Tips for Radio Commercials: Write for the Senses

The best radio commercials are sticky. By sticky, we mean they not only stand out from other commercials but make a lasting impression and stick with the listener. How do you achieve memorable, “sticky” radio ads? By successfully appealing to the audience’s emotions and resonating with their experiences, interests, or values. On top of that, you only have sound to work with (and the audience can’t simply re-play the ad, either), so important information needs to be concise and clear.

Keep the following four tips in mind when crafting your radio commercial script to ensure you get a return on your investment and reach your marketing goals.

1. Set the Right Tone

Note the tone of your ad in the script to establish the underlying mood and feeling you want to create through the use of sound effects, music, and voice talent. Tone needs to be selected based on what appeals to your target audience, keeping your overall goals in mind. What emotions do you want listeners to feel? What mood do you want associated with your brand? Do you have a limited-time promotion that requires a sense of urgency?

For instance, a dentist looking to build awareness as a trusted expert may want to take a different approach than a restaurant promoting weekend specials. The dentist might choose a serious tone that talks about the value of a great smile in life, while the restaurant might go for a fun, conversational tone to express a laid-back vibe.

2. Mix Up the Energy and Pacing

The energy of your radio spot is part of what captures your listeners’ attention, and the pacing is what carries them through the ad. Unless you’re purposefully using someone like Ben Stein to set a certain atmosphere, a dull, monotonous voice at a constant, steady pace could be boring! (Bueller… Bueller…) 

Conversely, if the tempo of your ad is too fast, you could make the listener feel rushed—which isn’t the same as establishing urgency—or worse, make the ad feel overly salesy. Instead, consider the movements of a good song: it might build up and then slow down, and it holds attention.

As an example, a home improvement retailer could build tension by describing a house that’s falling apart—complete with the sounds of squeaky hinges, leaking pipes, and a tense, frenetic soundtrack—then provide information about their solutions in a calming, soothing way to position themselves as a source of relief.

3. Be Creative!

As a rule of thumb, if it sounds like anyone could have written it, it’s time to start over. Avoid cliches, salesy language, and purposeless hyperbole. Standard is forgettable and won’t help listeners remember your brand. Note that you can rely on more than the words in your script to engage the senses. Pauses and silences in the right place for just the right amount of time can lend emphasis and anticipation to your ad, and sound effects allow you to adhere to the writing adage “show don’t tell.” There’s potential for an entire story in sounds alone.

A healthcare brand that wants to share a PSA about staying safe in the snow could use gusts of wind and chattering teeth to make the audience “feel” the cold, along with the sound of snow crunching under boots before the scraping slide and thump of someone falling down—wrapping with a message about where to find winter safety tips on their website. In this case it’s important to remember that creativity matters, but don’t overdo it. This is where experts can help navigate that fine line between too many sound effects and enough to get a point across.

4. Keep It Brief

Another rule of thumb for effective radio advertising is “keep it simple,” and many times, that means keeping your script brief. If you cram in too much information including multiple calls-to-action, dialog, sound effects, and music, you could overload the listener instead of helping them trust your brand or guiding them to follow a certain course of action.

For example, if you have a long list of industry stats or multiple positioning points you want to cover, it may be more powerful to pick and choose based on your specific audience and goals.

More Tips for Great Scripts

  • Ask the right questions.
    Start your script with the right focus by asking yourself a few questions before you or your creative team start writing. What is it you want the ad to accomplish? What are you expecting from your listener after they’ve heard the ad? How does it fit in with your business goals? You’ll find a few more questions in the points below.
  • Don’t sacrifice substance. 
    As we mentioned above, creativity, pacing, and energy are critical for your ad’s stickiness, but at the same time, there needs to be substance and purpose. Is it easy to understand your message, and to follow the call-to-action? If it doesn’t add value or it muddles the overall message, creativity can end up hurting you.
  • Read the script out loud.
    Reading your script out loud helps you recognize things you wouldn’t have noticed simply by reading it on the page, so read it more than once. Do you trip over any words or phrases? Read it to others, or have others read it to you. Does it sound natural? Is it conversational when it should be formal? Does it sound compelling, and is it persuasive?
  • Time yourself.
    This is another point when reading to others or having them read to you is helpful. Does the script fit into the time allotted, or do you have to rush to get everything in? Do you end up with too much time left over, or too much empty sound? This will help test your pacing and energy.
  • Utilize experts.
    In most cases you should be able to utilize your radio partner for expert advice and help in the writing and recording of your radio ad. This is strongly recommended, as they are truly the experts and know their audience better than anyone else, as well as what works and what doesn’t. 

A successful radio script is always written for the ears, but it’s also written with more than just the ears in mind. Ensure your radio advertising stands out and sticks by appealing to all of the senses, setting the right tone, leveraging solid energy, and finding balance of creativity and substance.

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