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Friday, September 08, 2006

Rooting for a miserable team spurs thoughts on copywriting...My AM radio experience...

I'm going to start this post with a somewhat embarassing confession. I'm not ashamed of being a baseball fan, even though you'd think I could find something better to do than to follow the exploits of a gaggle of athletes. However, I am a fan of the Kansas City Royals, which is a source of some humiliation. There are few professional franchises that have ever put together as many miserable seasons in such a short period of time. Of course, it wasn't always that way. The picture here reminds us that there were winning seasons once upon a time. Still, it is a little embarassing.

The reason I mention the Royals is because my status as a fan leads me to tune the radio to a "sports talk" station in the mornings. I don't listen that long, but I do like to hear the MLB scores and check to see if there are any new Royals developments. So, I due tune in long enough to catch quite a few advertisments (it seems like AM radio is split 50/50 between ads and programming sometimes).

There used to be a radio spot for a carpet and furniture store that was exceptional. It stood out from all of the other ads and firmly implanted both the name of the store and its location in my mind. It featured a woman's voice, a "breezy" and coversational style, and was chock-full of little tangential comedic asides that gave it a lot of character. A great ad.

Subsequently, I heard an ad on the same station with the very same voice and style. This time, though, it was for the advertising agency itself. They were pitching their ability to create unique and memorable ads and making a case for radio advertising as a marketing tool. It wasn't as good as the furniture spot, but it was effective.

I know it was effective because I then started hearing more ads from different stores and services that followed the same style. These were clearly customers of that same agency. Most of them featured the same voice talent and the structure and attitude were almost identical across the board. Even the ones that used different voice talent were obviously products of the same agency.

Now, when I start to hear one of these ads, I sort of wrinkle my nose and roll my eyes. It all seems so played out to me now. What was attention-grabbing during last year's Royals nightmare has become annoying during this year's march to 100 losses. I've encountered the form of the ads so many times that those witty asides elicit nausea instead of chuckles.

I don't think I am the only one feeling this way, either. I've noticed fewer and fewer of the ads over the course of the last few months.

My guess is that the station in question has a substantial core listenership that makes up most of the audience and that these powerhouse commercials have started to become the kind of thing that makes people flip to another station. The agency is either suffering or they are producing a new breed of ads that I haven't been able to link directly to them.

If my analysis of The Rise and Fall of the Clever Ads is true, I think it's something of a cautionary tale for copywriters, like myself. Here's what I think...

  • Change is good. You can't keep hammering people with the same style of message indefinitely without them getting bored with it.
  • Copywriters can't be one-trick ponies. A copywriter who relies on a single presentation strategy or sales technique is less able to serve his or her clients and risks becoming "the one with THAT kind of material," which can't be good for developing a large and diverse customer base.
  • Copywriters owe it to their clients to produce truly unique and personalized material. That spot for the furniture store was fantastic. Unfortunately, I think the campaign's overall value was eroded substantially by the fact the agency started to produce a slew of similar-sounding advertisments (including one for themselves) that ended up on the same station in similar time slots. For online copywriters, I think there is a responsibility to make sure you are creating unique voice for clients within their niche.

I could be wrong. I am a Royals fan, after all.

In any case, Content Done Better copywriting clients are going to continue to receive a commitment to personalized creativity. There is something to be said for following the "tried and true" and not "re-inventing the wheel" every time you perform a task, but I think the best way of handling copywriting is to rely on a strong understanding of persuasion and a knowledge of the general formats and structures that produce results, while combining them with creative work that provides each client with a unique voice.

I think I've heard the alternative on AM radio and it was just as disappointing as Mike Sweeney's back injuries, Angel Berroa's failure to reach potential, a complete inability to build a good starting rotation, watching Ambiorix Burgos blow save after save, or any of the other features of the Royals 2006 season--and that's pretty disappointing!

TECHNORATI UPDATE: This blog has now been ignored by Technorati for eighteen days. Three contact attempts with the service have yet to elicit a non-mechanized response.

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