"HOW DO WE MOVE THE NEEDLE?"
That's the question. It comes from Canada via Chris Pollard, Creative Director at 92.7 CKDR in Dryden, Ontario.
And even if you don't care about radio, stick around. It's going to be worth your while.
When we threw out the solicitation for your burning questions about branding and marketing, Mr. Pollard was first out of the gate.
He asked, "How do we move the needle?"
Normally, the phrase "moving the needle" is a reference to generating sales for a client. Creating advertising that sells more product is moving the needle.
But in this case, Mr. Pollard is talking about training his team in making better, more creative and more effective advertising.
He says, in part, "A lot of marketers out there...want to improve their skills. But training opportunities are sorely lacking. Is there something out there we're missing? My corporate cohorts and I have discussed it several times over the years, and our searches always come up empty."
I can guarantee you, the answer is not one he's expecting, and it's going to be more applicable across the board than you expect.
RADIO IS A VAST WASTELAND
With apologies to erstwhile FCC Chairman Newton Minow, whose famous "vast wasteland" speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in 1961 sent TV programmers a searing message about the quality of their content, radio has become a creative desert.
A fact of the business is that wildly talented and dedicated people get sacked because they're "too expensive." More and more, everything is run by beancounters lacking insight, employing low-wage bean counters who lack skill or intellect, supervised and trained by people who aren't all that great, either. or, who have just given up and do what they can with what they're given. (I am not painting Mr. Pollard's employers with this brush. They seem to be an exception.)
Mr. Pollard goes on to talk about the few, expensive courses out there, and the many affordable ones--many which have fallen by the wayside because nobody can get their stations to pay for them.
So the real question is: Where is the affordable training?
To which I say: It's all around you. Just do it.
Become A Geek For Advertising
Not just radio, but all advertising.
I'm routinely shocked how many radio people do not have any comprehension of how advertising works, what constitutes good advertising, and how they know nothing about advertising history.
Radio has its uniqueness, for sure.
But it also shares commonality with all advertising in that it's a form of persuasion.
It doesn't matter what kind of advertising you do, you need to understand techniques and history.
If you say "John Caples" to most advertising (and radio) people, they look back at you with all the comprehension of a Labrador retriever.
IF YOU MENTION CAPLES' MOST FAMOUS HEADLINE?
You might get a smattering of more comprehension.
The famous headline is, "They laughed when I sat down at the piano--but when I started to play!"
It's an ad for at-home music courses, and it is famous in advertising to the point of being a cliché.
The ad taps into the emotional desires we experience as humans. It features a cliffhanger headline that makes the reader say, "Tell me more!" It makes the pitch with a human and real sounding story from a happy customer.
It's a brilliant lesson in how to make an ad work--and it was written almost 100 years ago.
Caples also wrote a landmark book called, Scientific Advertising. Caples had no patience for funny advertising, and he's very dry. But the book has valuable lessons.
There's even an awards competition named in his honor that requires entrants to prove how well their advertising worked.
Besides Caples' book, there are also plenty of other books available to anyone who's interested in understanding the history and fundamentals.
Yes, times and fashion change.
FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY DOES NOT
That's why so many books on advertising, while being out of date as fashion goes, still provide a killer education in advertising.
Just for example...
Ogilvy On Advertising
One of those old chestnuts about the business, it too provides important information about how to craft advertising. And if you read it, you will learn why Ogilvy loved radio and called it, "The Cinderalla medium."
Bill Bernbach's Book
An incredibly expensive book because it's out of print. But it's a lesson from a man who changed the face of US advertising almost singlehandedly. It's filled with simple and pithy advertising that provides brilliant examples of conceptual thinking that make you stop and say, "Wow." The ojne ad you probably know: Vollkswagen "Think small."
When Advertising Tried Harder
Like the Bernbach book, this is also out of print and expensive. But it provides a litany of pithy, in your face ads that, again, helped change the face of advertising.
Hey Whipple, Squeeze This
Luke Sullivan's "Classic guide to creating great ads" is funny and potent and irreverent and will make you spit chocolate milk out of your nose. Well, maybe not the latter. But it's an excellent guide.
Wizard Of Ads
If you haven't read Roy Williams' first book, get it. Now.
AND ONE OF MY PERSONAL FAVORITES...
The Book Of Gossage
This is an enormous and heavy trade paperback about a cult figure in 1960s San Francisco advertising, Howard Luck Gossage. This is the man who coined the phrase, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."
Gossage had his ad agency in a converted firehouse. He was an intellectual eccentric who once fired a junior copywriter by the name of Jay Conrad Levinson.
Yes, the father of Guerrilla Marketing worked for Gossage, and one day after submitting a copy assignment, Levinson got it back with a note that said something to the effect of, "There's nothing more I can teach you. You're fired."
Levinson has a chapter in the book. Jeff Goodby wrote the introduction.
If you don't know who of either of those people are, you're way behind the curve.
YES, ALL OF THE BOOKS ARE ON ADVERTISING IN GENERAL
And they are useful informative, and important.
Each of them, in their own way, leave you thinking, "Wow, that's good."
At Slow Burn Marketing, we have always maintained that small business advertisers can take many cues from big advertising agencies.
And these books are just part of the legacy that Big Agency Advertising has to offer the small-business advertiser--even one who works in radio.
This rant is going to go on into next week. There's too much more to say and not enough time in which to say it.
But once again, if you want to create better advertising, stick around for next week. It'll be worth it.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHY ARE YOU EVEN DOING THIS?
As a faithful follower to this weekly screed, you have some kind of interest in advertising.
Whether you create advertising for yourself or for someone else, you have some vested interest in "Getting your name out there."
Which, frankly, is a really weak goal for advertising. "You gotta get your name out there, kid."
There are plenty of names out there. Do you care about them all? Any of them?
What names do you care about?
You care about the names that make you feel something.
HOW DO YOU MAKE PEOPLE FEEL?
This screed makes you feel something.
Some people love it. I have the fan mail to prove it.
Some people hate it. Sometimes, when I write things that don't toe a particular party line, people feel insulted and they unsubscribe.
So it goes. Their loss.
But feelings are at the root of everything we do in creating advertising.
Creating an effective advertisement requires understanding how to make a single, defined individual feel the right thing about that which is being sold.
THERE MUST BE A RELEVANT ELEMENT OF ART, POETRY, SHOWMANSHIP, FINESSE, SOMETHING
An advertisement can't just be a Post-it Note that says, "Yeah, we sell that, too!"
And, unfortunately, that is what so much advertising is.
"Hey, we sell this for all your fill-in-the-blank needs!"
Which brings us to why I'm even on this tear.
Something happened over the holidays, and it represents a great loss to many people, including those of us with a fondness for smart radio advertising that means something.
ON CHRISTMAS EVE, WE LOST A LEGEND
The radio advertising genius Dick Orkin went to the great Radio Ranch in the sky.
Dick was 84.
And he was perhaps one of the single best minds ever in advertising.
His specialty was radio, but his brand of thinking informed advertising at large for anyone willing to pay attention.
His brand of thinking is especially useful now, in our age of not-too-deep thinking and information overload.
Dick was no dummy. He had a bachelor's degree in speech and theater from Franklin & Marshall, a master's in clinical psychology from the Phillips Graduate Institute, and studied for his MFA at Yale.
DICK KNEW THINGS
One of the things he knew, and which informed everything in his work, was how to matter to the listener.
His Famous Radio Ranch was known for developing funny radio campaigns.
The Radio Ranch had a wealth of advertising trophies backed by an abundance of impressive, results-producing campaign credits for businesses across the nation and even across the ocean.
Long before I knew who Dick Orkin was, I knew his work.
It leapt out of the radio, grabbed you by the ears, made you listen--and made you care.
When I was eventually working in Los Angeles radio, I had the good fortune to learn from Dick at industry seminars, and later in private sessions and classes at his home in Toluca Lake.
DICK WAS A THINKER AT A DEEPER LEVEL
One of the things that so many radio advertisers want to have is a "funny commercial."
There's a kind of conditioning that has come with Big Agency Advertising, and it's the (sometimes) misguided notion that advertising needs to be funny.
In past screeds, we've dismantled that notion and proven that funny doesn't sell. Relevance sells. It doesn't hurt if it's funny. But it must be relevant.
Dick was happy to explain how to be funny, and how to make it relevant at a deeper level than most slap-dash comedy radio commercials ever reach.
DICK ALSO SHARED THE UNDERPINNINGS OF HIS PARTICULAR BRAND OF GENIUS
In searching for examples of Dick's work, I came across a YouTube clip.
It was posted by Dick's good friend, radio guru Dan O'Day. For years, Dick and Dan worked together, training radio professionals in ways to make better radio.
One of the Dick Orkin presentations that Dan sells as an info product is called, The Architecture Of Comedy. In the YouTube clip, before we get there, Dick has been playing radio commercials for the audience, and discussing how the comedy works. He then says, in part:
[The] fact that sex and death are
the basis of so much humor, including
some of the materials that you've
heard in the commercials here, is
because these are things largely
out of our control.
If we could control them, of course,
life would go swell, because everything
is in our control. It's a perfect world.
But we know it's not a perfect world.
Everything human is pathetic. As long
as a person takes themselves seriously,
there will be humor in the world. Because
we're taking ourselves seriously in the
face of an imperfect situation and an
imperfect world. Only man has dignity.
Only man, therefore, can be funny.
THIS IS NOT STANDARD COMEDY INSTRUCTION THINK
Dick goes on to talk about pomposity, ego inflation, ego deflation, the comedy of Type A versus Type B personalities, the awareness and the capacity to understand living in a world where things go wrong and you can laugh at them, the sense of maturity and self-worth required for that, and how a sense of humor is the ability to avoid getting caught in mind ruts where you can't see the opposite.
This is somewhat different than the standard "comedy rules" type of instruction that often comes from comedy experts--things like "Use The Comedy Rule of Threes."
There are all kinds of technical rules that help make comedy work.
But rarely does any guru talk about the human condition and the underpinnings of life that need to be understood before trotting out those rules.
DICK PROVIDED SOMETHING THAT IS SORELY LACKING RIGHT NOW
He provided thoughtful insight into that which lies beneath the craft.
He had a depth of knowledge in performance and psychology that he was readily willing to share.
In the present info-overload culture, the kind of depth that Dick brought to his how-to insight are sorely lacking.
Tools and tricks and surface features are often all anyone gets.
They get only the tip of the iceberg.
The iceberg's foundation--the 90% of the substance that makes it possible--is hidden beneath the surface.
Dick was great at revealing the foundations and making them relevant and useful.
And without relevance and usefulness, where are we?
Dick Orkin has left the ranch.
Long live Dick.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.