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How to Write Advertisements for Television and Radio
Television and Radio Advertising Writing

"Radio is on its way out," doomsayers have proclaimed for years now, even as far back as the beginning of television advertising. Indeed, new formats and technologies are changing the face of radio, yet here it still is. Two facts remain true: Radio still needs advertisers, and radio remains the most cost-effective of broadcast advertising mediums. So, as a sole proprietor, you may wish to learn to write for radio (particularly if your copy writing skills are improving, but you can't afford an art department.) As an in-house copywriter, you may have to learn to write for radio if you wish to remain in-house.

Since there's no visual element involved, once you learn the basics, you can write radio copy very quickly. You could also e-mail your radio ad to a station and hear it on the air within the hour! How many other broadcast mediums can come to life at that rate of speed?

For business owners, there are several other advantages to radio advertising:

  • Pre-segmented markets: Each radio station tends to aim for a different demographic: young urbanites, women, retirees, news listeners, sports fans, etc.
  • Adaptability : A good radio ad can easily be translated into a television spot, "webisode," or print advertisement -- with a few alterations.
  • Ease of experimentation: You can try radio ads briefly, see if they're effective for you, and either continue with them, or stop without suffering significant financial losses.
  • Simple format: A 60-second radio advertisement, with a single announcer, can be one paragraph (see the example below).


JOB: :60 Radio

TITLE: "Marketing, Advertising, and Sales Writing 101"

ANNCR: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in marketing or advertising? Would you like to become indispensable to your current company?

Every marketing plan, advertisement, or sale begins with the written word, and Universal Class will show you how to make your written words soar off the page and turn into gold. UniversalClass-dot-com is the most convenient method of modern learning, with hundreds of courses available to learn at your own pace. Right now, there may be an advertising genius waiting inside of you, ready to turn your words into wealth. So don't settle for less in your business or career. Visit UniversalClass-dot-com today and see what we've got in store for you!

As you can see, radio ads are among the simplest of written advertising formats. You can make them more complex -- and more entertaining -- by adding music, special effects, and multiple narrators:


JOB: :60 Radio


MUSIC: (Hip-hop song goes into "Scratching," keeps going.)

BOBBY BOB: Yo, that's a cool CD you got, Homes! That DJ can SCRATCH!

STEVIE STEVE: Yeah, he's got mad skills.

MUSIC: ("Scratching" sounds more like a skip.)

BOBBY BOB: Yo, he's scratchin' a little too much, ain't he?

STEVIE STEVE: Yeah. Awww, man it's the CD that's scratchin'! Man, that was my favorite CD, and now I gotta toss it out.

MUSIC: Stops.

SFX: CD being ejected.

BOBBY BOB: Whoa, chill that, Homes! Let me see it.

STEVIE STEVE: Yo, what are you doin'? What's that you're puttin' on it?

BOBBY BOB: It's called Scratch-Out, Homes -- works on CDs and DVDs with a fast and permanent repair for scratches, guaranteed!

STEVIE STEVE: Guaranteed?!

BOBBY BOB: Check it, Homes! Pop it back in!

SFX: CD going back into player

MUSIC: Song continues without scratching

STEVIE STEVE: Alright! No scratches! You da man, Bobby Bob! Where can I find Scratch-Out?

BOBBY BOB: Scratch-Out's available at all Blockbuster locations for a limited time, Stevie Steve! Now crank that baby up!

ANNCR: Scratch-Out repairs games, music, movies and more -- quickly and permanently -- for just $5.99.

Guaranteed to work, or your money back. For participating retailers, go to www-dot-scratchout-dot-com.

To be effective, radio ads have to be either entertaining (with humor), or dramatic (with sound effects, action words, and intimidating prose). You must "hook" the listener from the beginning of the ad, or they'll keep scanning to another station. Bear in mind, also, that radio listeners are often engaged in another activity (driving, working) and are not always giving the radio their full attention. Repetition is key to driving your message home over the radio.

The best practice for writing radio advertisements is simple: Listen to the radio, and study the various ads with a critical ear as you listen. What makes one ad seem (and/or sound) more superior to another? What are the most common advertisements on any particular station? Do you hear more "straight" advertisements (one announcer) or "dialogue" advertisements? How long does the average advertisement last?

When you write for radio, consider the following:

1. Write for listeners, not viewers. Discard typically descriptive terms and focus on sounds, actions, and results instead.
2. Repeat your contact information. If you only mention your phone number or website once, virtually no listener will remember it, or have time to jot it down. Most radio ads repeat their contact information three times.

3. Help the announcer help you. Most announcers, DJs, and voiceover actors can make sense of even the most problematic, amateur scripts, but don't shoot them in the foot by providing one.

A. Avoid highly technical jargon, slang, and hard-to-understand words. These can baffle both your announcer and your listeners.

B. Use correct punctuation. In radio, a "double dash" (--) signals a short pause, as do ellipses (...), but don't use hyphens (-) in their place, as the announcer will pronounce these differently.

C. Underline or capitalize which words you want emphasized. Either one should be sufficient to clue in the announcer, but underlines are preferred. Do use them sparingly, however.

D. Avoid alliteration ("Poison Pests Permanently with the Penetrating Power of PLAGUE!") as it annoys your announcers.

E. Ease back on the "Literary Fine Print," such as 20 different disclaimers that have to be spewed out in 10 seconds. (You've heard them before: "Offernotavailableinallareassomerestrictionsmayapply.") Such disclaimers are common in radio ads, but if your ad requires too many of them, your ad comes across as untrustworthy.
4. Read your copy aloud after writing it. Is all of it easily understandable?
Does it have a strong opening and ending? Are there any words that could be replaced or dispensed with? Does it flow naturally from point to point? It should. Never send out radio copy before reading it out loud yourself; it's your opportunity to "aurally proofread" your work.
5. Time what you've written. In one minute, a good announcer can read 100 words, more or less, depending on what's expected of them to read. Count your words, and then read them aloud while checking the second hand of your watch. If you can't get the complete message out in one minute or less, a rewrite may be in order.
6. Although time is your enemy, and simplicity is a must, don't "talk down" to your listeners, don't scream at them and don't pander to them with glib flattery. Speak to them as you'd like to be spoken to.

7. End with an invitation to listen further, to call your company, to challenge your claim, to visit your site, to take you up on your offer, or even with a brash command to buy. The words "Act now," and "Call us today," are always used because it's always easier for a consumer to not act. If you don't end your radio advertisement with an invitation, you've wasted your creativity, money, and time.


If you're writing for a company that requires copy for television ads, or if your own company is ready to put an ad on television, pat yourself on the back for getting this far. You're in the big leagues now.

With the larger rewards come larger challenges. Television is the most expensive advertising medium, so you have to hone your marketing message down to razor sharpness. Your writing will supply the visual idea, the narration in the advertisement, and/or the dialogue your announcer or actors use to influence a buying decision. Seconds count, so there can't be any "fat" in your writing. You can be glib, entertaining, shocking, or informational. In fact, you'll need to be one or more of these if your television advertisement is to be noticed and/or effective.

The writing style for television is much like radio, except you have a visual element, as well as an aural one. You deliver each one sequentially broken down by scenes (basically, any time the picture changes), in columns, like so:

Video Audio
Scene 1

Commercial opens on a packed BAILIFF

COURTOOM; close on a big old Will the defendant

BAILIFF. Please RISE for sentencing!?

Scene 2

Close on the judge's placard JUDGE TAKYA

(The Hon. SHEILA TAKYA) Well, Mr. Sloane, it

And the Judge, attractive, . Seems like you've been under

but scowling A lot of STRESS.

Scene 3

The Defendant (SLOANE) is SLOANE

Panicked, shaking, his suit DRENCHED No, NO!!! Well, maybe just a little.

With sweat.
Scene 4

Rubbing her hands together. I think you need a good, long

Scene 5
SLOANE is forced into a JUDGE TAKYA (OC*)

Weird metal cylinder by security guards. I'm giving you a whole YEAR.

His face pleads through a plexiglass window.

Scene 6

SLOANE drops out of the cylinder JUDGE TAKYA

Down a nearly-vertical water slide, At WILD WATERPARK!
SFX: Gavel-slam

Scene 7

The Jury-Box flickers between the courtroom JUDGE TAKYA (OC*)

And the Wave-Pool where all the jurors are YOU and your FRIENDS also

Drenched under an oncoming wave. Get FREE PARKING AND

generous discounts on food and
merchandise with a year's pass.

SFX: Wave-splash/gasps & laughter

Scene 8

Everyone in the COURTROOM is now JUDGE TAKYA

In Beach attire and stampeding for the Everybody who wants the SAME

Doors. Deal, get to WILD



Scene 9


WATERPARK, featuring all kinds of WILD WATERPARK is open

Spills & thrills. Rain or shine, 7 days a week,

SUPER** the Park's logo, 800 number just minutes from Tampa!

And website address. For a limited time, get a

Year-long pass for half off!

Scene 10

Resuming the courtroom: JUDGE TAKYA

Sheila throws her black robe over the And Henry: Lose the black socks.

Bailiff's arms, revealing her in a bikini.

(Bailiff is wearing XL swim trunks now)

JUDGE Exits while Bailiff stares down in


SUPER** the park's logo & information again. FADE.

* "OC" means "Off Camera"; the speaker is heard but not seen.

** "SUPER" means to "superimpose" graphics over the scene.

Television advertising lends itself to a variety of strategies. The example above is Comedic, which many television advertisements use. These are the advertising equivalent of "Shaggy Dog stories" where a funny but mostly irrelevant story is told, then linked to the product at the end. These seek to invoke an emotional response within the viewer (in this case, a laugh, combined with the catharsis of a "cooling off period.") Some actual benefits are mentioned, but they're saved for the end. This sort of television advertisement relies on word of mouth from the viewer ("Did you see that ad for Wild Waterpark?"). It's also bolstered by public fascination with courtroom scenarios.

Other strategies include Demonstrations ("WATCH as new MOLD MURDERER makes patches of Mold disintegrate on contact"), Endorsements ("Hi, I'm Billy Burr, one of your local farmers. I didn't think I'd ever need to call on Farm State Insurance, but when a meteor struck my hen house, Farm State was right there for me!"), Jingles (Your copy set to music: "Keep the Bacardi pouring, right this way, I need a refill, hit me please, hit me glass again"), and Dramatizations ("Here's your car impacting a school bus with regular tires.Now, here's your car almost impacting a school bus, because you chose Lockjaw tires!") And there are variations of each; a famous watch commercial combined a Comedic ad with a Demonstration ad by having an elephant step on one of its famed watches and unfortunately destroy it. Its overall message was, "Our products are not as infallible as we'd like them to be, but look, it takes an elephant to destroy them."

To create a successful television commercial, watch television commercials. This is fairly uncomplicated, since they blare at us every few moments a television's turned on.

Still, ask yourself: What makes one commercial clever, and what makes another one stupid? If you were the copywriter, what would you have done differently? Most importantly, look at the ads created by your competitors. How can you make your product or service seem superior to theirs?

For television advertisements, what you write for your particular product or service will probably be determined by your advertising budget. If you're writing for an established brand like Coca-Cola, Ford, Budweiser, or United Airlines, you may be told the sky is the limit and you can let your imagination run riot. In fact, large corporations tend to use larger-than-life advertisements wherever possible.

You will, however, need to wrap up your message within the time constraint necessitated by your particular slot -- for instance, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, or 60 seconds. So use the example of the radio advertisements in the previous section and time your ad after your write your first draft, so you don't go overboard (and over-budget).

If you're writing your first television advertisement for your own company, you probably ought to write with cost savings in mind. There are three types of formats to consider:

1) Film: This is the highest quality format, giving your product the best visual appearance, and every opportunity for special effects. You can even create cartoons, if you so desire.
2) Video (or simply 'tape'): This is second-best, as it gives a very stark and realistic look to what's being taped, but it's less expensive than film and still enables you to use some special effects.
3) Live: This is the equivalent of a "60 Minutes" broadcasting crew showing up at your workplace and catching you doing something right. Using the example of Jack's Roofing from our previous section, a successful live commercial might have Jack waving from the rooftop of his latest completed project. Live commercials are inexpensive (and look that way), but generally depend on strong wording, a professional announcer, and a photogenic cast and background. If you don't have one or more of these elements, you might wish to forego television advertising until you acquire them.

All of these can use the same format as the WILD WATERPARK commercial previously mentioned, but you may be able to create a live commercial "off the cuff," just by being able to film your company doing something extraordinary. For example, one industrial air-conditioning company was contracted to place an A/C unit on the roof of an apartment building. They didn't have the space to use conventional cranes, and time was running out. They hired a helicopter to put the rooftop unit in place, and a savvy employee videotaped the helicopter doing just that. The footage was used later in television and print marketing to great effect, at a cost of almost nothing.

If you have a great product that lends itself to impressive visible demonstrations, you may wish to create an entire program dedicated to your product.

Direct-Response Television
Direct-response television involves longer blocks of airtime ("paid programming" according to your cable channel directory) that you can purchase and devote specifically to your product. The format is normally one of a "talk show" where an announcer "interviews" you or a spokesperson, and/or demonstrates your product, with multiple testimonials and repeated offers to buy. Direct-response television could be construed as "infomercials," but that needn't be a negative term. Direct-response television has been very successful for its participants, if your product warrants it, and if you adhere to certain marketing guidelines. Consider the following:
1. Aim HIGH: Kevin Trudeau's book "Natural Cures They Don't Want You To Know About," was successfully demonstrated via direct-response television. The claims made in the book -- and the program -- were on the verge of being outlandish. Still, the shock of the claims themselves made for a fascinating, attention-getting message.
2. Make a great offer, and then add more: You'll spend the bulk of your program demonstrating that your product is the best thing since sliced bread. Don't stop there. The most successful direct-responseTV campaigns demonstrate a great product, show a ("normally") high price, then offer a reduced price for viewers, and then offer more. ("But WAIT, call NOW, and you'll ALSO receive...")
3. Ensure your product is demonstrable: Products that look great in action will sell themselves. But if it's incredibly complicated and takes a while to get ready, you might wish to advertise it elsewhere.
4. Target your demographic: A product that makes an urban secretary's life easier will do better on MTV or BET than it will on the History Channel or the Military Channel.

5. Use multiple contact and/or buying offers: Don't go through your whole show and leave the buying information for the very end. Superimpose an 800-number and your website information throughout the show or commercial, and ensure your host mentions it at least three times. Don't forget, many of your viewers will be channel-surfing and land on your show. You may grab their interest, but if you don't give them a method of buying soon, they're apt to surf elsewhere.

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