Marshall McLuhan coined the term “hot medium” for radio about 50 years ago. Today, it’s still hot because it’s more interactive than TV or print and a great way to test a product or service on your audience.
I’ve written, directed, and produced hundreds of radio commercials over my career, and here are my best practices for getting the most bang out of your radio commercial buck with writing, testing, casting, and producing your spot. I’ve also linked to a few sample commercials so you can hear the completed projects across a variety of formats and what was in my mind’s ear when I wrote them:
1) Choose a length – 60-second commercials are still the norm on radio. While you may be tempted to buy 30 seconds, you’ll pay a premium that costs 80% of a 60-second ad, not half. Don’t buy one commercial, but work with the station’s sales reps to create a schedule within your budget with enough frequency for success.
2) Choose a format – Single announcer monologues work best for direct response, but you can test one vs. a two-person dialogue, serious vs. humorous, a jingle vs. no music, sound effects vs. none, or any combination of these.
3) Write your script with a compelling offer – Even if your commercial is wall-to-wall copy, you only have enough time to speak about 160 words in a 60-second spot. Make your offer easy to understand and compelling – a valuable gift with purchase, a 25% discount for first-time customers, or a free consultation are all popular offers. Test a campaign of two or three commercials with different offers to see which makes your phone ring the most. These offers can be similar to those in your email, postcard and letter campaigns.
This commercial for Hooked On Phonics offered one of the Internet’s easiest to remember domain names and a free reading assessment.
4) Repeat your offer and phone number – Your offer and phone number should be read once in the beginning and two to three times at the end of the script. Try to create or obtain a memorable phone number, too. Repetition works. Repetition works. Repetition works!
This radio spot for CPR, David Crosby’s latest band, featured music from his songs and a repeated phone number.
5) Choose a voice – It’s wise to choose a professional voice-over actor to read your script vs. doing it yourself. You can find the right voice for your script at reasonable prices at Voice123.com, which calls itself “the biggest, most technologically advanced group of voice-over talents and voice producers.” After listening to different voices, cast for the right voice, or even contact an actor and have them do a demonstration with your script.
6) Produce the commercial – If you have the budget, Voice123 can produce your commercial for a low fee too, or you can choose a local recording studio to pay by the hour. But to save some money on production, ask the radio station that will be running your commercial to produce it for you at a minimal cost or no fee.
This direct response commercial for Caesars Tahoe Resort Casino featured a famous voice-over talent, Ken Nordine. Note the use of music, sound effects, and his resonant voice, all produced in his Chicago studio.
Here’s another example of a direct response commercial for Bank of America, where I hired the world’s fastest talker to demonstrate how quickly the bank could approve your home loan application.
Finally, while writing and producing a radio commercial is fun and creative, it also requires skill and experience. If this all sounds too challenging, I recommend that you hire a professional copywriter.
Also in the “How to Test a Direct Response” series: