What Makes A Great Radio Spot?

Cheryl Catts

August 3, 2012

About a year ago there was a commercial that would play on my Pandora station that was incessant and so obnoxious. The woman’s voice was whiney and contrived, the script was forced, and I would mute my computer every time I heard it. This radio spot was completely ineffective on me.

So what went wrong? How do you get your audience’s attention, without annoying or offending them? And what makes a radio spot work?

There is a lot that goes into making an effective radio spot, and it’s not just the jingle, or the catchy tagline. Radio is intended to give information and direction, and is one piece of the marketing puzzle. Well-executed radio begins on a strategic level, where the agency and the client decide what the campaign is, and all mediums on which it will be implemented.

Once there is a strategic direction for the spot good creative is paramount. Herein we want to avoid the two extreme ends of the spectrum. On one end we have the spots that irritate and annoy, and on the other end are the spots that are heard and instantly forgotten – the clutter.

It is important that radio spots be likeable and hold the attention of the listener. This is often done well by telling stories, asking questions, engaging the listener, creating an emotional connection, or giving the listener a take away (like something to think about, or a song to stick in their head). Good creative should concisely explain the message well enough that listeners want to learn more, but that isn’t trying to cram every detail of the product or service into the airwaves. And finally, the spot should compel people to stop in or buy, as the result of a strong and convincing call to action.

After a spot has been developed it should be produced at a quality level where the company will be viewed (or heard, rather) as credible and trustworthy. This usually requires a professional studio and producer, as well as professional talent. With the cost to buy the media for the spot, production costs are a very small percentage of the whole budget, and corners should not be cut here. The difference between your next-door neighbor talking into a tin can, and the real deal, will be noticeable to your customer and will influence the effectiveness of the radio campaign.

And finally, the most incredible radio spot does you no good if no one hears it. A carefully planned radio buy will ensure that the right people are hearing the spot at the right times. Unfortunately there’s no right answer to how much you need to spend on a radio buy for it to be effective. This depends on how long the spot will be running, the audience, and the type of industry or product (i.e a branding message vs. retail promotion). However, there are professional media planners who can help identify this information and the range that you should spend in order to reach the desired point levels.

Radio is not a medium to be afraid of. It can be produced quickly and cheaply, and get on the air in a short amount of time when you need to make an impact. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope to get people to listen, but make sure you stop before the envelope rips, and you end up on mute.