Given a choice between rolling in fire ants or stomaching conversational radio ads, I’d opt for the ants; the pain of phony-baloney radio dialog takes longer to heal than ant bites.
That’s too bad since natural, human dialog can create compelling radio. Conversation is, unfortunately, incredibly difficult to write — especially when you write by the rules of good grammar.
It’s only natural to be unnatural
Fact is, we don’t speak in proper english — we only think we do. Try this: Record and transcribe a conversation. You’ll find bad grammar, run-on sentences, fragments….
Blame your Freshman Composition teacher when writing grammatically correct dialog — even though doing so here is incorrect.
The remedy is relatively simple: start by forgetting how people read. Instead, write like they speak. Go back to that recording and listen for how genuine conversation flows — and doesn’t. STOP reading. Record your copy and LISTEN to it instead. When you can listen without wincing, you’re on the right path.
Ain’t nothing like the real thing
Last week I brought Jeff, a client of mine, into the studio to record an ad for his remodeling company. Instead of a commercial, we recorded a conversation. With the script set aside, we conversed as he would with a customer. What we got was authentic, unscripted, genuine, human dialog that stands apart from adjacent ads.
Clear beats clever
Radio is arguably the best one-to-one medium ever. Why not use it that way? Jeff’s ads connect with the listener because he is speaking one-to-one. He communicates naturally. You can too.
Six steps to authentic conversational ads
- Collect a list of questions customers typically ask you
- Create a bullet list of proven answers you give them
- Put the list away for a few days and schedule a recording session
- Without reviewing them, give your questions to the interviewer
- Record the conversation (NO headphones—trust me on this one)
- Edit your answers into a logical sequence, omitting the interviewer
Step 5 is key. The interviewer’s job goes beyond reading questions. A “yes man” won’t do. You want a surrogate customer who probes and asks questions. Look them in the eye. Speak as you would to a customer. Chances are, if the interviewer is persuaded, the listener will be too.
Your finished ad may lack the rim-shot punch lines of “professionally” written radio copy. It will probably also lack “Joe Announcer” polish too. That’s good. No, it’s REALLY good. Because so much radio sounds contrived and homogenized, you’ll stand out by merely being yourself.