Friday, 30 April 2010

Framing Your Message

Some of my Facebook Friends are somewhat cock-a-hoop about the current John Lewis TV commercial. One of them said he actually cried after watching it. Wow !

Set to the Billy Joel song ‘She’s Always a Woman to Me’, the ad is basically the story of a young girl growing up to adulthood and going through to her old age. The core message is about the brand’s ‘life-long commitment to you’ with it’s ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ policy.

It is all good stuff. One of those ads that you’d wish you’d written yourself.

If you break John Lewis down, it’s basically a shop that sells lots of nice things with staff that know a lot about those nice things ! Yet it’s the framing of the offering that makes the brand an absolute delight.

‘Framing’ was something that was drawn to my attention many years ago whilst on an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) course. In other words, by putting something in an appropriate context; a new and very powerful meaning can be created. In radio advertising, there simply aren’t enough advertisers who put their offering into the right context. I think I can speak for many Commercial Producers when I say that from time to time you come across a new advertiser who has an offering that is simply mind-blowing. The problem is that the owner of that business doesn’t realise it and therefore the company doesn’t do as well as it should.

Creating the right frame for a brand and/or proposition isn’t necessarily all about the dialogue in a radio commercial. Over the years, I have been on many judging panels for radio advertising awards ceremonies and I often find many of the losing commercials have failed to frame the proposition properly. The easiest way to look at it is how a comedian makes a joke funny. A joke will only be funny if the punch line is set up correctly. Take this gag from veteran comic Ken Dodd:

“What a wonderful day...What a wonderful day for sticking a cucumber through your next door neighbour’s letter box and shouting “The Martians have landed !”.

The punch line would never have worked if it hadn’t been put into context. The same goes with radio advertising. If you don’t ‘set up’ the key proposition, the whole ad is meaningless. Many advertisers forget this. They think a 30 second commercial should be filled with 30 seconds worth of information. Wrong. In my view the ‘information’ should only account for a small percentage of the commercial. When you next see the full-length version of the 90 second long John Lewis TV ad, the core message appears 7 seconds before the end of the ad. The remaining 83 seconds have been skilfully used to set us up for the 5 word killer endline. And when it comes: POW ! The message is indelibly marked in our memories.

Here’s another example: None of us have escaped the news of the Icelandic Volcano causing havoc to British travellers. I was particularly taken by the news stories of the luxury liner ‘Celebrity Eclipse’ ferrying home two thousand stranded holiday makers from Bilbao. The rescue must have cost Celebrity Cruises an absolute mint.But by golly, the positive publicity the company is getting from it is absolutely priceless. In all media we saw, read and heard interviews with passengers ‘wowing’ the amazing experience they had.

Things like this should teach all brand owners there is more, much more to telling the listener that they can buy ‘X’ for less. Celebrity Cruises have proved this by putting their brand in context with an unprecedented event . By doing this, they have ended up with something that is actually more powerful than the volcano itself.

And I am pretty sure that as a result of their actions, their tills will be ringing loud and proud in the months to come.

John Calvert.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Are your radio adverts sending out the right image ?

I love General Elections. It’s a one-month advertising campaign where beliefs and visions are marketed as brands. Claims, counter-claims, criticisms, slagging-offs, endorsements: it’s all there and the poor electorate has to make sense of it all.

Sorry, going slightly off track now: Why is it the political parties never seem to fall foul of advertising rules ? Some of the claims you encounter in political advertising often has little-to-no foundation. Yet they apparently seem to get away with it. In some cases, libellous comments are made, yet we never hear about any action being taken by the ASA. I have no idea why. If you have the answer, I would love to know.

Election time is when parties and their candidates spend an absolute fortune presenting themselves in the best possible light. And it reminds me that regardless of whether there’s an election or not, many radio advertisers should be getting their houses in order.

Following on from my last article about the power of the brand, image is absolutely everything. Regardless of whether we own a business or not, this belief is instilled in all of us. Yet on the radio, we still encounter radio adverts for businesses that say all the wrong things...

We’re noisy.
We’re patronising.
We’re arrogant.
We’re unprofessional.
We’re insignificant.
We’re thick.
We’re childish.
We’re rude.
We’re lairs.
We’re unhelpful.
We’re smarmy.
We’re slimy.
We’re confusing.
We’re idiots.
We’re not good for you.

How many radio commercials have you heard this week that creates the feeling they are one or more of the above ?

We all know radio ads have the power to say a lot more than what the voiceover is actually saying. Yet despite some great heroic attempts from Commercial Producers, some advertisers still think they know better.
In most cases, we can just advise. And providing it’s not to the detriment of the radio station’s quality of output, there’s very little we can actually do other than cringe every time the ad is broadcast.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and my tolerance levels are getting weaker, but when it comes to image of radio advertisers I am noticing I am speaking my mind a lot more nowadays. In a conversation with a client the other day, I found myself saying “Fine, if you want to throw all what’s good about you down the toilet, so be it”. The client took the point and thankfully I still have the account !

Regardless of what we think of elections and the like, I think the current political campaigning and advertising is a great opportunity for us to observe how much effect image has on the masses. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. And in radio advertising, there’s never been more true line.

Want your radio commercials to sound great. Visit our website here.

John Calvert

Thursday, 1 April 2010

If you advertise on the radio, invest in your brand.

Last weekend I took the missus and our 4 year old son Dan to the beautiful city of Bath. The day co-incided with a match at the rugby ground. Where ever we looked: In cafe’s, bars and shops there was a sea of blue and black shirts. Though the atmosphere was a lot more civilised than a football match day. This is Bath after all.

Whilst walking round the new shopping centre, Southgate, we heard a cacophony of cheering and applause. Thinking it was some exuberant rugby fans, we went round the corner to discover something completely different.

Apple had opened a brand new store and our arrival was at the exact time when the doors of the store opened. The cheers, whoops and claps weren’t coming from the queue of customers walking into the store. It was coming from a huge line of Applestore staff all dressed in their blue tops. As the public filed in, each person was welcomed with a free T.shirt and brisk high-fives. It was tremendous fun. My missus turned to me with a huge beaming face and said “Isn’t Apple a great brand ?”

She’s right. Apple oozes cleverness, style and a real feeling that you want to be part of it. The stores aren’t stuffy and the staff, although incredibly well-trained are still incredibly approachable.

At the same time Apple was wowing the folks of Bath, British Airways cabin crews were on the picket lines. “Willie Walsh is pants” was written on a string of underwear, the bigwigs in Unite were telling the media how unreasonable BA is being and BA customers were promising not to use the airline ever again.

What a contrast.

And what a reminder that brand is everything.

The biggest thrill I get in radio commercial production is to help regional and local businesses make a real name for themselves in their respective market. The trouble is, not enough local and regional business care about ‘their brand’. They think subjecting the listener with what is effectively and audio version of a leaflet is the way to win the hearts of the public. How wrong they are.

If you’re a local company, the public aren’t forgiving about your image. By default, they will always compare how you present yourself with everyone else and in a matter of milliseconds accept you or reject you.

Right now, the public will be doing the same with B.A. As the industrial dispute continues, British Airways will do it’s upmost to protect it’s brand. It made me think: If BA hadn’t invested squillions in promoting their core brand values, just imagine what a sorry state they would be in now.

Like BA, Toyota is having a rough time. But because they too have done the groundwork and been incredibly pro-active in being seen to sort things out; their ‘Today Tomorrow Toyota’ positioning is, my opinion relevant and effective.

As the economy is beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, now is the time for local and regional advertisers to set the scene for the good times by dumping a model that relies on advertising just special offers. Lets instead encourage more radio advertisers to adopt a model that shows the public just how bloody amazing they really are. So when the good times (and indeed the bad times) come back, they are standing on a solid foundation that’s able to handle anything that comes their way.

Oh, and as a completely separate issue and going off on a complete tangent, who else thinks the Halifax ‘radio station’ ads are verging on being utterly cringeworthy ?

John Calvert.