Thursday, January 06, 2005

Our Friendly, Knowledgeable Staff is Waiting to Serve You

Writing commercials on the radio is a thankless task, particularly in small markets, where the amount of money a client has to spend is often inversely proportional to the amount of trouble they're going to give you. Somebody with $100 to spend is going to drive you crazy with rewrites, whereas somebody spending $1000 is far less likely to care. (One of the stations I worked at sometimes sold ad packages for less than $20. You can scarcely imagine how much suffering we sometimes went through on those.)

Clients always say they want unique and different spots, but they don't, really. What they often want is a spot that sounds exactly like other spots they have heard. Fortunately, a small station with just one or two people writing the bulk of the copy can easily comply with that request. The Mrs., an erstwhile radio copywriter herself, once told a group of eager young broadcasting students that a typical class assignment--write one 30-second spot before next week--is, not to put too fine a point on it, crap. Write 14 different Valentine's Day commercials for 14 different florists, all of whom are advertising approximately the same thing, and do it in a single afternoon, she told them, and then you'll be getting close to the real copywriter's experience. Under those circumstances, writing spots that sound like other spots isn't an occupational hazard--it's unavoidable.

Still, a good copywriter will persevere. I once wrote what I thought was an especially good spot for a paint and wallpaper store. It was unique and different, all right: high concept, two voices, funny, the kind of thing that's intended to make people remember the sponsor's name. Everybody at the store thought it was the best radio ad they'd ever heard--except for the store's owner, who kept sending it back to be revised. After two or three rounds of revision--each one of which increased my level of exasperation--I sat down at my typewriter and hammered out a laundry list of items and prices, and for good measure stuffed in every radio advertising cliche I could think of. Once-in-a-lifetime event, prices slashed, save like never before, see So-and-So Decorating for all your decorating needs, repeated the phone number two or three times--everything you learn not to do after you've written commercials for a while.

The store owner pronounced it the best ad he'd ever heard.

But if I'd only had Dan O'Day's Bad Commercial Generator, I could have saved myself lots of time and trouble. Go there now, fill in a few blanks--and feel my pain.


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