How to write a radio ad that generates calls or traffic

October 28, 2009 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: How-to Guides 

Write Radio AdvertisingAs a copywriter, you may not often get the chance to write radio ads. Usually, the client or the radio production house will write the script.

But occasionally, someone will ask, “Oh, by the way. Can you write radio ad copy?” Naturally, you’ll want to say “Yes.”

In the back of your mind you’ll wonder if you can do it. It seems simple enough. But if all you’ve ever written is print ads, radio advertising will feel like foreign territory.

So let’s talk about radio ads and how to write a basic radio script. We’ll listen to one of my own completed radio ads as an example.

Keep in mind that there are different ways to write a radio ad. I’m presenting just one basic way with a high probability of success.

11 tips for writing a radio ad script

Click here to listen to a sample radio ad. I wrote this for an advertiser selling computers to those with bad credit.

Here are my thoughts on this and similar radio ad scripts:

Write for 60 seconds. Radio ads are generally 30 or 60 seconds. 30-second ads have better “clearance,” meaning they’re easier to schedule because they’re shorter. They’re also cheaper. But 30 seconds usually isn’t long enough to deliver a selling message. If you expect to generate immediate response, you’re going to need 60 seconds minimum.

The sample radio ad breaks down roughly like this: 9 seconds for the “headline” or intro copy, 22 seconds for detailed information, 16 seconds for the offer, and 12 seconds for the call to action. Just the offer and call to action would fill up a 30-second spot.

Use a simple announcer format. Yes, you hear all sorts of funny, entertaining radio ads. But those aren’t the kind of ads that will generate an immediate, measurable response, which is what smart advertisers will want.

Remember, people are working, driving, cleaning the house, and doing all sorts of things in less than ideal listening conditions. The most successful ads tend to be simple.

Most of the ads I write are nothing more than an announcer talking directly to listeners. This has the added advantage of being more personal and less expensive than spots filled with funny actors and dramatic sound effects.

Identify and solve a problem. In the sample radio ad, the listener’s problem is wanting a computer but not having the money or credit to get one. The solution is getting a new computer for a low price and without a credit check.

Not all radio ads are problem-solution. If you’re writing an ad for a retail store sale, for example, you simply have to announce the sale. But problem-solution works well because it directly addresses the needs of your audience.

Make a dramatic promise. This strengthens your solution and makes it more appealing. Listen again to the sample radio ad:

A brand new computer for less than six dollars a day? Yes! Now you can have a brand new computer for less than six dollars a day!

No credit check. No interest. No hidden fees.

The cost works out to about $180 a month, but it’s presented in a dramatic fashion as less than “six dollars a day.” If you’re in a credit crunch, this presents an appealing option for getting a computer.

List the benefits. While the benefits of a product or service may seem obvious, you should mention them anyway. This is true for all advertising, but especially true of radio advertising where your audience is preoccupied and needs a mental nudge.

In our sample ad, the announcer lists the many benefits of computer ownership:

A computer lets you connect to the internet, stay in touch with friends, share photos, listen to music, watch movies, search for jobs, finish your degree, work from home, help your kids in school, and more.

Guarantee satisfaction. Just as a promise strengthens your solution, a guarantee strengthens your promise. The more specific your guarantee, the better. In this case, you just have to call and you are guaranteed to qualify for a computer for less than six dollars a day without the hassle of a credit check:

All you need is a checking account and a home phone and we guarantee you’ll qualify for a brand new computer for less than six dollars a day. We’ll never check your credit.

Build the offer and emphasize a time limit. This creates more excitement and urgency. As we continue with our sample radio ad, the announcer says:

But wait! Call in the next 30 minutes and you’ll also get … a flat screen color monitor, supercharged internet service for one year, a digital camera, tons of software, a digital music player, 100 music downloads, a printer, copier, and scanner.

Present a clear call to action. There can be no subtlety about this. If you want a call, ask for it. If you want people to go to a store, tell them. If you want web visits, say it directly.

In the sample radio ad, the answer presents the call to action like this:

It’s all yours … guaranteed … for less than six dollars a day. Call today to get your brand new computer. Call 866-431-0502. That’s 866-431-0502. 866-431-0502.

Note that the number is repeated 3 times to help people remember it long enough to dial it.

Try a vanity phone number or web address. A special number such as 1-800-ABCDEFG (for a reading program) or web address such as (for a brochure on lowering your taxes) is easier to remember. However, while a vanity website URL is always good, a vanity phone number may hurt response.

I discussed this with a client recently who has tested vanity phone numbers against ordinary toll-free numbers and says ordinary numbers work better. It could be that vanity numbers are easy to remember, but hard to dial. Or it may be that if a number seems easy to remember, there’s a temptation to put off dialing until later … and later never comes.

Offer something free. In the sample we’ve used here, the ad is selling a product directly. You call and place an order. But in many (perhaps most) radio ads, the goal is to offer something free to generate sales leads or to offer a free or risk-free trial.

These soft offers work well in radio because, unlike TV or print ads, you can’t see what you’re buying and the selling time is incredibly short. Plus, you can’t go back and review the ad. The majority of radio ads I write include a risk-free offer such as “Try it risk-free for 30 days.” Risk-free means you pay for the product, but you can change your mind at any time during the trial period and get your money back.

Use humor carefully. From a selling standpoint, humor is hit-or-miss. And you always run the risk of upstaging the selling message. You can be lighthearted and friendly, of course, but you’ll usually get a better response with a simple, straightforward delivery.

Related posts:

  1. Copywriting blunder: Are you a “radio head” writer?

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Smart Comments

5 Comments on How to write a radio ad that generates calls or traffic

  1. Donovan Owens on Oct 28th, 2009 5:39 pm
  2. Very nice. The tips that you give seem to have great carry-over into several different direct response systems. Keep it coming.
    .-= Donovan Owens’s last blog … Pics and Videos =-.

  3. Dean Rieck on Oct 29th, 2009 2:31 pm
  4. Donovan,
    You’re right. In fact, I’ve always thought that all the media I work in are basically the same because most of the same direct response techniques apply.

    [...] isn’t a lesson in radio ad writing, so we won’t get into specifics about the [...]

    [...] How to write a radio ad that generates calls or traffic [...]

  5. Martin Williams on Feb 1st, 2012 6:39 pm
  6. Thank you for this article. Great tips!