Monday, September 20, 2010

Fred's Advertising Clinic - Part 5: Action!

So far in the Advertising Clinic, we've covered the first three parts of the formula for writing ad copy: Attention, interest and desire. Now we move on to the fourth and final part of the formula: Getting the customer to act.

If you've done the other three steps of the formula correctly, you've got the audience's attention. They're listening to what you have to say because you've built interest in your product. They want your product because you've built desire. But all this is for naught if you can't convince them to act.

The call to action means, quite simply, that you're telling your customer what to do. So what do you want them to do?

  • Call now!
  • Visit your local retailer today!
  • Subscribe to "News from the Herd" today! (By the way, you should.)
  • Get High-Quality and Terrific Value from Brown Cow Studios. (You should do that too - the link is below.)

Remember, though, that your call to action has to mesh with the rest of your script. If it's a hard sell, you can get right to it and tell them what to do. But if you've taken a softer approach, you'd seem overbearing and maybe even obnoxious, so a gentler call to action is needed. The same if you've taken a comedic approach. Don't blow the punch line with an obnoxious urge to BUY NOW BUY NOW! Stay in the spirit of your piece.

Let's look at the example we've been using all along: Dry Erase Markers.

One of our approaches has the markers saving the customer's job, and maybe even winning him or her a promotion. So our call to action appropriately would be something like, "Get that promotion you've been after -- use Dry Erase Markers."

We also explored an quasi-public service approach, in which Dry Erase Markers helps keep the family together and organized. So we close with, "Bring your family together... with Dry Erase Markers."

If our copy touts the correct-ability of Dry Erase Markers in a pretty straightforward manner, then our action step can be straightforward too: "Fix those mistakes. With Dry Erase."

If you can do it simply, you can even repeat one of the benefits in your action line for an extra boost: "Be Mistake-proof, use Dry Erase Markers."

One other thing: If you're plugging a specialty product, or one that's not available everywhere, don't leave the audience guessing. Be sure to tell them where to find you or your product: "Find Dry Erase Markers at your favorite stationery store." That's a call to action too.

Remember: To make the sale, you have to tell your customer to buy the product.

Next time in the Advertising Clinic, we pull it all together.

Fred's Advertising Clinic is written by producer and voiceover artist Fred Pagano,
owner of Brown Cow Studios of Boston.

Get creative advertising and audio production that sells ...
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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fred's Advertising Clinic Part 4: Build Desire

"Wow! I want one of those!"

"That thing sounds great!"

"Yeah? So what?"

Have you ever seen or heard a commercial on TV or radio and had one of those reactions? I have. A notable one happened just a couple of months ago.

I was watching TV, and a spot for a new sandwich from KFC came on. Well, it wasn't really a sandwich, because it had no bread. Just two slices of chicken with other good stuff in between. Precisely the kind of thing this manly man wants more of!

And when I saw that spot, my mouth watered.

I even remarked out loud, "Oh yeah! That's the stuff!...that sounds wonderful" I hope I wasn't drooling, but there's a chance I was. Ask my wife.

Was it a good sandwich? I can't tell you because there's no KFC near me at which to get one. But it sure sounded good when I saw that spot. I wanted one. A lot! And the next time I'm in the mood for chicken for lunch (which admittedly isn't often) I'll definitely get one. Because....

"That thing sounds great!"

Now what about the last reaction? "Yeah, so what?" I had one of those reactions recently too. I've long since forgotten what the product was, so don't ask. What do you expect, anyway? I should remember the name of a product I have no interest in? Life's too short.

A successful spot doesn't just grab your interest. It makes you want the product. It makes you want to install new flooring, have a beer, buy a new car, eat chicken or serve your kids yogurt. It gets your saliva dripping. In other words, it follows the fourth part of our five-part advertising formula: It builds desire.

How do you build desire for your product or business? Well, first think about your product. Who is it targeted to, who is your customer? What need does your product fulfill? Then ask yourself why your customer would want yours in particular. What sets it apart from the others? When you know the answers to these questions, you're on your way to building desire for your product.

Let's take a look at the example we've been using in this series, dry erase markers. A pretty boring product, so what can you possibly do to build desire for them? Think about it. Who uses them? Students and teachers in school, business executives giving presentations, and many homes have dry-erase boards in their kitchens so family members can leave messages. That's pretty much the market for dry-erase markers.

Let's zero in on business use. What would make me desire a particular brand of marker? Suppose it could help me win a promotion, or impress my boss. Or streamline work flow or make the job easier. Any product that fills one of those needs is desirable.

A marker that can get me more money and a promotion? I'll have to look into that!

On the household front, dry-erase markers help people keep in touch. They remind Dad to pick up Junior after the soccer game, or to grab milk on the way home from work. I want my household to run smoothly, and if dry-erase markers help do that, then I want dry-erase markers. Lots of 'em!

When it's time to write the copy, key in on those desirable traits in your product or business. Tell the exec how markers can help to win a promotion, or tell parents how they can run the house better. Be creative. Have fun.

Need to build desire for your product?
You can do it yourself. Or you can have Fred do it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fred's Advertising Clinc Part 3: You've Got Their Attention - Now Get Them Interested

In our last installment of Fred's Advertising Clinic we explored the first part of the formula for writing effective copy: Gaining attention.

We did it by asking a question or making a statement that got your audience to want more information; something that would induce them to pay attention to the rest of your message.

Fair enough. We've got their attention, now what? Well, it's time for Step Two: Building interest.

Building interest is the meat of your presentation. It's where the listener gets rewarded for paying attention. You answer their questions, explain how your product can help them. You even entertain them or shock them, if that's the approach you've chosen to go with.

Let's return to the example we used earlier, dry-erase markers. We came up with some good workable attention grabbing lines, so let's build on them.

Our first attention grabber was a simple statement: "You're only human." So it follows that humans make mistakes and the great thing about dry-erase markers is that they make it easy to correct your mistakes. (Remember in our last installment we decided to focus on the mistake angle for our ad.) You can go into as much detail as you want about fixing mistakes, that's up to you as the copy writer. The important thing is that you interest the customer in the benefits he or she can derive from using your product.

We also came up with a simple attention grabbing statement: "Everybody makes mistakes." The approach to this lead is almost identical to the above. The audience wants to know about how they can fix their mistakes, and you tell 'em.

We also tried a lead that set up a specific scene in the audience's mind as our attention grabber: "It's the biggest presentation of your career...and you don't want to blow it." This can be a bit more of a hard sell style ad, but that's okay. Tell the audience how dry-erase markers can save their jobs, maybe even help them win a promotion. How? By making sure they've got the full line of dry-erase markers in the briefcase to correct those little spelling mistakes that might crop up - like misspelling their client's name on the big whiteboard; or helping them to express their ideas clearly by using all the different colors the markers come in. Or maybe, you hope along with them that they will never have to take advantage of the easy-erasure feature, but it's comforting to know it's there just in case.

My favorite attention grabber of the bunch is this one: "Dry-erase markers don't taste very good." It's the sort of attention-grabber that lends humor and personality to an otherwise dull product. So build interest in your product by playing on the humor. Contrast the great features with the one (quite inconsequential) disadvantage they have. "Dry-erase markers come in 36 different colors, but don't eat them for breakfast."

Interest the customer in your product and its benefits by building on your attention grabbing lead. Sell your product's features, sell its benefits, or sell its personality. Just keep it interesting.

Next time we'll talk about Step Three - Desire. You gotta want it!

Attention grabbing, interesting spots
that sell is what Brown Cow Studios of Boston is all about.
Visit to learn more.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fred's Advertising Clinic Part 2: Grab Your Audience's Attention!

We live in a fast-paced world...

Don't let this happen to you!

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Chuck Norvell, What a Great, Great Guy!

In a different way each of these lines grabs your attention and makes you want to know more:

  • What's so great about Chuck Norvell?
  • Tell me how I can save and get free shipping...
  • No, I wouldn't want that to happen to me, so how can I prevent it?
  • How can I slow the pace of my life?

There's nothing fancy or splashy about these leads. They're quite simple. But they all have one thing in common: When you see them you want to know more.

That's what the first part of our advertising copy formula is all about -- Grabbing your audience's attention. There are many ways to do it. You can tease the audience, offer a benefit, or entertain them. It doesn't matter as long as you accomplish one thing -- Your audience has to want to know more.

Let's suppose we are writing a spot for dry-erase markers. I picked this product for our example because I've got a couple of them on my desk, and they're fairly mundane as products go. Nothing really sexy about dry-erase markers, is there?

So how do we get the listener to pay attention to our dry-erase markers? Let's brainstorm ....

Dry-erase markers come in many colors ... they are odorless ... the one I'm looking at right now has a fine point, but others have thicker points ... they erase easily ... Hey, I like that. one -- They erase easily. Can we use it? Let's try some approaches that tie into easy erase-ability:

  • We can ask a question: "You're only human, right?"
  • We can make a statement: "Everybody makes mistakes."
  • We can set up a scene: "It's the biggest presentation of your career. Don't blow it!"
  • How about a testimonial: "Dry-erase markers saved my job!"
  • We can present the unexpected too: "Dry erase markers don't taste very good."

Each of these attention grabbers gets your customers wanting to know more. "Yes, I am only human -- what about it?" "What can I do about my mistakes?" Some tug at them on an emotional level: "The last time I blew a presentation the boss yelled at me for an hour!" And the last one is just too weird not to want to know more.

The key to each is that they hook you, they tease you. They make you want to know more. As a copy writer, hooking your audience is the hardest part of the job. Once you've done it, the rest of the copy flows naturally.

Your next step is to keep your audience's interest and to build upon it -- to get them interested in your product. We'll talk about that next time in part three of "Fred's Advertising Clinic."

Need to get attention for your product or business?
Fred Pagano's Brown Cow Studios of Boston creates attention-grabbing commercials,
Internet ads, product demos and presentations that sell.
Visit the Brown Cow Studios website at to learn more.
Or send an e-mail to Fred Pagano

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fred's Advertising Clinic - Part One: The Formula

Years ago I had quite a chuckle when I saw a poster on the wall of a friend's office. It read, "Mankind's greatest need is to edit another person's copy."

If you've written any sort of copy - from a business letter to a commercial to an article for a science journal - you get the joke. You might write the world's greatest copy (hmm ... sounds like me), but once you submit it to the client or your boss, it's torn to shreds (hmm ... how could they!). Maybe the edits are an improvement; perhaps they're not. The only thing we know for certain is that your copy will be edited.

People who run small businesses, as always, are up against a special challenge. Not only do they have to write their own copy, but they have to edit it too. With a limited budget for advertising time, it's especially important that their commercial copy gets results.

In this series we'll take a look at copy writing as both an art and a science, and explore some techniques for writing great copy.

Unlike many things in life, writing ad copy can be broken down into a formula. This formula has been used by professional writers forever because it works. Are you ready? Here it is:

Attention - Interest - Desire -Action.

It's known throughout the ad world by its acronym, AIDA, and it's a blueprint to effective copy. Just follow the steps in order.

1. Attention - The foundation of all effective ad copy is to get your listener or viewer's attention. So you write a catchy headline, or ask an important question. Amuse them, question them or shock them. How you do it doesn't matter as long as you grab your audience's attention.

2. Interest. Once you've got your audience's attention, your second step is to keep it and build interest in your message. In part, you're building on your attention grabbing lead, and you're setting the audience up for the next step.

3. Desire. This may be the most important step of all, because if you don't build a desire for your product or service, your audience won't want it. I find it's often the hardest part of the formula to write.

4. Action. This is the windup. It's time to get your audience to act, so tell them what they should do. Buy your product. Visit your store. Call for more information. Or cross only when the light is green. If you've done the previous steps well, that's exactly what your audience will do.

In principle it's a very simple formula. But some take years to master it, and others never quite do. That's where good copy writing becomes an art form.

Start practicing the formula now by applying it to daily life situations. Use the AIDA formula as the structure of your next letter or e-mail. Try it on your next sales call, or even with friends and colleagues in everyday conversation. Instead of just talking about last night's game over the water cooler, see if you can instill a desire to attend the next one or watch it on TV. Just follow the formula and see what happens. It's good practice.

Check back for the next article in this series, as we take an in-depth look at step one.

By the way, did you notice this article uses the AIDA formula? I'm sneaky that way. Thanks for reading!

Fred Pagano's Brown Cow Studios offers complete creative and production services. From great copy writing to creative audio production and lots more, let the creative herd at Brown Cow Studios of Boston help grow your business. Send an e-mail to, or visit our web site,

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tell Us Where to Find You!

Here's a fun little exercise, and the results will surprise you.

Take a look at the circular from any major chain store that you've got hanging around the house. Maybe one that was mailed to you, or one from the Sunday paper.

Now see if you can find any indication of where the nearest store is located. I'll give you 2 to 1 odds that you won't find any locations listed at all!

The big box stores are the prime offenders, but the problem extends to department stores and smaller chains too. The stores seem to assume you already know (how? by osmosis?) where their stores are located. Personally, I find it aggravating. And from a marketing standpoint, it's foolish.

I get a circular in my Sunday paper every week for OfficeMax. They used to have a store a mile away, but closed it about two years ago. I like OfficeMax, but haven't shopped there since the local store closed. Why? I don't know where they are! But they keep putting a circular in my newspaper anyway.

If you're lucky, a chain store might, in its circular, provide a telephone number you can call to find its store locations. "Press 1 to find a store within 10 miles of your home; Press 2 to find a store within 20 miles..." Frankly, It's not a call I'm about to make.

I find this amusing: When a department store, and Macy's is a prime example, runs a sale there's always a section on the last page of the circular that lists all the exceptions in very small print - "domestics not available in Hanover, shoes not available in Brockton" and so on. It's written to satisfy the lawyers, not the customers.

With a little rephrasing that back page disclaimer could satisfy both the lawyers and the customers:

Hanover open daily 9-9 (domestics not available); Brockton daily 10-10 (shoes not available).

Wouldn't that be useful information?

If you're serious about increasing sales, don't forget to tell your customers where to find you!

Coming Up Next Time: "Fred's Advertising Clinic - Part One"

Brown Cow Studios of Boston offers complete creative services
including copy writing, scripting, and advertising production.
Please visit our website at

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Radio Excels at Positioning, So Use it to Sell Your Image

Some advertisers, especially shops that are locally owned, are addicted to "price list advertising." Their radio commercials drone on and on about what's on sale for how much. You've heard them. They sound like this:
"This week at Super Mega Value Shop Mart ... Denim jeans for guys $19.99 ... for kids only $12.99 ... SuperMegaValueShopMart brand laundry detergent just $1.99 ... Dog collars 89 cents or three for two dollars! And SPF 30 suntan lotion $3.99! ... Fifty paper bags for only 39 cents!"

So let me ask you a question: Do you remember those spots or are they just part of the commercial jumble? Five minutes later, do you remember what was on sale for how much? Do you even remember the name of the store? Right now, without looking back, can you tell me the price of the laundry detergent?

A list of anything more than one or two items and their prices is too much for a radio spot. Our memories aren't that good. To catch all that information requires strict attention. But radio listeners are a distracted bunch. We do most of our listening while we drive or are getting ready for work in the morning.

If a listener pays attention at all, he or she probably ends up wondering, "Did the announcer just say there was a sale on bananas or hammocks? Or was it ham hocks? $29.95 is a good price for hammocks, but way too much for ham hocks! ... Hmmm, I'd like to get a red bandanna ..."

Here's where radio ads work: Positioning and image building. If your store is the low-price leader, your listeners need to know that. But you don't have to give dollar and cents proof that you've got the lowest prices on No. 24 rectifiers. The only people interested in the price of No. 24 rectifiers are those who are in the market for them. And that's not most people.

Just tell people your prices can't be beat.

To make your positioning stand out, give yourself a nickname or a slogan that tells the world what you're all about. Then plug the bejeebies out of it in every spot, every time.
  • For the lowest prices, it's Rectifier Rick's.
  • Larry's appliances: The low price kings.
  • Nervous Ned! What a great buy!
  • With the money you save at Joe's garage, you'll get that limo in no time.
  • Bill's exterminators: Bugs. Dead. Now.
If addiction to price list advertising is hard for you to kick, here's the cure: Buy a newspaper ad and put all that item and price stuff in it. Then, tag your radio spots with "find out what the Low Price King has on sale this week - see our ad in the daily newspaper."

Take advantage of radio's theatre of the mind effect. Use it to position your company's image in the listener's mind. Hit them often, hit them hard, make it interesting. Soon, everyone in town will know your prices are the lowest. Or even better for you - they'll think they are!

Need help positioning your business with radio spots that sell? Come to Brown Cow Studios of Boston. Creative services to complete production and media buys. Get in touch with today!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who's Your Betty Crocker?

People who follow this blog or our web site ( sometimes ask about our mascot, Brownie (that's her up there on the right). Why use a cow -- one who sticks her tongue out at you, no less -- to promote our studio?

The obvious answer, of course, is that we're called Brown Cow Studios, and Brownie is the Brown Cow. But she's more than that. Brownie is our Betty Crocker.

No doubt you're familiar with Betty Crocker. She's been adorning packages of General Mills cake mixes and baking products since 1921. Although she's only an artist's rendition of a typical home maker, people believe in Betty. She's one of the most well-known product spokespeople ever, whether real or imagined. Most of us assume that recipes or household tips with her name on them are good advice. Even though we know she's an advertising image, we trust her implicitly. We write to her for advice, or just to let her know we are fans.

Because Betty Crocker stands for something: Wholesomeness, family, American values, trust. Not bad for a fictitious advertising image!

So what about Brownie? What values does she embody? Well -- everybody who sees Brownie's picture smiles. That's a great place to start. Then too, in her own special way, Brownie is very cool. With her tongue sticking out at you she embodies a certain attitude of rebellion; she's hip. She's also a bit silly too, so she makes you feel good. Which, for Brown Cow Studios is the image we're looking for. Although video production and sound design is a serious business, it's a fun business too.

But most importantly, Brownie is an image people remember. That means they'll remember Brown Cow Studios too.

So... who's your Betty Crocker?

For cost-effective advertising ideas that bring in sales, get in touch with Brown Cow Studios of Boston.  Offering everything from complete creative services to professional production and media buys.   

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Go Back in Time to Find Something New

Recently, I borrowed a couple of books about business writing from the library. I had hoped to find some good examples of moving sales letters and the like. But as I browsed them, I was quite disappointed. The letters weren't special; they were the kind of business letters we see every day.

They were a far cry from the letters in a two-volume set I came across a few years ago. The letters in this set, written in the 1920s or 30s, were creative and moving. To my 21st Century eyes, they were powerful and exciting.

Chances are they were typical business letters for their era, and had I perused the books when they were new I probably would have thought they were not anything special. But these days, they seemed refreshing.

A few weeks ago I was browsing radio station sites on the Internet, and came across one that was reusing a tag line from the early 70s. Back then, San Francisco top-40 station KYA was billing itself as playing "Music for the People." But in 2010, it was a news-talk formatted station that was using it. Their version was simply, "... for the people."

How appropriate that line seemed to be for a news-talk station today. "Of the people, by the people, for the people." I get it.

So all this got me thinking about some of the great ad campaigns of the past and how they might be adapted for use today.

For example, iconic 60s artist Peter Max once licensed his art to 72 corporations for use in their marketing. Though Peter is still going strong, his work isn't as ubiquitous as it once was. But it's still powerful. A campaign based on a similar, psychedelic style would seem refreshing today.

What about the anti-drug propaganda movie "Reefer Madness." The crazed, totally out of control drug users it portrays seem laughable to us today, but the producers were absolutely serious at the time. So what if an advertiser, let's say one who sells soap, were to spoof Reefer Madness: "This could happen to you if you don't use Cleano!" Or if you don't drink Red Bull. Or sleep between cotton sheets.

A great idea then is a great idea now. Find one, update it and make it your own. You'll have success.

For more great advertising ideas, come to Brown Cow Studios of Boston. Our full creative services and professional production bring in the sales. Drop a note to Fred Pagano and learn more!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ford Promotes Chevy!

I'm watching TV the other evening and a Ford Truck spot comes on. It's hosted by Mike Rowe, who is a great talent. Ford made an excellent decision to use him as their spokesman. He's likable, amusing, and just tough enough to be a truck kinda guy.

In the spot, Rowe interviews truck owners about their Fords and how much they like them. It's spontaneous and off the cuff. Everybody's having fun. It's a nice commercial to watch. It makes you feel good about Fords.

The closing scene of the spot shows Rowe talking to a dog. He asks, "so what do you think of Chevy?" The dog growls and tears a a rag doll to shreds. Pretty funny stuff, probably ad libbed. A clever way to close the spot and great entertainment.

But Ford blew it.

Through the entire commercial my attention is focused on only one thing: Ford trucks. I am entertained, the message soaks into my brain without me knowing it. If there had been a Ford salesman watching with me, he would have made a sale then and there. In my zoned-out, TV inspired bliss, I have no notion that there is any kind of truck besides Ford.

And then they mention Chevy.

With that one question, "What do you think of Chevy?" the spell is broken. I remember now that besides Ford, I could also spend my money on a Chevy. The whole message is negated.

This spot cost Ford hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce and distribute. If I were GM, I'd be sending Ford a bottle of expensive champagne and a letter of thanks.

The time to acknowledge your competition is when you're developing your ad campaign and marketing strategy. Never mention you competitor in your advertising. Instead, pretend you operate in a vacuum. Don't blow your advertising budget promoting your competition!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

If you're only talking for 30 seconds, why do I have to pay so much?

I was talking with a friend who is in the public relations business the other day. He's one of the most successful press agents in Boston, and specializes in getting his clients booked on TV and radio talk shows. As we compared notes, we realized we both faced the same obstacle: Clients who don't understand why our services are priced the way they are.

Not that we can blame them. To the uninitiated and those new to using the services of a press agent -- or in my case, a voice over artist -- it doesn't make sense. They wonder how a commercial that takes sixty seconds to do can cost so much to record.

A similar comment is one I used to hear back in my Top-40 DJ days: "I wish I had a job at which I only had to work four hours a day!" On the surface, it sounds about right, and believe it or not, there really are some DJs who only work four hours a day. But the fact is, they're not very good and they don't last in the business very long. The best radio personalities -- the ones who make it seem oh-so-easy have to work at it. And they work hard. The best don't put in a four-hour day, or even an eight-hour day like most of us. They'll spend hours preparing for their shows and trying to come up with new material. For the truly successful, it's more like a 10- or even a 12-hour day.

My friend the press agent? Sure, all he has to do is make a phone call to get his client booked, but again the truth is there's much more to it than that. He doesn't make one phone call, he makes fifty. And the only reason he can make those fifty calls is because before those fifty he made made 500 other calls to newspapers, radio and TV stations so he would know the producers and bookers, and what their tastes, interests, and preferences are.

Now since this blog is about voiceover production, let's take a look at what happens when a voiceover artist is hired to do a 60-second spot.

Even before the voiceover artist gets hired, he's already put a lot of work into the job. He's made phone calls to his agent, he's paid for and sent out demos, bios, postcards, letters, and maintains a web site too. He's probably called a few hundred potential clients on his own, and done every other kind of marketing he could think of. Along the way he's probably done fifty or sixty auditions -- maybe 100 -- that haven't resulted in any gigs.

Then one day the phone rings, or he gets an email from somebody who liked his audition enough to actually ask him to do their spot. They fax the copy over.

The first thing our voiceover artist does is read the copy to find out what it's all about. Then he reads it again, this time to get an idea of how the read should sound. Depending on the type of spot it is he may have to figure out who his character is, what his purpose is, even how he feels about it. In other words, he goes through the same preparation all actors go through when they land a part. But our voiceover actor doesn't have the length of a feature film or even a sitcom to develop his character and get his message across -- he's got 57 seconds, or even less.

He reads the copy again, this time marking it to note which words to emphasize and which to downplay, trying to find the most effective way to get it said.

By this time, he's read the copy five or six times, and hasn't even opened his mouth yet. But that's next. It's time to rehearse. Again he'll read the copy as many times as he needs to -- or, if he's working with one, as many times as the producer wants him to -- until it sounds right. So we're up to ten reads or more.

When the mike goes on, all that preparation hopefully results in a good read the first time. But, alas, that's rarely the case. Inevitably there will be goofs, mistakes, places where he rose in pitch when he should have gone down. Since he didn't write the copy, the words he speaks aren't his own in the way he would speak them, but in the way some committee somewhere wrote them, and he has to find a way to make that committee sound like one person with one voice, who's fluent in the English language.

If the recording is being done in a studio with a producer, engineer, and likely the client too, all of which are listening in on the session in the control room, our voiceover artist will have to follow their direction. Some of that direction may be genuinely helpful. Some of it may be arcane. "Can you make it sound like stardust?" or "put more electrons into it!" Hmmm ... electrons! More takes...

Eventually the tracks do get laid down and the recording session is finished. It's taken all day, and for his day's work the VO artist has earned $600. It may be the only job he'll do that week. If he's lucky, he'll get a check within 30 days as promised. If he's not so lucky he'll have to wait, track the client down, or maybe just not get paid at all. It happens.

So add it all up: The VO actor has probably read that script anywhere from ten to 50 times. And the money he gets paid has to cover all his administrative expenses and the costs of marketing, maintaining a studio, and going to auditions. Don't forget he has to pay his agent's commission too, if he ever wants to work again.

Do the math and you'll see that for all the effort to land and then produce that 60 second spot, our voiceover guy is lucky if he makes $10 an hour.

So why does he do it? Easy: He loves it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Should you take advantage of a station's offer to produce your ad for free?

Just about every radio station, and many TV stations too, offer their advertisers free commercial production. To advertisers pinched by today's economy it's a very attractive offer that's hard to refuse. But should you refuse it?

I think so. From my years of experience in the broadcasting industry, I believe a very strong case can be made for declining the station's offer and instead using a professional, independent voiceover artist.

First, if your ads are being produced by the station on which you've bought time, your ads are being produced by one of the station's staff announcers. The voice will be one of the five or six people who voice probably 80 percent of all their spots - those of your competitors too! I'm not saying that the staff announcers aren't good at what they do; on the contrary, they're probably excellent. But your spots will end up sounding like every other spot on the station, and listeners will easily tune them out because they don't sound any different from everything else they hear. They'll just be part of the "clutter".

To be their most effective, it's very important for your ads to stand out and sound different from the rest. This is particularly important with 10- or 15-second "shorts."

Secondly, auditory memory plays a big role in the success of your ad. If a listener dislikes a particular personality for whatever reason - maybe they think those dulcet tones are too syrupy, or they don't care for the subject matter of that DJ's show (think of your local "shock jock"), that voice will have made an unfavorable impression. That impression carries over, subconsciously, to your product - it's quite likely that just hearing the voice of the announcer they don't like will work against you.

If you've ever found yourself talking back to the radio or arguing with a particularly annoying or stupid commercial you know what I mean.

But when you use an independent voiceover announcer, you're using a voice that's not heard every day - day in, day out for years. So your spot cuts through the clutter, is more likely to command attention, and won't suffer ill effects from a listener's auditory memory of an unfavored personality.

Many voiceover actors have spent years in training, taking acting classes, courses on dialects and accents and the like. The result is not just a "read" of your copy, but an interpretation of it. Even with relatively straightforward copy, professional, independent voice actors bring elements of drama, credibility, and showmanship to your spots. They don't get lost in the clutter.

In the end, your advertising is more successful because it commands the listener's attention and gets results.

Finally, there's the price issue. Free sounds great, but how much is that "free" actually worth? Most voiceover actors, myself included, operate their own studios and can provide complete creative services - from copy writing to voiceover to producing a finished spot at very reasonable rates.

You also gain the benefit of a professional who gives your spot complete attention and wants to earn your repeat business. Radio DJs and staff announcers don't get paid extra to do your spot, and they may not be happy about it either - it's just one more spot on the list of 5 or 10 spots they have to do that day, in addition to doing prep for their on-air show, paperwork, and the show itself. Because they simply don't have the time to give you their full attention, you might end up with a spot that's not great, but "good enough."

When you think about the total cost of your advertising schedule, the cost of choosing a a pro voice actor versus the station's "free production" offer works out to a small percentage of your ad budget. But the results a pro voiceover actor will get you are much greater!

So when the sales exec from the station offers you free production, tell him "no thanks." Then get in touch with, or one of the many fine VO talents working today.

- Fred Pagano


BullShots! is written by Fred Pagano, and is published by Brown Cow Studios of Boston.

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