of them. In the case of the following commercial, it took repeated viewings – and an explanation from my wife – for me to understand just what’s going on. This is a perfect example of a message getting lost in creativity:

Here’s your trivia question: what’s with the yarn?? Why is this car unraveling all these clothes? If you don’t know, go ahead and watch it again and see if you can figure it out.

Now then, if you have the answer, congratulations – you did better than me.  I had seen this TV spot innumerable times and never knew what was going on.  It took my wife at least seven viewings before she suddenly announced, “I finally figured it out!”  She explained that the clothes are unraveling because winter is over and the car is bringing spring to the world. In actuality, after I paid close attention to it, the commercial is advertising a sale.

No prices, no features, no Unique Selling Proposition…just an announcement for a sale.  This commercial basically takes half a minute to say, “We’re having a sale.”  I could be way off base here, but wouldn’t it be nice to know why I should care about the sale – or why I should want an Infiniti? Is it too much to ask for a few little details? Perhaps, if one can afford to own an Infiniti, one already knows all about the features of the Infiniti and therefore one needn’t concern oneself with the price of an Infiniti.

But that negates the need for a sale now, doesn’t it?

Fun with science

Every time this commercial comes on the TV, my wife sighs. Not because of the commercial itself, but because of my reaction to a mere 1.5 seconds of it:

This isn’t a bad commercial…but it is misleading. Check out what’s happening :15 in. See those little yellowish critters, squiggling around in the sewage? Those are supposed to be enzymes, breaking down the waste.  Well, guess what?

Here’s a news flash:  enzymes are MOLECULES, folks!

They are naturally-occurring chemicals – not living creatures that scoot around inside your septic tank, chewing up your poop like Pac-Man chasing after a cherry.

This is what drives me nuts.  I know this dramatization has nothing to do with the true efficacy of Rid-X, but when I see this blatant error (or misleading animation – I’m not sure which), it makes me wonder what else I’m being misled about.  Be true to your subject! Whether you’re writing a commercial, poem, or novel…remember that suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

A good commercial, made better

This spot, by contrast, is a fine example of a clear, compelling message:

Zero Water TV spot: ‘The Waiter”

Zero Water filters are so good, they can filter out wine from tap water! I have no idea if that’s true, but it only took me one viewing of this commercial to understand that message. Like most good commercials, it’s a story: wine is poured into tap water, tap water is filtered, the Zero Water filter filters out the wine while the competition fails. And the genuinely surprised reaction by the man in the audience is a nice touch – a small detail, like we talked about last week – that makes a big impact.

But the commercial wasn’t always this good. Here’s how it first appeared:

The two biggest changes the ad agency made were the most important. First, they took the focus off the waiter; his goofy expression takes away from the straightforward, realistic style of a more-or-less-serious spot. And the reaction of the woman was, well, uhh – almost a non-reaction. She’s just sort of…there.  The gentleman in the newer spot appears to be honestly surprised and impressed, and that air of realism is important to the overall tone of the spot.

Be honest, be clear!

Don’t muddle your message with some cutesy ‘hook’ – like pulling strands of yarn off people to sell a luxury car in the spring. “Spring” is not the message, and “yarn” certainly isn’t, either.  And don’t assume your potential customers are too stupid to know what you’re telling them, such as enzymes that go chomp-chomp-chomping around your septic system.  Be honest, be clear, and make sure viewers (or listeners, if you’re in radio) know what you’re selling and why they should care.

Those two things – the product/service and the benefit of that product/service – should be first and foremost in your mind.

I’ll take “highly effective” over “highly creative” any day.

Super Bowl 2013 Commercials: Touchdowns, Fumbles, and Questionable Calls

This past Sunday night, millions tuned in to CBS for the 47th Super Bowl. And if you managed to make it all the way through  Alicia Keye’s “stirring” rendition of our national anthem, you eventually got to see a football game.

Of course, the competition is not the only draw; a number of folks who watch the game tune in to see the commercials, the production of which has become an annual game of advertising one-upsmanship unto itself. If you have not seen them, there are plenty of ways to find them on the internet. I’m not going to post every single one. Some were funny, some were touching, some were downright bizarre (what was Taco Bell thinking??)…but most were forgettable. The few I’m going to talk about today are the ones that – for better or worse – left the biggest impression on me.


These are the only three commercials I felt really nailed their objective – that is, to attract the viewers attention, to create interest and a desire to act, and give a clear, compelling message. First on my list (and on a lot of people’s lists) is the return of the Budweiser Clydesdales in “Brotherhood”:


You can almost never go wring with the Budweiser Clydesdales. This spot is nostalgic, charming, warm, fuzzy…but doesn’t feel pandering. It not only draws the viewer in by telling a compelling story, it reinforces the brand as part of the fabric of American family life. And really, what more could a brand want?

(Side note: the foal they used was born on Jan. 16, and was just seven days old at the time of the commercial’s filming. The fact that people are just learning about this now is helping to continue the momentum of the spot…and drive viewership)

The second commercial I felt was also successful – if not underrated – was the Sketchers ad, “Man vs. Cheetah:”


This spot isn’t showing up on many ‘lists’ of this year’s top Super Bowl commercials, probably because it’s not laugh-out-loud hilarious, rip-your-heart-out poignant, or scratch-your-head-wondering-what-the-hell-just happened bizarre. (Most car manufacturers, especially Hyundai, seemed to have a near-monopoly on that last category) But this spot does what every effective spot should do: it directly ties together the premise with the benefits of the product. Too many commercials try to connect the product to a contrived premise, which leads to a confusing, ineffective message – if there’s a message at all.

The third commercial that stood out for me was Tide’s “Miracle Stain:”


Here again, it’s a compelling story told with humour that immediately gets your attention, creates interest, and concludes with a perfect ending. It doesn’t get into the details of why Tide is so great, it doesn’t compare itself to other detergents…it just puts the brand front and center as the payoff.  Ironically, the brand becomes the downfall of the main character – an unusual twist – and that reinforces the notion that Tide’s power is somehow ‘non-discriminatory.’  For top-of-mind awareness, this was a winner.


I could give you a long list of all the spots I thought were failures. Actually, I can’t. Many of the spots were so forgettable…I forgot them. And personally, I don’t feel like sifting through all the Super bowl 2013 commercials just to find the worst ones. So here are a couple that really annoyed me.

First up, Volkswagen’s “Get In, Get Happy:”


OK, OK, the spot is amusing. It does make you smile. Even I chuckled when the guy says to turn the frown “dee udder way ah-roond!”  But let’s be serious: did it compell you to consider buying a Volkswagen? Did it spotlight any benefits to driving Volkswagens, other than they’ll make you happy? Without rewatching it, was the car they were driving a Beetle or a Jetta? This is an example of trying to get a premise to fit the brand. Sure, you might be happy driving a VW – but the image the viewer is ultimately left with is a white guy speaking like a Jamaican, not a red 2013 Beetle.

The second spot (actually a series of spots) that I felt missed the mark were Coca-Cola’s “Chase ads.” Here’s one of them:

Apparently, the idea was that viewers were supposed to log onto Coke’s website and vote how the story ended. A good idea to create a story that continues through the game. Unfortunately, Coke forgot two important things: 1) you need to compell viewers to take action, and 2) you need to compell viewers to take action.

I don’t know how many people bothered to log on and choose the ending – because, frankly, I didn’t care. Why should I? A bunch of strange characters are racing somewhere…I don’t know who they are, why I should care about them, or why I should be bothered to log onto Coke’s website. Hey, here’s some free advice for Coke’s ad agency: compell me to BUY A COKE. You’re welcome.

Questionable Calls

These are spots that were memorable and did a pretty good job of getting people to take notice of the product or brand, but fell a few yards short  (to carry the metaphor).

First up, the one everyone’s been talking about…’s “Perfect Match:”


Yes, my skin’s still crawling, too. A lot of folks have slammed this commercial for being tacky, crude, and totally un-funny. It is, indeed, all of those things…but we’re still talking about it, and that was the plan.  Come to think of it, it may also be the first time I’ve turned away from looking at Bar Rafaeli. Those Go Daddy people are just evil.

Another commercial that swung hard and missed was Ram Trucks’ “Farmer:”

I realize I’m going against a lot of my fellow ad geeks and agencies – but I was really disappointed in this. The production values are terrific. The intonations of the late, great Paul Harvey are sincere and stirring. The images are powerful. And the fact that it never felt like a two-minute commercial reinforces my belief that a compelling story will maintain the interest and attention of the viewer or listener, no matter how long it is. If a story starts to feel long – whether it’s a commercial, movie, or book – it’s not as compelling as it should have been.

My problem with this spot is the payoff. After watching this heartfelt tribute to the American farmer…we discover it’s a pitch for Ram Trucks. Really? You’re going to play with my emotions for a play at my wallet? I just felt let down. Now, I’ve thought about this quite a bit – about how they could have done this without it coming off as being tacky or cheesy – and I think if it they had used a different line other than, “to the farmer in all of us.” That line feels like they’re pushing their trucks on me. Perhaps a subtler, “thank you, farmers” or something that at least felt less pitchy, less…sales-y. I don’t know.  I’m still torn on this one, but it’s still not sitting well with me.


The last commercial I want to spotlight was Oreo’s “Whisper Fight,” which gets a nod not for its uniqueness, but for what Oreo’s executives managed to do in the middle of the game. First, the spot:


It was funny, yes – I was laughing along with everyone else – but it felt like a retread of the old, classic Miller Light commercials: “Tastes great! Less filling!” Not a great commercial, but I think it definitely will have life after the Super Bowl – and it was certainly one of the funnier spots, which helps with top-of-mind awareness. I’m not sure how many viewers were compelled (there’s that word again!) to take the call to action and send an Instagram to @Oreo on Twitter, but Twitter is where the real action ended up taking place…

Only a few minutes into the 3rd quarter, half the stadium’s power went out – leaving literally half of the stadium in darkness for 34 minutes. During that time, Oreo’s ad agency, 360i, received approval from the company execs to send out a graphic on Twitter showing part of an Oreo cookie and the phrase, “You can still dunk in the dark.” According to Buzzfeed, the image has been retweeted more than 14,000 times and the Facebook graphic has amassed 20,000+ “likes.” As Buzzfeed points out, the brand that got the biggest impact on the most expensive advertising day of the year…may have done it for nothing! Gotta love social media.

So what commercials did you feel had the biggest impact? Any I missed? Am I totally off the mark on any of these? LEt me know – I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section, below. And if you liked this post, feel free share it and subscribe to the blog! Thanks…and keep in touch!

Intricate Plot or Convoluted Scheme?

The idea for this post came to me about a week ago while I was watching TV.  While the main focus is on broadcast advertising, hopefully others – especially those who write novels, picture books, or short stories – can glean something from it as well.

Before we go any further, please watch this:

I had seen this commercial several times and always wondered, what the heck is going on??

Michael Symon and Eva Longoria spend the entire commercial getting bombarded with flavor suggestions by random strangers…ok.  So why does everyone want to throw a pie at them?  And why don’t they throw the pies at them?  And why is everyone dancing at the end?

And by the way…what is it you can win?  (Wait, wait!  Don’t replay it…just read on.)

It’s a short drive from intricate to convoluted…

When it comes to your plot, it’s very easy to go from one to the other.  In advertising, in an effort to make their commercials stand out from the pack, agencies always feel a need to be as wild and crazy as they can be.  Agencies love what they call the “Wow” factor…whether it makes sense or not.

Likewise, in creative writing, an author may have an urge to bring in too many odd characters or feature strange or unlikely events.  That’s why we have critique groups, mentors, and editors.  Agencies should be so lucky.

Now, I’m not putting down agencies; I’ve done quite a bit of commercial voicework for a number of agencies around the country, and there are a lot of great ones out there being run by some wonderful people.  Admittedly, they have a tough job.  They need to satisfy their clients (the business they’re advertising), impress their peers, and still try to put together an effective commercial that makes viewers or listeners respond to the ‘call to action.’  (That’s an industry term which refers to the action you want the viewer to take – maybe it’s calling an 800 number, perhaps it’s showing up at an Open House, or, in this case, logging onto their Facebook page)

Unfortunately with this commercial, the call to action was clear, but I still couldn’t figure out what the deal was with the pies – or why New York’s Flat Iron District suddenly turned into Dance Party, USA.

Even my 17-year-old daughter, who is probably part of the commercial’s targeted demographic, looked at me after watching it and said, “What the heck was that??

Don’t bury the message!

Let’s briefly analyze the structure of the spot, shall we?

First, Symon tells you what Lay’s is doing.  Then he tells you what the winner gets.  Five seconds before the commercial ends, the off-camera announcer tells you how to enter the contest and reminds you what you could win.  In between all of this, a motley crowd of potato chip devotees shout out – sometimes rather agressively – their suggestions for a new flavor.

Oh, and what is that prize?


If you submit the winning new flavor, you could pay off that mortgage…take that dream vacation you’ve always wanted…maybe even retire early!   Think of all the ways your life could be better, easier, more comfortable…with ONE MILLION DOLLARS!!

It’s a shame they just gloss over that fact, wouldn’t you say?

Appeal to the viewer’s concerns!

Which is a stronger line:  “The winner will receive a million dollars!” or “You could win a million dollars!”

The second line is much more powerful, because it speaks directly to the viewer/listener.  The announcer uses this line at the end, but it’s too bad that the message of winning is secondary to a list of kooky flavors, odd characters, and a potentially bizarre cream pie incident.

I always tell my clients to approach their advertising from the listeners’ or viewers’ point of view, and try to appeal to their emotions, interests, or concerns.  I hate to admit it, but commercials are viewed as interruptions, plain and simple – and if the message is muddled, it’s going to get lost.  Buried.

I’m sure Lay’s and their agency wanted something fun and eye-catching – and really, when ISN’T Eva Longoria eye-catching?  Throw in a bunch of bright colors and music, add Michael Symon for some gravitas, and boom!  You’ve got a :30 commercial.

Oh, yes…I would definitely try these!

Breakfast-flavored potato chips??

I’m sure the promotion will be successful; it was in the UK, where the winning flavor was (are you ready?) “Breakfast.”  Heck, I’m trying to come up with some good flavors, myself.  And social media being what it is, Lay’s will get plenty of mileage out of the spot and the promotion.  I just think the commercial itself could have been more effective if the style hadn’t overpowered the substance.

But we’re all guilty of doing that now and then, aren’t we?

One other question: their Facebook page features a fake bag of bearclaw-flavored chips, just like the police officer suggested, but the graphic on the ‘bag’ is of two donuts!  Donuts are NOT bearclaws, people!  Can we get a little quality control here, please?

Or am I way too sensitive about my pastries?