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The anatomy of a broadcast ad that sells

Anyone can write a script for a broadcast ad. It’s only 30 seconds of copy…how hard can it be? The truth is, the less time you have to convey a message the harder it is to be effective. Writing ad scripts that can effectively drive traffic to your website and convert ad viewers and listeners into customers is an art. It’s also a challenge for even the most seasoned copywriters and advertising creative directors.


Retro TV Commercial

Before you send your ad script to the TV or radio production team, make sure you’ve considered these key elements to make the most of your advertising spend:

  1. A clear message. Viewers and listeners can only consume so much information in a 30 or 60 second ad. What do you want them to know after consuming this information? TV ads rely primarily on images to communicate. If you mute your ad and you can’t tell what the ad is selling, you need to rethink your strategy. Sure, the narration and visuals need to work together, but confusing or visually over-stimulating graphics combined with a weak script will add up to a losing ad. Most radio audiences are working, driving, exercising or otherwise occupied while listening. Make the message and call-to-action easy enough for them to recall later.

  2. An attention-grabbing intro. The lead of your ad is like the headline of a print ad. It’s your chance to grab their attention. Will the first 4-5 seconds of your ad hold the viewer or listener’s attention? Will it speak to them about a product or service that will solve their problems? Or is it time to change the station or take a TV break to grab another beer?

  3. Short, digestible sentences. Again, you only have 30 or 60 seconds. There is no time for extra language. Write short, concise, easy-to-understand sentences. If you’re struggling with the length of your script, type your ad in 16 point Times New Roman, all caps, double-spaced. A half-page is about 30 seconds; a full page is about 60 seconds.

  4. Benefits. Tell your audience how the product or service will benefit them. You’re not just selling an associate’s degree program. You’re selling a degree program that will: benefit A) save them time and money by accepting transfer credits from other colleges and benefit B) give them the knowledge, confidence and credentials to get a better job and earn even more money.

  5. A call to action. You want your audience to do something. That’s the point of the ad, right? Gone are the days of repeating your phone number and address over and over. Include your web address in the ad and have your contact info easily accessible online. Make sure that the web address is the company name and easy to remember. If your custom URL is hard to say and spell, it’s going to be hard for them to remember. Rethink hyphens or clever spellings.

Time to get creative.

Now that you have the elements of an ad script, you need a strategy for your ad campaign, and then you can start writing. The following are a few broadcast advertising red flags. Avoid these and you’re well on your way to a unique ad that converts:

  1. The ad that sounds like all other ads. If you listen to other ads for inspiration, or ask your advertising sales rep to write the script for you (most will), be on the lookout for script copy that sounds like your competitor. This is particularly risky in small markets.

  2. A message that’s off-brand. Your campaign should be consistent with your brand. What does your website or other marketing collateral communicate? Your broadcast ads may be focused on a particular promotion or the announcement of a new service, but the closing message should include some elements of your brand messaging to reinforce your unique selling proposition.

  3. The cutesy ad featuring your grandkids. Of course your grandchildren are adorable. But that doesn’t mean your audience will be ga-ga over a 4-year old narrator who can’t yet articulate simple sentences. Most viewers find this ad concept to not only be annoying, but totally confusing and often impossible to understand. If the average business owner is camera shy and isn’t ready for prime time, it’s still not worth wasting your advertising budget on ads that simply don’t make sense. If you’re selling playground equipment, that’s different. But most kid actor ads have nothing to do with the product or service. And worse, they can’t explain the benefits because they can’t talk. Be very careful about this strategy.

  4. The ad written by Captain Obvious. Don’t spend your 30 seconds telling your audience about your knowledgeable, trained and friendly staff or the fact that your company has been around since 1972. So what? Sure, it can be reassuring to a potential customer to know that you’re a reputable, honest business, but they will gather that information from other sources. Stating the obvious isn’t a compelling message and doesn’t transition into a meaningful call-to-action. Again, what are you selling? Don’t settle for filler ad copy.

  5. The low-cost leader ad strategy. “We guarantee the lowest price and nobody beats our prices.” Actually…if I had the time to scour the Internet looking for deals, I bet I can find someone cheaper. But do you really only want to compete on price? Highlighting price is tricky as prices often change, but there is always going to be someone out there ready to beat your price for the business. Think very carefully about the message you’re sending by positioning yourself as the cheapest gig in town.

  6. The mumbo-jumbo loaded with jargon ad. One of the hardest things to do when developing an advertising strategy and script is to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Check out our blog post on how to determine your target audience. Guess what? They’re almost never you! Just because you listen to one radio station or binge watch Downton Abbey on the weekends doesn’t mean your audience does. The same is true for industry jargon. Be careful about acronyms that mean something to you (my favorite: SEO or search engine optimization. It means something to me but outside of my industry, it’s confusing). The old saying K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is a tried and true lesson.

A few final tips for writing your highly effective broadcast ad: Make sure background music doesn’t overpower your message and beware of the latest music licensing rules. Read the script out loud to your colleagues, family and friends. And lastly, weed out any clichés that weaken your message and credibility.

Learn more about developing integrated advertising campaigns.

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