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Writing Effective Radio Spots

May 6, 2018

"Great production starts with colourful copywriting that activates senses and stimulates imagination."

Z100’s former Creative Services Director, Dave Foxx.

You can't polish a turd, and YES, it is the truth. No matter how much time you pour into the production of a poorly written script, it will never become the glossy, high ROI tool that you or (more importantly) your client wants it to be.

So what makes a script poor? What are the traps that we can fall into when writing our masterpiece? Following is not a conclusive list, rather ones that regularly come across my desk.

Starting with a Question

"Hey, is your dog constipated?" How many of you answered no? I would guess most if not all, right? Well, why would you start your commercial or promo that way?

It’s an example of how pivotal the first line of any spot can be. If you air a spot that starts “Attention plumbers.” you can bet that the majority of your audience that is not plumbers are gone.

Don't narrow the audience at the start of your script. Capture everyone’s interest with something they’ve never heard before, or at least entertain them until you can make your client’s case. The hope is, they’ll stay with the spot, and then tell the plumber they know about what they heard.


The first trials of the internet as we know it today began in 1983. that's some 35 years ago. Longer than a good portion of your audience has been alive. Do you really need to remind them of the www. prefix? In fact, I can't think of a browser that requires it anymore? Why bore your audience, waste precious time and, let's face it, just plain sound outdated.

Bad or unclear jingles.

OK, so this one isn't so much a writing mistake, but it certainly falls into the traps to avoid category when it comes to both Promos AND commercials.

In an age where it's as easy as a click on the screen to get a jingle, advertisers like to add jingles to their commercials because they want to create a mood and engender a feeling of wellbeing in listeners.

At the same time, jingles are a dangerous tool. Some jingles are so cheesy that they annoy people and leave them with the wrong impression of a brand. Other jingles are so catchy and friendly to the ear that the message contained in the lyrics is lost.

First, you need to ask yourself if you actually need a jingle, or if a decent plot, characters, headlines and some background music will do instead.

Using Stupid Examples

"Summer's almost here, so it's time to spruce up your garden!"

Really? What if I "spruced up my garden during Winter? What if I'm a keen gardener and I take care of my garden all year round? Why are times of seasonal change especially conducive to garden sprucing? And why are they implying that it’s less desirable to spruce up my garden when the seasons aren’t changing?

Again, the rest of the advertising copy really doesn’t matter, because no one listens past that inane opening line.

Too many cliches.

“Friendly Professional Staff”

“Storewide Savings”

“Number One In Customer Service”

“Dependable and Trustworthy”

“The Best Prices”

“We Will Not Be Undersold”

There are dozens more of these tired cliches. Why are they tired? Because you can hear them in radio commercials right now, and if you were to get in a time machine and go back 50, 60, 70 years you’d hear them in commercials from then. They’re worn out because everyone uses them and to most consumers they’re pretty much meaningless.

If everyone is using them then what makes them special? Nothing. If every business is using them then what sets you apart and helps a listener remember who you are? Nothing.

Instead, give people meaningful (personal) compelling reasons to do business with you. And by personal I mean your customer. What are your best customer’s personal reasons for doing business with you? Find that out and talk about that in your commercials. You’ll be amazed at the difference in response.

So there you have it. By no means a complete list, and it should also be noted that these are just my pet peeves. If you know your audience and understand them, then some of these points may be mute. But as a general guide, and thought starter I think you'll find they're not too far from the mark.

Darren "Robbo" Robertson is available to image your station. To find out more about his Imaging services see his website.

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