Maraca Media-John O'Mara

Freelance copywriter and blogger, shakin' and rockin' it

Tag: radio advertising

“I really want my radio ad to stand out!”

Your message can stand out, even if it’s one of three, four or more in a cluster.

Let’s start with the wrong way to get attention.

I shall whisk you back to the early ’90s when young John was asked to write spots for a furniture warehouse. One with “the best prices…amazing deals,” and every week a new sale, blowout or clearance event.

This was before email. You phoned the client to get copy. This particular fellow (who later became a woman) proposed starting his ads with a police siren because, “THAT will get the listener’s attention.”

It did. In the wrong way.


The radio station received calls from angry listeners. The siren caused some to pull over and others to check their review mirrors for an ambulance or firetruck.

Initially,  I scoffed at the idea. Seriously, they thought it was a real emergency?


Imagine you’re behind the wheel, trying to focus on your fellow drivers, pedestrians and traffic lights. That friendly radio announcer promises to return after a short break and then…

It’s the police! Law enforcement, not the band that gave us Roxanne.

After a few seconds you realize it’s part of the commercial. You’re pissed! How dare they jolt you like that!


Here’s the worst part of that scenario, if you’re the advertiser. You’ve angered that potential customer to the point where they resent you for tricking them.

You mad them take notice, oh yes, but in a very annoying way and proceeded to hit them with mattress specials and deals on appliances.

So, am I saying you shouldn’t begin a spot with sound effects?


If they set the scene, go ahead. Bubbles for a hot tub. A sizzling steak for a restaurant. Children laughing for an indoor playground. They need to relate to the business and engage the audience.

Sound effects should enhance the message, not be the main feature.

Over the years, I’ve been handed or sent many requests from reps looking for “something that stands out. We really want to impress him/her.”

Translation? The client is new to radio and isn’t sure the ads will work so let’s blow them away with sound effects, maybe echoes or reverb, and a commercial that’s heavy on razzle dazzle.

By the way, I write to boost sales for all sizes of businesses. The store owner who can only afford $100 a month deserves great copy as well.


You know what really makes a spot stick out? An honest, solid beginning.

Saying something that matters to the listener.

“You can lose 20 pounds by Easter.”

“You can cut your energy costs by 20 percent.”

Openings like that get attention. The audience is intrigued and says, “tell me more.”

They listen to the next 25 seconds.

Instead of mentally tuning out until the next song or weather report. Or swearing at the radio, changing the station and vowing never to support the advertiser that got their attention by duping them.

Get John to write for you or add him to your staff on a freelance basis. Email:



Don’t kill your radio campaign with “what the client wants”

I started my radio copywriting career in 1989 and once overheard two reps talking about “What the client wants.”

“I don’t care if all he does for 30 seconds is say his name over and over,” the sales rep said, “as long as he pays his bill.”

As a business person you may be thinking, “I knew it! They just wanted my money and didn’t care about getting more customers through my door. Son of a…”


Granted, the mainstream advertising world was different back then. No internet competition, no Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, streaming services or satellite radio. You had two main options: radio and newspaper.

Your competitor was on the local station so you felt the need to combat him or her and, even if you weren’t convinced radio worked (it does if you do it right), you gave it a shot.

Get Maraca Media writing for you, email:

If your campaign failed, there’s a good chance the rep and creative team did want you requested and, unless you had writing experience, that resulted in spots that were ignored by the listeners.

Suppose you dined at high-end steakhouse and asked the server to have the chef pour chocolate sauce on your strip loin, just before serving it. I know, crazy.

But it’s “what the customer wants!”


And that, sadly, is why so many radio ads are all about the client and don’t get the job done. The rep asked for your input and you struggled to come up with copy points.

“Um…we’ve been in business 20 years…friendly, personalized service…we’re open 7 days a week…”

“Great,” said the rep. “I’ll give this to our writer.”

“Oh, can I add our website, follow us on Facebook…and our phone number.”

Yikes, the friggin’ phone number. Unless the last four digits are 50-50, or super easy to remember like…

feel free to sing it, longtime Toronto radio fans…967-11-11, phone Pizza Pizza, hey hey hey…



It’s 7 seconds out of 30 that should be used instead for persuasion, with a well-crafted script that intrigues, entices and explains the benefits of your products and services.

“What if I repeat the number? They do it on Howard Stern’s show.”

Then you’ve wasted 14 seconds. And you’re not selling boner pills or paying for 60 second ads that play after High-pitch Erik, Tan Mom or Sour Shoes.

Nobody is sitting by the radio with a pen & paper in hand, just in case there’s a deal so amazing they just have to call right now. Chances are they’re checking Facebook or feeding the cat.

Or driving. We want their eyes on the road!

Most people have the ultimate phone book at their fingertips. It’s called Google. Anyone without access to Google is likely in a nursing home, or still uses the actual phone book.

Suppose you sell flooring. Why would anyone need to call you if they’ve never set foot in your store?

“Hello, Jiffy Flooring.”

“Hi, do you sell carpet?”


“Brown carpet?”

“Yes we do.”

“Great, I’ll be right over!”


So, the lesson is, don’t let the radio station put you on the spot by asking for ideas. You’re not the writer. Explain the benefits of what you sell, why it’s the best choice (other than cliches about the lowest prices and biggest selection) and what customers like about you.

A decent rep will draw that out of you.

A good writer will suggest ways to reshape what you’ve provided and ask followup questions. He or she will translate tech talk into relatable info and trim the fat.

“It’s winter and…this Christmas (really, not next Christmas?)…spring is just around the corner and…”


Sure, you can have the announcer say your name over and over to fill 30 seconds because it…

Gets your name out there!

It’s not enough to just get your name out there.

As Dan O’Day said in a seminar I attended several years ago, when this not-so-well regarded man was still alive, Osama Bin Laden’s name is “out there.”

Maraca Media can create scripts for your business or station. Get started by emailing John:













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