What makes a good commercial?

Radio commercials, new research, Campbell Ricketts, radio advertising Page 1 of 21 What makes a good commercial? By Mike L. Campbell Ricketts M.Sc. ...
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What makes a good commercial? By Mike L. Campbell Ricketts M.Sc. Award winning radio commercials do not exhibit the same characteristics as the majority that are broadcast. Nor are they the same as those used by top-spending advertisers. There is acceptance throughout the industry that sometimes "good" commercials do not work, and that on occasion, "bad" ones work brilliantly. This research looked for commonly recurring features of successful commercials. The problem of defining "successful" was very simply overcome by looking at it from the point of view of the client, who was, after all, paying the bills. The Research Question was, therefore, defined from the outset as follows: What, if any, are some of the commonly recurring features or characteristics of commercials which have resulted in radio advertising campaigns meeting or exceeding clients' expectations or, by any other measure, have produced an unquestionably cost effective response.

Objectives A wide ranging literature search, substantially via the internet, revealed no previous research on the characteristics of radio commercials fitting the definition in the Research Question, above. The objectives of this research, therefore, fall into two groups: To determine some of the commonly recurring features to be found in successful radio commercials. To provide a startpoint and indicators for future research into the subject.

Traditional criteria for assessing commercials These have fallen, predominantly if not exclusively, into two categories: First, the academic, trying to evaluate things like Spontaneous recall Prompted recall Likeability Inclusion of feeling responses Attitude towards the brand

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Attitude towards the advertisement Improved purchase intention

Second, expert opinion:

Some conflicting evidence in the literature Recall is often assumed to be a prerequisite of successful advertising. Several authors have suggested that recall may not be necessary in every instance, for example, Solomon (1996) and Krugman (1997). There are even examples where recall does not work, such as an Alka-Selzer campaign cited by Batra, Myers and Aaker, where high ratings for recall and likeability are subsequently associated with commercial failure. It was not difficult to find further conflicting opinions.

Criteria used in judging commercials in this study There are many different circumstances in which a commercial could be used and many possible objectives to be achieved. The collection of over seventy criteria, not necessarily exhaustive, which was used reflects some of the variety of purpose as well as some of the long established options in production. Some of the criteria reflect features of the client or the campaign rather than the content of the commercial. Those features concerned with content have been divided into type, production, features and objectives. A full list may be found at Appendix 1.

The sample Radio advertising , and the commercials used, are characteristically divided into "National" and "Local". Local campaigns are typically run on one or a small number of adjacent radio stations using low budget commercials, frequently made "in house" at the radio station. National campaigns, as the name suggests, are run on a large number of radio stations, typically using commercials scripted by, or to a brief from, a large advertising agency and produced by a specialist radio production house. National advertising is more commonly to achieve branding objectives, whereas local commercials tend to encourage prospective purchasers to a particular outlet. New comers to the commercial radio industry are often advised that national advertising tells the listener what to buy [branding] whereas local radio advertising tells them where to buy it. This distinction indicates different objectives for advertising in each case, probably associated with different creative and production techniques and a different distribution of the range of features. Clearer understanding of this could prevent script writers from falling into the trap of repeating or emulating a creative style for the wrong type of commercial.

Local ad.s chosen for this study

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It was decided to restrict the focus of this piece of research to local, predominantly single station campaigns. Local advertisers are, perhaps, more acutely aware of which commercials worked and local airtime sales staff are probably more aware of the clients' response. Local campaigns offer additional advantages over their "National" counterparts: They tend to be sales based rather than "branding" Far lower budget, so all parts have to work harder Less usage of other media, which may confuse the issues Response, i.e. success, more easily measured Less likely to be trying to win "creative" awards

Consideration was also given to the notion that most things can be done better if the available budget is greater. This would suggest that higher budget "agency produced" commercials, more typically for a National campaign, may owe a substantial part of their relative success to the budget committed by the client. By using Local commercials for this study, any influence of the size of the budget is almost certain to have been eliminated.

How was material obtained? It was concluded that rather than attempting to find out what the advertisers would say to a researcher, it would be far less time consuming to rely on opinions already given by advertisers in the form of testimonials or other statements of satisfaction. Approximately 60 scripts plus comprehensive case histories were made available by GWR Group plc. In each case the client had provided a written testimonial as to the success of the radio advertising, in some instances even quantifying that success in terms of units sold beyond expectation. A small number of these scripts were withdrawn from the sample as they were variations on a theme, identical in all respects regarding the criteria used, being broadcast in rotation during the same campaign period. A further five scripts, of highly successful commercials, were supplied by The Pulse, broadcasting to Bradford and Huddersfield.

Geographical spread The commercials were broadcast to audiences in areas surrounding the following cities and towns:

Bath

Dunstable

Bedford

Gloucester

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Bournemouth

Huddersfield

Bradford

Nottingham

Bristol

Peterborough

Coventry

Reading

Derby

Swindon

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In most instances, the commercials were broadcast on two services in each area, each offering a different music based programme format.

Nature of the product a major influence A slight concern at an early stage of this study that the nature of the product (and consequently, perhaps, the nature of the target market) could be a major influencing factor, was considered to have been eliminated by ensuring that the sample contained commercials advertising a wide range of product categories. The sample of 51 commercials included was found to contain commercials representing 24 categories, as indicated by the following list: Baby and nursery

Jewellery

Clothing

Leisure

Department store

Mobile phones

DIY

Mobility aids

Eating out

Motor

Electrical goods

Musical instruments

Furniture

Pets and aquatics

Garden

Recruitment

Golf Club membership

Shopping Centre

Hairdresser

Solicitor

Healthcare

Supermarket

Furniture

Waste disposal

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Validity of the sample Several factors were considered to have the potential to influence the success of a radio commercial, other than those, under consideration in this research, which may be included in the style and content of the commercial.

Weight of the campaign The sample, by virtue of being drawn from local advertisers, is predominantly made up of single outlet advertisers, mostly with limited budgets. It was felt that any effects due to the weight of the campaign would be eliminated by the size and variation within the sample.

Size and nature of the audience The sample includes commercials transmitted on twenty different radio services to audiences in different parts of England. Sizes of transmission area vary considerably. The variation within the sample should minimise the need to consider this effect.

Time of transmission It is difficult to believe that the airtime bookings were not made so as to achieve the best possible penetration into the target audience, subject only to the limits of the available budget. This would mean that in each instance, and they were all successful, that the best endeavours and best available information were used in determining the times of transmission.

Other media used In 69% of the sample no other media was used, reducing the possible effect of other media considerably. However, it should be emphasised that radio is frequently used to increase the effect of other media, capitalising largely on its effects on the "subconscious mind".

Nature of the product As shown above, there is such diversity in the sample, including twenty four product categories, as to eliminate any possible effect.

Creative style of the production team

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The output of many script writers based in different production teams in different parts of the country is included in the sample. There would not appear to be any reason to suspect any influence from this source.

Programming environment Most of the commercials in the sample were each broadcast on two quite dissimilar services, one FM, one AM. Quite typically, the FM service would have a fast moving charts based format, with a target audience under 35 years old, whereas the AM service would be more "easy listening", targeting an over 30 audience. Because there is no information as to which service of a pair has provided the greater proportion of listeners who have responded to a commercial message, it is impossible to consider this variable. In the situation where the demographics of the target market fall predominantly within the known demographics of the audience of one of a pair, it would seem likely (but by no means certain) that the commercials used will be written to appeal to that segment and will sit more comfortably within the programming environment of the most appropriate service. As there is no data available as to which of the two services, in any instance, yielded the greater number of listeners who responded favourably to the commercials, the question about commercials matching the mood of the surrounding programmes became somewhat redundant.

Results and analysis Certain criteria were removed, mostly because the numbers in the sample exhibiting the particular feature were very small (five or less) or the data was insufficient to allow any conclusion to be safely drawn. The "brand or location" issue is more a characteristic of the sample than an optional feature, which is confirmed by the 48 3 distribution in favour of location (as opposed to brand). As many first time advertisers experienced success, "Well known" was eliminated, as were "Regular user" and "First time user". None of these three are, in any case, options to be included or not in pursuance of a creative ideal. The involvement of other media was dropped from the list (69%, no other media involved) as this feature really served to eliminate the possibility of influence from other media in the assessment of success of the commercials in question.

Of those features considered, the following are the most commonly recurring among the sample of 51 successful commercials considered: No negatives re advertiser 96% Written by radio specialists 94%

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Believable 92% Not humorous 90% A share of mind message 84% No long sentences 82% Action message included 82% No killer clichés (see Appx. 2) 82% Simple message 78% An offer 74% An invitation to respond 73% Action message, the main idea 73% More than one commercial 71% Factual 69% Typical "advertising English" 69% Product information 69% Single proposition 67% Music 65% Name, 3 or more times 65% Awareness message 63% Announcer 59% Response mechanism 57% Offer strong or moderate 53% Punchline at the end 51% Price offer 47% Action message at the end 47% Urgency or time limit 45%

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Headline 45% Personal 45% Action message strong or moderate 43% Main message repeated 39% Qualifies the prospect 37% Imperative 35% More than one VO 33% Sound effects 31% Targeting a specific public 29% Solution to a problem 27% Drama 25% Topical link 25% Emphasises the benefits 24% Like people talk 22% Celebrity voice 18% Known music 16% Targets the emotions 16% Fantasy 14% Musical identity (Jingle) 14% Slice of life 12%

Those dropped from the bottom of the list are:

Links to other media 12%

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Eliminates non-prospects 12% Like a press ad. spoken 10% Memorable slogan 10% Elegant prose 8% Spoof ads 6% The owner speaking 6% Play on words 6% Unique claim 4% Suspense or excitement 4% Empathy with listeners 4% Alliteration/Rhyme nil

Comparison with previous research Previously determined frequencies of the occurrence of features in commercials has been based, in the majority of instances, on a "random" sample, certainly not selected on the basis of "having done the job". Some samples may have been selected on the basis of being believed to be good commercials. In several instances, the criteria used in this study have not matched, exactly, the criteria used in the previous studies which in turn, did not each use the same criteria. Where there is a slight difference, only, this has been indicated by definition of the criteria used in this. A question mark (?) has been used to indicate a greater lack of approximation.

Comparison with Fact File Radio Advertising Archive, Marketing Week 8th May 1997

Announcement Dramatised Scene Fantasy/surreal Montage Slice of life Storytelling Hard to categorise

Original 64.6% 21.9 1.3 2.5 2.3% 3.5% 3.9%

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Comparison with Features of majority, award-winners and top-spenders The majority

Award-winners

Top-spenders

This study

uses characters

60%

90%

58%

?

voice-over only

40%

10% --

42% ++

27%

'serious' drama

6%

16% --

22% ++

25%

uses humour

58%

81% ++

42% --

10%

spoof advertising

4% --

23% ++

5%

6%

celebrity voice

13%

26% ++

5% --

18%

++ = sample showing technique most, -- = sample showing technique least Table taken from Wilson, C., The Grammar of Radio Advertising, 1997

Comparison with Capital Radio "Impact Study" data % of total 37%

Style PRR score Product information or demonstration 22

27%

Non-celebrity presenter

24

16% 10% 5% 4% 1%

Humour Jingle (Musical Identity) Slice of life Celebrity presenter Mood/Fantasy

26 25 27 33 38

This study 69% 59% (announcer) 10% 14% 12% 18% 14%

(Impact of Broadcast Advertising, Capital Radio, 1988)

Limitations on scope of analysis More detailed statistical analysis would have allowed an attempt to have been made to determine which features of successful radio commercials may enhance other features and which may contribute to the making of a successful commercial in the absence of other features. In particular, it was initially anticipated that the high budget features (celebrity voice, musical identity, copyright music) would be considered in the context of their effect in overcoming apparent shortcomings or absence of other features, and vice versa. The appearance of these features was at such a low level in the sample that it was felt that such consideration would be inappropriate. It would also have been interesting to have considered the frequency of occurrence of some of the

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features in successful commercials alongside the overall frequency of usage. For example, celebrity voices were used in just 18% of the sample, but does this apparently small proportion represent a high proportion of successful commercials out of the total numbers produced which included the feature? Further statistical analysis, for its own sake, could all to easily have resulted in misinterpretation. As the objectives listed earlier include the identification of further research opportunities following on from the findings of this, it would have been inappropriate to have gone further.

Conclusions There is no simple formula for successful radio advertising. However, it seems quite clear that there are some commonly recurring features or characteristics to be found in successful radio commercials. The details have been given earlier, but the following features all appeared in more than 70% of the sample of successful commercials.

Written by radio specialists 94% Believable 92% Not humorous 90% A share of mind message 84% No long sentences 82% Action message included 82% No killer clichés 82% Simple message 78% An offer 74% An invitation to respond 73% Action message, the main idea 73% More than one commercial 71%

One of the first conclusions to be drawn from a brief look at the figures will probably not be very popular with those who make a lot of money out of the production of radio commercials. It is clear that the in-house creative and production professionals at local radio stations are quite capable of producing successful radio commercials without the need to include expensive features such as celebrity voices, a unique musical identity (jingle), or the inclusion of well known (copyright) music. Celebrity voices

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appeared in just 18% of the sample, known music in 16% and musical identity (Jingle) in 14%. It should, however, be encouraging to radio stations and their advertisers, in that low budget commercial production can clearly be very successful. That is not to say that more expensive techniques may not be equally or more successful.

Thirty nine commercials were used by first time users and only four by regular advertisers. This suggests very strongly that radio can be very effective for new advertisers, even in quite brief campaigns. Quite possibly, regular users do need a different creative approach, to match the different tactical requirements. Alternatively, notwithstanding the conclusions of Christoph Wild (1997) that recall and brand awareness continued to rise past the 30 exposure level, perhaps the Law of Diminishing Returns does come into play at some stage, but can possibly be postponed or even prevented, by more variety in the rotation (i.e. using more commercials) and more variety in the nature of promotional activities. It would also seem probable that different creative strategies should be employed to persuade the listener to pay attention to a commercial when the initial indications are that it is probably the same, or contains the same message, as one which has been heard many times before.

Those writers responsible for the commercials included in the sample have, to a very large extent, avoided, or failed to include, the following: Concepts which could be interpreted as encouraging negative thoughts about the advertiser Anything which is not fully believable Humour Long sentences Killer clichés (just nine in the sample included one each) Complicated messages Multiple propositions Spoof ads Commercials purporting to be spoken by the proprietor or manager Any play on words, rhyme or alliteration Commercials sounding like press ad.s being spoken Memorable slogans Unique claims

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Suspense or excitement Links to other media Empathy with the listener

The strong temptation to make very subjective judgmental comments on the inclusion of some of the items in the preceding list has been even more strongly resisted. The items concerned have not been identified, to avoid the risk of influencing any others who wish to conduct further research. There is an obvious risk to comparing too precisely the data relating to those factors appearing at the bottom of the list in this study, such as Celebrity Voice, Fantasy, Slice of Life, and Humour as their incidence was so small, relatively speaking. There is also a risk attached to comparing samples collected from different times (e.g. The Capital Radio Impact Study, 1988) as the general nature of commercial production will have changed during the intervening period, as will the audience and its listening habits, etc. Having issued the two caveats, though, it would appear, from the three comparisons made, that the figures for the incidence of features in commercials obtained do compare with the overall pattern of previous findings. Most prominent to emerge from these comparisons, perhaps, is the wide differences seen when comparing with the "Award-winners" (The Grammar of Radio Advertising) and the closer alignment with the "Top-spenders".

Possibly the most important conclusion is that, as suspected, there is very substantial disparity between, on the one hand: the theoretical, or academically substantiated, requirements of advertisements in general and radio commercials in particular, those features and characteristics endorsed by expert opinion and, on the other hand, those features most frequently found in successful commercials.

The various contradictions found in the literature on this subject, appears, to this author, to be largely a result of research having been based on a fairly random sample of commercials and other advertisements, good and bad. There is no distinction between those examples which have worked well and those whose failure could have provided valuable lessons, if documented. The contradictions could simply be a result of the "random" sample of commercials having been influenced by script writing fashions of the day, and therefore displaying different sets of features.

It is difficult to believe that such a string of contradictory findings as was found in the literature does not indicate something fundamentally wrong with the justification for the criteria used to judge the effectiveness of radio commercials and other advertisements. Very rarely, in the literature, does one find serious consideration given to the aims and objectives of the advertiser, whereas in this study, the needs

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and judgement of the advertiser have been considered to be paramount.

© Copyright 1998 Campbell Ricketts Market Communications All rights reserved

Appendix 1 Criteria used in judging commercials

There are many different circumstances in which a commercial could be used and many possible objectives to be achieved. This collection of criteria, not necessarily exhaustive, reflects some of the variety of purpose as well as some of the long established options in production. Some of the criteria reflect features of the client or the campaign rather than the content of the commercial. Those concerned with that content have been divided into type, production, features and objectives.

The client Is it a brand or a location? Is it what you buy or where you buy it? National/local Well known name Regular radio user First time user (in 2 years) Product category

The campaign Objectives of the campaign Name Awareness Share of mind

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Information Call to action (sales) There is considerable overlap in that a campaign may, and usually does, have more than one objectives. Advertisers quite usually want to achieve the maximum number of objectives with the minimum of expenditure. Other media used? Price offer: Either absolute, "£19.99 each", or relative, such as "£80 off". Launch: This could be the launch of a new location or department, a new season's collection, etc.

The commercial Type: Drama Factual Humour (This could be quite a generous description.) Spoof ads (These are commercials which satirise radio commercials: a feeble attempt at humour.) Series: Several commercials developing a theme, or a logical sequence. Announcement: Straightforward statement of fact Fantasy/surreal: For example, "Santa's coming down the chimney soon" Slice of life: For example, two women enacting a totally realistic kitchen scene (a drama) involving the use of the product, preferably describing a solution to a problem Play on words Alliteration Rhyme Written like people talk: It sounds just like a person or people talking, with "hmm, &" and (sniff) "y'know" Uses "Radio Ad.English": There is little chance of not noticing that it is an advertisement. Elegant prose: Grammatically correct written English, but not the way people speak naturally, nor in a

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familiar way. Like a press advertisement that's been spoken

Production Celebrity voice Well known music Unique musical identity Otherwise known as a jingle. Sound effects Matches the mood of programming?

Features Length of commercial: In UK, most frequently 30 seconds, but in multiples of 10 seconds. How many voices? How many times is the name mentioned? Simple message, or complicated? Does the creativity, perhaps, encourage the listener to drift away from the core issue? Single proposition: This avoids the risk of overburdening the listener with excess information and too many options. E.g. "Excellent trade in price on your car, and we are giving away a bag of barbecue charcoal with every service this month, New batteries from £18." The listener cannot return to a radio commercial to see what the other thing was. The punch line at the end? Can be heard over disturbances: The difference between the listening environment of a play-back booth and a real-life listening situation has sometimes been overlooked The offer: Strong Moderate

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Weak Absent Action message: Strong Moderate Weak Absent Action message at the end Invitation to respond Clear response mechanism Urgency or time limit Topical link Memorable slogan Repeated theme Unique claim about product / service Highlights the benefits Strong headline Use of imperatives Suspense/excitement How many Power words? Any long sentences? Is it personal? ("You" instead of "everybody") How many killer clichés?

Objectives

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Solution to a problem Targeting a specific public Emotions targeted? Fear/Worry/Contentment/Greed Link to press or TV ads Does it qualify the prospect? Is it special for them because it eliminates others? Does it identify with the listener (empathy) Believable Generates disbelief (i.e. "That couldn't really happen") Does it suggest negative ideas about the product/company?

The principal criterion by which commercials have been assessed for this study is whether or not they have worked. If they have not worked, in the opinion of the advertiser, they have not been included © Copyright 1998 Campbell Ricketts Market Communications

Appendix 2 Killer Clichés

Conveniently located Now that ..... is in the air All the names you know and love Don't forget Stop in soon

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The next time you're in the mood for..... Doesn't it make sense to ..... Remember, ..... It's sale time at ..... Stretch your budget with values like ..... Super savings Savings throughout the store And while you are there Check out ..... A select group of The friendly staff down at..... Everyday low, low prices For all your ..... needs How about a ..... for those ..... Our friendly qualified personnel Lowest possible prices Prices slashed to the bone We refuse to be undersold We will meet or beat any offer People who care about you Huge selection of But wait, there is still more Fantastic. Unbelievable You'll save big on .....

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And, of course, ..... Don't miss out Factory trained technicians We service what we sell All the names you know and trust Super specials

This list of "Killer clichés" is taken from a seminar handbook "Crash Course in Advertising Results", The AdVisory Board Inc., Chris Lytle & Associates, Madison, WI, 1994

Acknowledgements Gratitude and thanks are due to many people. My former colleagues and friends at Radio Hallam and other radio stations, and my fellow students at Huddersfield, not forgetting those lecturers who made it fun, should all share some of the blame, as should those at the "City of Mabgate" who, between pints, dutifully enquired as to progress with the dissertation, from time to time. Rather than run the risk of missing some one from the list, no names will be mentioned, but the gratitude remains. The exception will be the following four: Tony Aldred, Dept. of Marketing, Huddersfield University Business School. Without Tony's encouragement and exhortations, it would not have been finished on time. His tolerance of occasional cynicism was also much appreciated. Andrew Ingram, Radio Advertising Bureau, London Andrew, and others at RAB, provided much necessary encouragement to proceed with the project and made much information available. Dick Orkin, Dick Orkin's Radio Ranch, California. (http://radio-ranch.com) Apart from being one of the world's best at making radio commercials, Dick is a wizard with IT. He told me about Compuserve's Knowledge Index and explained, via e-mail, how to use it. GWR Group plc. In particular, their marketing team in Swindon. They provided most of the raw material used in this research.

References

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Batra, R., Myers, J.G. & Aaker,D., Advertising Management, Prentice Hall, 1996 Krugman, H.E., "Memory without Recall, Exposure without Perception" Journal of Advertising Research, August 1997, pp7 - 12. Solomon, M.R., Consumer Behaviour, Prentice Hall, 1996 Wild, C., "Qualities of Radio Advertising", 2nd Radio Research Symposium, European Society for Opinion & Marketing Research, Amsterdam. 1997 Full bibliography available on request

e-mail Mike Campbell Ricketts by clicking here

Click here to visit the web pages of Campbell Ricketts Market Communications

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