And now these words

Photo courtesy of marcelo brito filho

I’ve been listening to a lot of ads on the radio lately. On purpose. I’ve been trying to figure out what makes a commercial good enough to not cause me to change the station. Or, better yet, what causes me to actively listen.

It’s easier to name what prompts me to tune out or change stations. The worst offense is an inane, ear worm jingle. This is often perpetuated by a mid-sized regional chain, but not always. It’s a good bet the same jingle has been used in their ads for a dozen years or so.

Poorly written ads abound. Sometimes it’s 20 seconds of chattering before you even understand what problem the product or service intends to solve. Or else it’s boring, or insults your intelligence, or (heaven forbid) is grammatically incorrect. Either way, these ads are often written to be read, not heard. When the words hit your ear, they want to bounce back. “This is not how humans speak to other humans,” you think.

But even if the ad doesn’t annoy, and even if it’s cleverly written with your ear in mind, the way it’s voiced can be the real difference between an ad that wins a customer and one that loses a listener.

A purely attractive voice goes a long way in bringing life to copy, for sure. A resonant tone, a flirty whisper, an elegant accent, a touch of gravitas…these can be used quite effectively to carry a message or draw a listener in. But an engaging read isn’t just in the pipes God gave a voice artist.

I think it hinges on emotional intelligence, really. Understanding how the words carried by your voice will engage the listener’s brain. It’s the pacing that makes humor effective. It’s the intention and emphasis that brings home the gravity of the situation. It’s the natural rise and fall and lilt that assures your listener that you understand their pain and are bringing the salve they need.

I have a few favorites. Certain businesses seem to be consistent in hiring voice actors who do a great job with delivering the message to the audience. Conversely, I have a list of serial offenders. I don’t think it’s wise to list them here.

What do you think? Any favorites? What makes a radio spot worth paying attention to? Are you more likely to support a business that puts a decent amount of its earnings into delivering a quality ad?

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One response to “And now these words

  1. Thanks, Dave – great thoughts. One radio ad has always puzzled me. It’s for a local heating/cooling company. The script is horrendous. It has no focus, just a jumble of one-sentence reasons to hire them (we’re green, most of our new business is from referrals of current customers, etc.). The voice-over is the owner of the business, and his flow is all wrong (“for a free home, estimate…”). And the copy is delivered without much energy in the voice.

    Yet, I find myself really liking this company. It’s driving me nuts. I hate the commercial, I’d change about 90% of the script (and the voice artist), yet I’d hire them in an instant. I trust them.

    I’ve concluded that there’s something in the voice that outweighs all those other factors. It’s a trustworthy voice. It’s homey, it’s honest, it’s personable. Maybe that’s the emotional intelligence you mention. Regardless, I’ve only seen this effect once before – in Dave Thomas of Wendy’s. It’s the same boggling phenomenon.

    And now I want a hamburger.

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