Skip the Cliche

I abhor clichés, especially in radio copy. They are lazy. "For all your toe shoe needs," "sale ends soon," "the tent is up, the prices are down." Ick. I know I'm not alone, 'cause audiences mentally tune out at these trite idiocies. Where's the inspiration? Where's the motivation? Why are we wasting our time writing, producing and listening to these?

My intent for this article was to provide a list of some clichés I've heard in radio copy over the past couple months (no wonder I feel sick, I've been listening for those nasty clichés) and provide alternatives. But I have found in assembling this article that the vast majority of cliché's used in commercials come because the copywriter is 'telling' the audience, instead of 'showing' them something.

Radio is visual, and better still, each vision is unique to each listener. Every individual completes the image in their mind; so instead of telling the listener that the advertiser is "the home of fun for the whole family," give them the sounds and vocal variations to show their own family actually having fun. Instead of telling the listener the advertiser has "savings throughout the store," use the visual abilities of radio to show savings throughout the store. Instead of telling the listener to "hurry on in before we run out," show the shortage, the demand, maybe even the disappointment of someone too late to get the item (though this is risky, as you don't want the listener to think they are too late).

Of course I know the time constraints on radio producers, too - so here's a (by no means complete) list of cliché's that you may be asked to read, what listeners hear when it's on the radio, and maybe an alternative or two to make the copy better.

"It's customer appreciation time."Listener's reaction: What? You didn't appreciate me all the other times I shopped your store?

"It's savings time."Oh, so you've been overcharging me for years. (This reminds me of the big mall anchor stores like Sears, Kohl's and JC Penney. They advertise big Saturday sales, and in effect are telling their customers to wait until Saturday to shop, otherwise you're being over-charged. Meanwhile they have to keep the store open the rest of the week, pay the light bill, the clerk's wages - all to service a near empty store six of seven days a week. This doesn't make sense.)

"Absolute lowest prices."Wal-Mart nailed this one with "Always Low Prices." Shoppers never have to wait for a "sale," Wal-Mart always has the lowest price. Now you know one of the key ingredients to Wal-Mart's success. They don’t have 'sales,' they have a reputation for the lowest price. (By the way you can beat Wal-Mart: compete on value. You can pay $15 for a pair of jeans every couple months, or pay $60 and get a pair that lasts for years. Seems like the $60 is a better value. Now show your listener.)

"Located at" Just drop this. 9 times out of 9.5 it is just excess verbiage.

"Going on now."Of course its going on now or you wouldn't be advertising it, or you'd provide a specific date. And make sure when a sale or special is to be over, the copy lets listeners know exactly when it will be over. Sale ends January 5th, not "sale ends soon".

"Sale ends soon. "This has zero motivation to move a listener to action. This is a plea for immediacy, yet fails to provide any. Listener (if they haven't mentally tuned out already) thinks they have time until they stop hearing the spot. But the advertiser stops the spot when the sale is over. So the listener forgets there was a sale they were interested in because they thought they had time because the "sale ends soon". Use a firm date or skip it.

"They won't last long. "Listener thinks: you either didn't order enough, or the product has been discontinued. Thanks, but I'll wait for the upgraded version.

"We service what we sell. "You had better. If this needs mentioning, the client has other significant perception problems that need to be addressed with the advertising.

"Service second to none. "What are they are trying to say? Maybe there are the best at what they do? Show it. Use testimonials (with real people or excellent radio actors. Not voice talent.).

"Its inventory/St. Patrick's Day/holiday/clearance/bargain/sale/whatever time…"Can you say "ad coming, let my mind wander"? Remember when local car dealers got the bright idea to mumble the disclaimer at the front of the spot? Listeners soon realized a yelling car spot was coming and changed the station.

"Our people make the difference" or "friendly, knowledgeable staff. "Brings me back to showing, not telling. Show the friendly, knowledgeable staff. Show the listener how your people make the difference. Reap the profits when you avoid the clichés and needless words.

Yes, I abhor cliché's in radio. Have I included them in copy from time to time? Only on client demand. One demanded that I include "conveniently located" in his commercial for farm tractors. I explained to him that the reason he was on our station was so his spot would be heard for miles, and at night for hundreds of rural miles; and his business was not "conveniently located" for everyone. Yet he insisted because he was "Just off the Interstate at exit 2B." How is that convenient to rural farmer farmers across 120 miles of signal coverage? You can only protest so much before the lure of the dollar sign pushes management to run the ad. I expect you know what that's like.

But there are alternatives, and the key is education. Teach the advertiser the value of each second of air-time, and show them how the power of words makes his product relatable, desirable, and necessary.

A list of commercial cliches/babble to avoid.