Forums » The Round Table: Brainstorming & Problem-solving

Using character names in radio commericals

    • 1 posts
    July 31, 2014 10:26 AM PDT

    What is the general rule of thumb - thought on using a name for a character in a radio dialogue? Does it tune others out or bring them in?

  • August 1, 2014 1:27 AM PDT

    I think it's neutral.

    If someone would naturally address someone by their name, I would put a name.

    Sometimes I will, sometimes I wont... it depends where I start my writing, where I need to get to, and what message I have to communicate.

    I don't think there should BE a rule of thumb on this if there is one!!

  • August 1, 2014 7:37 AM PDT

    Never.  There is absolutely ZERO reason to waste time (even if it's a half second) with a fake name on what listeners KNOW is a radio announcer reading a script.  The only time it may be acceptable is if it's a true "character" that will be a long running feature of the ads.  Like Chuck E. Cheese.  Everyone knows there is no real giant talking mouse ... but it would be acceptable.  "Captain Save-a-lot"  ... sure.  "Chuck", "Bill", "Mary", "Jane" just for the sake of naming the people who most listeners will likely recognize as your local announcers ... never a good idea.

    Think about how often you use someone's name when talking directly to them, one on one.  My wife isn't sure she's ever heard me say her name TO her.  Now, if say, two wives are talking, and one is referencing her husband, sure, throw in that thing "Bill" did the other night.  It's something that would naturally happen anyway, as opposed to the generic "my husband."  Assuming the two people talking actually know each other, one would know that "Bill" was her hubby, right?  Different story if it's someone talking to a sales person in a store.  For starters, there would be no names generally used, and "Bill" would be meaningless - "my husband" would be appropriate.

    A good "rule of thumb" is if it would NATURALLY be used in a genuine conversation - use the name.  If you're shoehorning it in somewhere it wouldn't normally occur, scrap it.

    The biggest tune out of radio dialogue scripts is normally the unbelievably UNrealistic lines that appear in them to fit in all the adspeak clients expect.  Good dialogue is brutally hard to write, and do more harm than good if it isn't being done for a good reason.

    • 167 posts
    August 1, 2014 8:12 AM PDT

    I assume by character you are refering to a non-existent customer, salesperson or manager/owner for the purpose of defining some aspect of the business (service, price, quality, e.g.). This would also include caricaturizing a real owner or repeat customer.

    I am a copywriter by trade (now in radio!) and have written for all media.  The development of a character such a Flo (Progressive), the Geico pesonalities, the Jimmy John's delivery guy or Lily (Verizon) requires interaction with real or imagined people within specific contexts. In radio this is theater of the mind -  you have to create the environment and/or circumstance which makes the character either believeable or credible, creates a mental picture for the listener:  the goofy salesmanager at a dealership v. the sensible, reliable salespeople with whom customers actually deal... the two brothers that own a restaurant - one kooky, the other sensible.  Someone is the scenario has to be pro-customer, there has to be a contrast.  The character can be the funny guy who always reminds everyone else at the business that the customer comes first -  or be the one reminded.  Once you create the persona in your head, you place that persona in various situations that highlight specifics of the business -  the open-late hours, the deliver-within-24-hours policy, etc.  The possibilities are actually infinite. Just keep true to the character.

    In that sense, a character works much like a jingle -  highly recognizable (use a caricature in print, direct mail and outdoor), highly memorable and easily creates a fun personality for the business itself. After all, we are all told advertising should be selling the experience a customer has with a business or product -  few things do this as effectively as a character and the only business for which humor is truely not helpful is the funeral business!

    I have created a fictional (black sheep) uncle, a (visionary) owner and an (overenthusiastic) nephew for separate car dealers, a (crazy) cook for a restaurant, a totally valley-girl haircutter, an (artsy) snob for a frame shop, etc.  It works well for furniture and appliance stores, too.  

    • 12 posts
    August 19, 2014 10:07 AM PDT

    This doesn't really address your question, so I apologize for that right off the bat. 

    Truthfully, to borrow from Chris' reply, not only is good dialog copy "brutally hard to write", it is even more brutally difficult to perform!  The vast majority of radio personalities and commercial producers have zero acting training and even less acting ability.  Unless you undergo a casting process that yields two very talented actors to perform your spot - no matter how well-written it may be - it will likely fall flat.   

    Even if they are seasoned actors, it could still fail.  Consider the Academy Awards Shows...the best actors Hollywood has to offer - the producers pair up a couple of them to present an award and perform a little skit.  They feed them some lines in the teleprompter and without fail...they always come off sounding (and looking) awkward and somewhat idiotic.  

    I strongly discourage 2-person dialog spots.  Single-voice dialog (not to be confused with single-voice 'copy') is an entirely different animal and in my opinion far more effective.  Air Personalities are much better at this type of performance because they are trained to speak to The Listener one-on-one.  

    Another problem I have with the 2-person dialog is that as a listener, I am an outsider listening in on somebody else's conversation.  Nobody is talking to ME so why should I care?  Instead, write dialog that involves one person talking to The Listener like a friend.

    My apologies for the derailment..but when a client insists on a "slice-of-life" dialog-type spot, I prepare for a cancellation. 

  • August 19, 2014 10:41 AM PDT

    Mmmm. I discourage clients from telling me what an Ad should sound like and get a brief. But dialogue is an option... And you involve the listener by making it what they can relate to... And not giving them things to say that normal people wouldn't say.... Or going to the other extreme.....

    Dialogue ads usually fail because they're not written well, the clientntries to put product features in the dialogue... Bad casting and bad production. Fortunately I've worked with people who know what they're doing. If you can get hold of the audio listen to Dick Orkin on dialogue with experience. I just think because you can't do it it should not be a rule for other people. 

    • 12 posts
    August 19, 2014 12:53 PM PDT

    Actually, the concept of the Single-Voice dialog was taught to me by Dick Orkin at a Voice Over/Production Summit he did with Dan O'Day in the 90s.    

    If I had good, experienced voice actors to work with, I could certainly do it, but like most radio producers, under normal circumstances, I do not have access to these people.  

    I've heard too many cheesy spots that sound like they grabbed the receptionist and a board operator and said, "You be 'Girl' and you be 'Guy' and we can knock this out before lunch".  Great copy can't polish a turd.