I had the great pleasure of spending a bit of time with my friend Blaine Parker while I was in Los Angeles for the Dan O’Day Summit last weekend. Blaine is not only a brilliant voiceover talent, he’s perhaps an even more brilliant writer. Case in point, Blaine’s latest Hot Points newsletter, quoted here for your illumination and rumination.
OVERCOMMUNICATION KILLS THE CAT YOU’RE ADVERTISING TO
OK. A tortured paraphrase at best. But it works. Last week, Iâ€™m in an airport. Itâ€™s about 20 minutes until my flight boards. I need something to eat. I walk to the nearest concessionâ€”a hot dog vendor.
The hot dog. A simple, universally sellable product. Iâ€™m hungry. Iâ€™m also busy, Iâ€™m tired, Iâ€™m preoccupiedâ€”life is generally happening around me and this hot dog concession has suddenly become part of it. Iâ€™m looking at the menu, and after a half minute or so, I turn and walk away.
The menu was impossible.
Down the left side was a cumbersome list of specialty hot dogsâ€”sandwiches with various kinds of toppings. Under that was a cumbersome list of specialty hot dog combo platters. Down the center of the menu was a â€œBuild Your Ownâ€ section with a cumbersome list of a la carte toppings. Beneath that was a list of different styles of sausages, hot dogs and frankfurters. To the right side was a whole other list of condiments and beverages and other things I canâ€™t name herein because, frankly (PUN!) I couldnâ€™t take it.
I walked away.
REAL LIFE MADE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO DECIPHER THE BARRAGE OF MENU INFORMATION
There was too much else going on to try and figure out how to choose. So, instead of choosing, the customer left the business behind. It would have been so much more successful if they offered only one choice. Not dozens.
And this is a very apt metaphor for so many radio commercials.
We harp on how a good radio commercial focuses on one thing and one thing only. Yet so often, so many radio commercials are filled with Everything That Can Be Squeezed In There.
I recently heard a car dealer commercial that talked about seven different models of car, had three different offers, and various pointless details about the dealer. I listened to it three times and finally gave up trying to decipher everything that was in it. And itâ€™s my job to try and figure out the message in that commercial. Iâ€™m paid to do that.
Listeners have real life going on around them.
Listeners are standing in the crowded airport of daily existence and trying to contend with the hustle and flow.
If they are hungry for what you offer, but you give them entirely too much information, they will walk awayâ€”hungry or not.
I WAS RECENTLY REMINDED OF INCREASING A CLIENTâ€™S CALL VOLUME BY 2,000%
In a time span of four weeks, their radio commercial had generated 2 phone calls. The commercial was sent over for review. No wonder it wasnâ€™t generating call volume. It was about helping people deal with a serious medical problem. Yet the problem was obscured with entirely too much other information.
Information that was offered under the guise of being helpfulâ€”much like that hot dog menu (look at all your choices!)â€”yet wasnâ€™t helpful in the least.
By shearing away all the things that didnâ€™t matter, we cut to the essence of the problemâ€”the listenerâ€™s painâ€”and offered the solution: the advertiserâ€™s product.
Overnight, call volume increased by 2,000%.
All because the message was clear and uncontrived.
ARE YOU HUNGRY? WANT A HOT DOG? HEREâ€™S WHAT WE SELL AND HEREâ€™S THE PRICE
Itâ€™s as simple as that. Not, â€œAre you hungry? Then take this multiple choice quiz.â€
Got a problem?
Hereâ€™s the solution.
Now, a lot of advertisers arenâ€™t going to understand that or appreciate it. Theyâ€™re still going to think they need a Swiss Army Knife. â€œLook at all the blades in here! Pull them all out! Let the customer see them all! Thatâ€™s how we get business!â€ No, thatâ€™s how you leave the customer confused. Entirely too many points. But throw a dart at the target, which has only one point, thereâ€™s only one option: the dart sticks, driving its message into the bulls eye.
ASSUME ALL POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS ARE LIVING LIFE JUST LIKE WE ARE
That means theyâ€™re too busy and they live in an over-communicated world. Add to the over-communication, and they will split.
Give them a reprieve from all the information flying at them from all corners. Give them a simple message of hope and salvation in the form of one solution to one problem, and they will respond. The hungry prospect wonâ€™t walk away and go buy a packet of cheese & crackers from the gift shop next door because itâ€™s easier and doesnâ€™t require the effort of deciphering the options.
Simple is best.
Keep it simple.
As Frank Zappa said, â€œCall any vegetable. Call it by name. And the vegetable will respond to you.â€ Surreal, perhaps. But surreal with an essential grain of truth for any advertiser.
Your Short, Fat Creative Director in
Now, having read that, you might be tempted to ask, what does this have to do with voiceover? After all we have no control over how the copy is written, we have to read the script that the client gives us.
But, at the end of it all, our job as voice actors is to communicate, clearly and effectively on behalf of our clients. So, whether the copy is brilliant or just ordinary, we need to find the essential point of the copy and illuminate it.
While we can’t fix the copy, we need to help the listener understand the message as clearly as possible through the way we read the copy.