3 Mistakes Maine Small Business Owners Make in Ads On Portland Radio

IMistake Portland Radio Maine Small business.jpg assume an awesome responsibility each time I ask a Maine small business owner to buy advertising on a Portland radio station. When a local retailer or service provider hands over a check to pay for ads, I know its money they could have put in their kid’s college fund; contributed to charity; or given to their employees (or themselves) as a bonus.  So, it is important to me to ensure every word, sound, and pause in their radio commercial will contribute to their campaign’s ultimate success.

Often, when business owners buy commercials, they want them to sound like, well, a commercial. Without guidance, these owners will want to utilize every comfortable trope, expression, and device used in every other commercial they have ever heard. This is why the same 3 mistakes get perpetuated in so many ads on the radio.

Mistake #1: Phones Numbers: A 60-second radio commercial consists of about 170 words.  When a Maine business owner inserts a phone number into the ad, that use 7 words each time it is said. Say the number twice, the 14 precious words disappear. Some people might say the phone number has to be repeated three times, so that’s 21 words or 12% of the commercial consumed. But here’s the thing, no one is going to remember your phone number.

According to research published in the New York Times and the London Daily Telegraph, 9-out-of-10 people forget a phone number within 5 seconds of hearing it. The study goes on to reveal that 70% of people cannot remember their best friend’s phone number and 50% cannot remember their parents’ phone numbers

This inability to remember phone numbers is a result of a relatively new phenomenon called “digital amnesia.” It seems, as we become more reliant on personal technology to remember things like phone numbers for us, we employ our own memories less to preserve that type of information.

“We are beautifully adaptive creatures and we don’t remember everything because it is not to our advantage to do so,” says Dr. Kathryn Mills of UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London. “Forgetting becomes unhelpful when it involves losing information that we need to remember. One of the reasons consumers might be less worried about remembering information is because they have connected devices that they trust. In many societies, having access to the Internet feels as stable as having access to electricity or running water,” Mills concluded.

In other words, our brains have become hardwired to depend on our smartphones, tablets, and laptops to remember information and to find phone numbers. As a consequence, we no longer invest the cognitive resources necessary to store this information in our brains.

My advice: Hold the phone! Eliminate the 7 digits from your radio commercial and replace them with words that will compel listeners to buy your products or services.

Mistake #2: Cliches. “Fast and friendly service.” “Conveniently located.” “Knowledgeable sales staff. “For a limited time only.” “Free estimates.” “Acres of free parking.” “The best kept secret.” ‘We won’t be undersold.”

This is a partial list of cliches you will hear in commercials many times on Portland radio today. You will actually hear competing Maine business owners all making the same claims in ads they each paid good money for.

Dictionary.com defines a cliche as, “a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.”

The Oxford Dictionary recommends against the use of cliches in any type of writing, including for radio commercials. “Cliches tend to annoy people, especially if they’re overused, and they may even create an impression of laziness or a lack of careful thought. Some people just tune out when they hear a cliche and so they may miss the point that you’re trying to make.”

According to the Writing Center at the University of North Caroline, “Cliches lack specificity and complexity; therefore, they do not make distinctive or memorable contributions to your [advertising].”

So, if a Maine small business owner is paying 62-cents for every word that will air on a Portland radio station, then why waste on money on words that will not contribute to the acquisition of a new customer.

William Safire, who wrote the “On Language” column for many years for the New York Times offered this advice to all writers including commercial copywriters: “Avoid cliches like the plague.”  I agree.

Mistake #3: Get Out.  We use the word ‘get’ too much. Look up ‘get’ in any dictionary and you will see at least 30 definitions ranging from “to receive” (e.g., I got a letter in the mail) to “acquire a mental grasp” (e.g., I get your jokes).

Based on this diversity of meaning, writer and language consultant Nick Usborne says that ‘get’ is a poor excuse for a word. “Get is passive, feeble, limp, flabby, and gutless. It hints at action, but communicates almost nothing.”

If ‘get’ communicates almost nothing, then Maine business owners should avoid using it their radio commercials. Instead, they should get-the-get-out and replace it with stronger more evocative language.

 Here are some examples of how ‘get’ was used in radio commercials I heard just today. I have also provided more powerful replacement words.

Auto-Dealer Commercial: “Get the lowest prices in Maine.” This could be made stronger: “Score the lowest prices…,” “Drive Away with the lowest prices…,” or, my favorite, “Seize the lowest prices in Maine.

Bank Commercial: “Get the highest-return possible.”  This could be made stronger: “Earn the highest return…,” “Reap the highest return…, or “Secure the highest return possible.”  Since this is a bank, I really, really like ‘secure.’

Health Club Commercial: “Get the body you want.”  This could be made stronger: “Achieve the body….,” “Possess the body…,” or even “Build the body you want.”

I think you get (understand) my point.  When your get (receive) your next radio script, get (grab) your red-pencil and get (find) every instance of ‘get’. Who knows, you might get (win) a copy writing award. But, reward or not, you will get (earn) the listener’s attention.
More great advice for Maine Small Business Owners