The Official Adland Advertising Tutorial Series - Radio

Recently, a gloriously naive advertising student wrote Adland, asking for the key points of writing a radio script. Since school seems to have failed this poor, unfortunate youngster, we thought we'd take it upon ourselves to help out... in a very AdLandish way.


The Official AdLand Advertising Tutorial: Part One - Key Points Of Writing A Radio Script Professors: John Backman, Brent Hahn, Clayton T. Claymore, Jane Goldman and Grant Sanders (in no particular order)


Chapter One - Sincere radio advice for those unfamiliar with sarcasm: If it's a 30 second spot, make sure you have less than 50 seconds of script. Be sure to use lots of italics, underlines and bold type for the key words in your script - words like "the," "to" or "an" - this makes it easier for the voice talent to recognize that they're dealing with a pro. When in doubt, use all three along with all-caps. Type the entire script in all-caps, because all award-winning radio copywriters know that upper-and-lower-case writing is confusing and hard to voice properly. You've never heard of lower-case Morse code, have you!? Plus, it impresses the client. If your script is to be read in a God-like voice, make sure you use red type.

When writing a sentence that's a question, use lots of question marks at the end instead of just one - this is radio, not print - otherwise the voice talent won't know they are supposed to read the line as a question (they'll just think you were unsure about it). Same thing goes for exclamation marks - use lots and lots of them, whole rows of them if you want. That way, your radio ad will be fresh and exciting to the listener. NOTE: Multiple periods at the end of a sentence could be misinterpreted, but do it anyway, for all good radio scripts are chock full of ellipses. And dashes. And those "greater than/less than" thingies. If you want to use sounds to enhance your radio spot, write descriptions of them into your script preceded by "SFX:" - this stands for "Strategically Fresh Xonics," such as honks, goat bleats and farting noises - perfect for funeral home and healthcare commercials.

To effectively use sound effects, make sure they are as attention grabbing as possible. Alarm clocks, fingernails on blackboards, etc always make people want to listen to your spot. For an even more stopping power, think about using sirens (cop, ambulance, fire truck) because most radio listening time is "drive time". There's lots of expensive voice talent companies out there, but everybody "in the know" knows that they're just in it to exploit and profit from clueless ad agencies. Use a local DJ to voice your advert - they're cheap, zany and beloved by dozens of listeners in your targeted geographic zone.

DJs are especially good for "dialogue" scripts where two or more people pretend to casually talk to each other.
For such dialogue-based scripts, be sure to get DJs that have mastered the skill of "puking" (not literal, but you'll know it when you hear it) for really connecting with your target audience, whoever they may be. Above the script where you write a quick synopsis of the spot, be sure to mention that your concept is "vertical" - account executives and clients both love this term even though most of them aren't quite sure what it means, and it will help your script sail through the approval process.
NOTE: The synopsis should always be at least three times as long as the actual script, to help convince others that the script sells itself. Write the script via a pen and paper, a word processor/typewriter or computer.
Carving it into marble not only takes an excessive amount of time, but it's a real bitch when you make a mistake.


Chapter Two - Originality in radio:


Originality is Bad. The client doesn't want it. The client wants choices. Choose from a list of radio concepts he's heard before.


Here is that list: The "I'm here with the world's (something)-est man" spot. The "game show" spot. The "soap opera" spot. The "psychiatrist" spot. The "pulled over by a cop" spot. The "metaphorical horse race call" spot. The "talking inanimate object" spot. The "talking animal" spot. The "detective/noir" spot. The "talking while typing a letter to the brand" spot. The "director interrupts the announcer" spot. The "parody of the 'we've secretly replaced their usual brand' spot" spot. The "run-on copy seemingly delivered all in one breath" spot.* The "marketing committee brainstorm" spot. The "several-voices-morphing-into-each-other" spot.* The "world's biggest expert" spot. The "I'm about to throw myself off a rooftop/ledge/cliff because (problem the brand solves goes here)" spot.

Extra credit for unoriginality if the rooftop/ledge/cliff turns out to be six inches off the ground. The "unintelligible and/or foreign-language announcer followed by interpreter" spot. The "rap" spot.* The "rant" spot.* The "white guy rap" spot.* The "jingle."* The "licensed pop tune" spot.* The "licensed pop tune with copy points disguised as lyrics" spot.* The "classical music with singers blaring your slogan" spot.* The "deadpan" spot.* "The History of (something)" spot. The "guy's an idiot while his wife/girlfriend is the sensible user of the brand" spot. * These deserve special recognition, as they are techniques for disguising the absense of any actual concept.

A cautionary note: combining two or more of the above may inadvertently result in Originality. For a variation of the "I'm here with the world's (something)-est man" spot, there's the "newscast" spot. ANCHOR: Now let's go live to Erica with breaking news from the field. ERICA: Sam, I'm with the world's somethingest man.... Proceed as per formula.


Chapter 3: If you made it this far, here's some actual good advice:

Never let your characters serve as shills. Never force your dialogue to include product names. Think long and hard before writing authentic dialogue to sell stuff. It's much harder than it looks and sounds.

Be aware of the client's budget. Don't write a part for Patrick Stewart if your client is Joe's Pizza and Massage. Also keep this in mind in regards to the number of people in the spot and how many sound effects you can use. Sometimes the most creative work comes from having parameters set...even if they seem annoying.

Listen to a crapload of radio. Find out what works and what doesn't. Then do something different. Don't sound like or copy your client's competition.


You don't HAVE to have a music bed. You don't HAVE to have an announcer.

Listen to the stations where the spot will play. Get a feel for the formats. Then write something that DOESN'T sound like the formats.

If following the preceding suggestion means starting a spot with :05 of SFX, do it. Be aware that your great idea may not make it past the client--whether it should or not.

(Yes, in fact, I DID just have a client bounce a great idea for an eminently worse one. How could you tell?)


Missed a tutorial? No biggie. Check them out here:

The Official Adland Advertising Tutorial Series - Part One: Radio

The Official Adland Advertising Tutorial Series - Part Two: Viral Advertising

The Official Adland Advertising Tutorial Series - Part Three: Art Direction

The Official Adland Advertising Tutorial Series - Part Four: Holiday Ads

The Official Adland Advertising Tutorial: Part Five - Account Executives

The Official Adland Advertising Tutorial: Part Six - Creating TV commercials


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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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TheDee's picture

cool thing

AnonymousCoward's picture

Nice read, although I think you might be giving voice talent a little too much credit. There must be a special school somewhere that only teaches them how to do car dealership and stereo store spots. Sadly, the Doug Jeffers and Tom Bodets are few and far between.

malkie66's picture

I thought it a load of useless unfunny crap myself. Why didn't you just write it as a 30 or 60 second spot? I'll show you how if you like. Bit busy at the moment but radio's my baby, baby.

malkie66's picture

30 Sec Radio Spot for Adland Tutorial.
Scottish Male Billy Connolley Soundalike (Accent not too strong)
No Music bed

"So you want to be a radio copywriter Jock? Whatever for?.... Oh it's your passion?. Alright then. Some tips -

* Talk 1 to 1 - like you do with your best mate

* Keep it simple - forget cheesey music beds and shite sound effects

* love sound effects?...alright then - use these - a phone ring(SFX: old-fashioned phone ring) or a whisper (talks in whisper) - they cut through

* Repeat product three times

* End with a call-to-action

Now Piss Off and write a spot. Call me when you're through."

Sputnik_Barconi's picture

Agreed. What is all this fuss about the "creative content" and "production values" of radio advertisements? All that matters is that you say the client's name three to five times, make something rhyme to connect with the listeners and then run the salty hamster out of the spot for super extra connectedness. Every commercial break during drive, and sometimes twice in the same break if the budget allows. My agency has coined this method "Exteme Stickiocity Veracity Ferocity," our clients love it and it's the wave of the future in radio advertising. Our scripters and production workers griped at first when we slashed their project budgets and the time allowed to work on each spot, but they soon realized that this allowed us to channel that money into an extra one-to-two percent of media placement that really made a different in results, and results can only be quantitatively measured by reach and frequency, not by how "good" or "interesting" the spot is. Advertising should "assault and invade," not "amuse" or "intrigue." Get used to it, because I'm right and my rocketing media placement commission checks prove it.

Dabitch's picture

stop it, yer killin' me.

brenthahn's picture

2 more for the list: The "guru" spot and the "fortune teller" spot.

AnonymousCoward's picture

Hopefully you're just being ironic??

everysandwich's picture

How about metaphor made real ? -- maybe that's a subcategory of inanimate objects.

Dabitch's picture

Ah - the metaphor made real is classic too!

fairuse's picture

I came, I read, I read again. There is something young radio researchers post ClearSocket consolidation may need; examples. At this stage of ClearSocket's homogeneousness the diverse methods in Chapter 2 may puzzle the person who has spent much of their life watching video. Context via examples could bridge the gap, here are a few.

The "jingle."* with Mr. Authority Voice sounds like:

The "deadpan" spot.* featuring Mr. Smooth Voice:

I can toss in more examples at a later date. The pages linked in the notes have plenty of examples.

1. We know that you know that we know who this is.
2. WFMU's Beware of the Blog, June 23, 2013
3. WFMU's Beware of the Blog, October 28, 2012