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RAB: Radio's Best Ads Require ‘More Imagination Than Almost Any Other Medium.’

Few things are more magic, and more effective, than the perfect radio commercial. But how do the best and most creative spots happen? In a piece for the Association of National Advertisers' website, RAB Senior VP of Business Development Tammy Greenberg asks several of the best ad writers where their ideas came from and why they work so well.

"Radio requires more imagination than almost any other medium,” John Fiebke, head of copy at FCB Chicago, says. “You're trying to make other minds imagine a world that's not actually there. When the mind is triggered by sound, it imagines something far more amazing than what any affordable video special effect is capable of."

The key, most professionals agree, is grabbing the listener right out of the gate. "Whether it's radio, podcasts, in-store announcements or a guy with a microphone and a sandwich board, it needs to be entertaining and grab the listener's attention within seconds," Wendy Mayes, Creative Director and writer at Plot Twist Creativity, says. "There are no visuals to rely on, so what a person hears needs to make an impact. Don't wait for a slow build. Entertain from the beginning."

Indeed, research backs this up. A recent study commissioned by Audacy found that the most effective radio commercials hook the listener from the beginning, as ads with high rates of immersion did the best job of explaining "What's in it for the customer?" and carrying that message through to the end.

When it comes to award-winning spots such as Bud Light's “Real Men of Genius” campaign, or the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's “We Bet You Love It” series that put a contemporary twist on horse racing, writers just know when it's right. “The second it starts, you're immediately in the world of horse racing," Josh Grossberg, Executive Creative Director at McCann Health, says. Instead of simply being told how exciting it can be, "[the ad] made you feel it.”

Mark Gross, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Highdive Advertising, who created the “Genius” spots, points to the campaign’s ability to immediately paint a picture for the listener. From the second the announcer says, "Mr. bowling shoe giver-outter," the listener gets it, Gross says. "Great ideas for radio aren't always great ideas for other [media], and you never really know when you have an award-winning idea on your hands.”

So what does it take to create the next listener-grabbing, unforgettable and, most importantly, business- problem-solving radio commercial? "Go to work with a dozen concepts before writing a 30- or 60-second spot," Mayes says. "Make sure it sounds solid as an idea before filling out the spot. Then once it is written, plan on re-writing it over and over and over until every single part of it works."

Aldo Quevedo, CEO and Creative Chairman at BeautifulBeast, suggests this checklist: outline the story, turn an ordinary situation into something interesting, invent characters that are central to the story, and see where it goes. “Dedicate time to the work and create with an understanding that the message will be consumed when people are doing other things,” he says. “Make it hard to ignore, and all other media will fall into place.”

BBDO Atlanta Chief Creative Officer Robin Fitzgerald adds, ""Edit mercilessly. Cut lines and words, even though you hate to do it. You need to give the idea room to come to life."

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