This post reprints a 1983 article by Debbie Warhola of the Colorado Springs Sun about radio commercials, including an interview with young creative director Walt Jaschek.
Radio’s Word Magic
Putting together those essential, captivating commercials is ultimately “a roll of the dice”
By Debbie Warhola
Colorado Springs Sun
Friday, December 23, 1983
Commercials, so very important to radio stations and advertisers, are often misunderstood by the public.
That’s according to Phil Emmert, sales manager at KRDO radio, who says, “People are touched by radio everyday. The listen to music, news, weather … but they don’t understand that the production of a radio commercial is important.”
Although some people consider flipping the station when one is aired, commercials provide 100 percent of the revenue of radio stations.
“We haven’t figured out a way to pay for radio other than commercials,” Emmert said.
The trick is to convince those listeners not to switch the dial.
“Igniting the Human Imagination”
“It’s tricky. No, it’s very, very tricky,” said Walt Jaschek, creative director for The Flynn Group Advertising Agency.
Being an auditory medium, radio provides an intangible experience. It’s what Lee Durham of Gabel Advertising calls “word magic.” Mark Cardaronella of Z-93 says it’s “larger than life.” Emmert refers to it as “the theatre of the mind.” And Jaschek dreams of “igniting the human imagination.”
It’s what makes one listener think of a romantic, candlelight dinner when hearing the pop of a champagne cork, while another listener has visions of a broken window.
Because radio touches people differently, commercials are a gamble. Some work and some don’t. Some are good and some are bad.
“It’s a roll of the dice,” Jaschek said.
Jaschek is a copywriter/producer/director of many local commercials, including the Baron’s Saloon “Subliminal Seduction” commercial, which recently captured the “Best of Show” trophy at the 17th annual Pikes Peak Advertising Federation award ceremony.
“I was more surprised than anyone from the reaction of the public and my peers,” he said of his award-winning commercial.
Jaschek said he feels commercials are an artistic endeavor.
“I look at radio as a visual medium,” he said. “No art director can create the same emotional triggers as you can with the power of sound effects.”
Cardaronella, on the other hand, believes that the purpose of a radio commercial is to sell the product. Some commercials that are not artistically pleasing still achieve that goal.
But an offensive radio commercial may prompt a listener to switch the dial, which could be detrimental to a radio station,” particularly during a radio rating period.
“At the same time, there are some exceedingly obnoxious commercials that work better than anything else,” Cardaronella said.
Cardaronella has been at Z-93 two years, since the Transtar radio network placed him as a disc jockey there. Transtar has a satellite 50,000 miles above the equator and beams the signal to subscribers worldwide.
Although a radio station by law cannot refuse an advertiser, it can refuse a commercial because of unacceptable quality,.
Jaschek said when he created the first of five Baron’s Restaurant radio commercials, one FM Station in Colorado Springs refused to air it because it did not have any music.
“The station’s policy, at the time, was to not air commercials without background music,” he said. The station has since changed its policy and airs many voice-only commercials.
“Supply and Demand Situation”
Even though commercials are how radio station stay in business, most stations limit the amount of advertising they carry. In fact, some stations emphasize the fact they offer hours of commercial-free music.
At Z-93 there are four commercial breaks per hour. The breaks are never longer than 2 ½ minutes and not more than three commercials are run consecutively.
Cardaronella said that limiting advertising is smart in the long run.
“It’s a supply and demand situation,” he said. “Listeners want to hear music. Have fewer advertisers costs the station more, but generally it’s a more successful stations because it keeps the listeners.”
The average household has five radios which constantly bombard listeners with information.
“The trick to radio commercials is to break through the radio barrier,” Jaschek said. “You want to be heard, remembered, and remembered well.”
The “Subliminal Seduction” Story
People remembered one of Jaschek’s radio commercials so well, that they began to recit it – in restaurants, on the street, even in a swimming pool.
Jaschek’s 60-second Baron’s Saloon “Subliminal Seduction” commercial, with no music, two voices and simple copy, caused a phenomenal reaction.
And it was written overnight.
The commercial not only brought people to Baron’s Saloon, 310 S. Academy Blvd., but also had the power to prompt listeners to act it out.
Bob Chamberlain, general manager of Baron’s., said the purpose of the commercial was that Baron’s be recognized.
“It works,” he said.
The response was stronger in having people comment on the commercial and mimic it than it was in increasing the volume of customers, Chamberlain said.
Jaschek said his strangest experience came when he overheard two people acting out the commercial in his apartment building’s swimming pool.
He not only wrote, directed and produced this award-winner, but also starred in it by providing the background voice.
The commercial, which denies that Baron’s succumbs to any “subliminal seduction nonsense,” actually tells people to take our their wallets and give Baron’s their money.
First, a booming, announcer voice: “No doubt you’ve heard about this ‘subliminal seduction’ nonsense. You know, commercials that are supposed to have hidden messages in them. Well!”
Then a tiny, mechanical voice in the background: “Come to Baron’s.”
Announcer: Obviously Baron’s has that rare combination of good food…
Subliminal Voice: Take out your wallet.
Announcer: Good fun…
Subliminal Voice: Give us your money.
Announcer: And good prices.
Subliminal Voice: Give us your cash.
And give Baron’s their cash they did. After all, isn’t that what all commercials tell us?
To be effective, a commercial must intrigue the listener, Jaschek said. It must provide information that the listener will retain.
“Many commercials created an adversarial position between the advertiser and the listener,” he said. “The most effective commercials teams up with the listener and doesn’t insult their intelligence.”
Jaschek, who writes and produces six to 12 commercials a month, said the “Subliminal Seduction” commercial targets the young, profession adult who is media-saturated and can identify with the sarcasm and satire.
“In some cases, the most simple is the most complex,” as it was in this case.
What Can Go Right, What Can Go Wrong
What makes an award-winning radio commercial?
The birth of any commercial begins with an idea. Because radio is an intrusive medium which allows you to do other activities such a drive a car or do the dishes, it must be a simple idea.
Jaschek said he can struggle with an idea for a day or a week. And he daydreams a lot.
“There’s really no secret to it. You struggle and struggle and the moral is – you never know,’ he said.
Anything can throw a commercial off: the wrong voice, inaccurate sound effects, even incorrect station placement.
After deciding what information with go into the commercial and how the idea will be conveyed, it is crafted into a 30- or 60-second script.
Then the props must be set up. Will it have music or not? What kind of voices will deliver the words? Are sound effects necessary?
The voices can be professional, such as from the Screen Actor’s Guild union, or people off the street. Jaschek said agencies are always looking for interesting radio voices.
Sound effects are available from tape libraries, which most production companies stock.
A 30-second commercial can take five minutes or all to day to produce. For this market, production can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000. And the stations charge a fee for each time the commercial is aired.
Another factor to consider is on which station the commercial will air. Jaschek said the commercial should fit the station’s target audience.
After all of the considerations, whether the commercial will instill magic in the listener’s imagination or instill the desire the change the station, is always up to the listener.
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