Maraca Media-John O'Mara

Freelance copywriter and blogger, shakin' and rockin' it

Tag: radio cliches

“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:













Wasted words in a radio ad: “Mention this ad and save…”


In a 30-second radio commercial, you only have 75 to 85 words to persuade listeners that your store is worth visiting, or merely to plant an idea in their heads for future reference.

Never, ever include what Dan O’Day calls a radio coupon.

“Mention this ad and save 10% off your purchase,” or “Say you heard this message on (radio station) and receive a free gift.”

Ooh. A free gift! Cancel that appointment, you’ve got a store to check out!

During my nearly three decades as a copywriter, I’ve had this horrible script idea sent my way many, many times. I cringed, pleaded and fought against it! No, don’t make me include that line!


Experienced writers and sales reps know why clients do this.

It’s a test.

That car dealer, hardware store owner or salon manager isn’t convinced radio ads work and hey, here’s a great way to see if anyone actually hears mine!

Roy Williams, the Wizard of Ads, suggests using a loss leader approach and wrote, “Don’t confuse the loss-leader strategy with couponing. Generally, coupons appeal only to the lowest quality of customer. If you’re going to offer a bargain, do it openly. Your best customers–the relational ones–will be offended by the idea that some customers pay a higher price than others.”

Randy “R.J.” Eldred is one of the top selling reps at Bayshore Broadcasting…has been for over 30 years…and R.J. has the ideal response to this all-too-frequent client request.

“Be one of the first 10 customers through the door and get $100 cash!”

The client is stunned. “I can’t do that!”

“Well,” R.J. says, “That’s the only way they’ll mention your ad.”


Customers are afraid they’ll encounter a teenager at the checkout who says, “What ad?”

It makes them feel cheap. It makes your business sound cheap, and desperate.

Consumers are bombarded with sales messages on radio, in print and online. Radio listeners don’t always tune in to the same station every day.

Your ad is an intrusion. They’re waiting for the weather, or the next song. Some fans are extremely loyal but many bounce along the dial from station to station (especially during those long commercial clusters).

Go back 30 years ago, just prior to my first radio job. I heard an ad that mentioned a tuneup special at the local Goodyear service centre.

I called them. Asked if their tuneup deal was still being offered. Sure, they said.


I found out later that the radio commercial had been for the Firestone dealer.

It all worked out, and I ended up writing ads for both businesses.


Well, the $100 cash idea would be pretty much guaranteed to get the desired response but you’d go broke.

Does your dog or cat hang out at the store? “Say hi to Rex the bulldog!” If a new customer asks about Rex, bingo!

“Ask Bob about the salmon he caught.”

“Ask Dagny (just met a very charming Dagny so that unusual name is fresh in my head) about her trip to Mexico.”

At least you’ll be suggesting something they can relate to or feel good about, and being a well-liked business goes a long way in getting repeat visits and turning newbies into loyal customers.


Forget any kind of “mention” or “ask” elements and focus on what does work. An opening line that intrigues the listener and addresses a problem or concern, followed by who you are, how you can solve their dilemma and why you’re their best option.

That takes repetition. Obviously I hadn’t heard the Firestone message often enough so all I remembered was the special.

Listeners recall bits and pieces and, according to the Wizard of Ads, need to hear a spot at least three times in a week for it to fully form in their minds.

Give your campaign time to do that!

Then, after a year, see if your sales figures went up compared to the previous year. Don’t put your writer or rep to a test that’s guaranteed to fail in the short term.

Be patient.

Mention this blog to a friend and you’ll receive…

my gratitude!!!!!!!!



Radio ads: Why they didn’t work for you (and what you can do about it)

Radio advertising works, when you do it right! So what went wrong and why didn’t you get the desired results?

It seems easy. The marketing rep convinces you to try radio because you’ll be reaching thousands of potential customers, and once those people hear YOUR message…get ready for a business boost!

Or not.

Why didn’t it work? You wonder if the station scheduled your ads in lousy time slots. Maybe they didn’t run them at all! Relax. They did. The problem, more often than not, is a poorly-crafted message, so read on for a list of campaign killers.


You put your print ad or flyer on the radio and the script you approved was heavy on information and light on persuasion. Your name, location, hours, website, “Like us on Facebook” and (no, no, no!!!) your phone number.

Which opening line do you find more appealing?

A) “It’s the Spring Fling event at Susie’s Weight Loss Centre.”

And I should care because?????

B) “You can lose 20 pounds by Christmas.” (Followed by introducing Susie, how she can make that happen and why you should give her business a try).

Way better! Address a problem and solve it.


Further to my point above, as the great radio advertising guru Dan O’Day says, the opening line is the commercial for the commercial.

“Hi, it’s Steve Jones from Wasaga Beach Toyota.”


Listeners have much stronger bullshit detectors these days. It’s not the ’70s anymore with a limited choice of radio and TV stations. We all know Steve is going to spend the next 25 seconds bragging about his dealership and the best selection, best prices of the year, the lowest finance rates…


Steve will hit us with the usual cliches and “ad speak.” We expect those and have no interest in the rest of ad.

I’ve long had a theory that car dealers don’t speak to the radio audience, they advertise to each other. The guy down the street has the best (see list above)? We’ve got the best and if we yell like a Monster Truck ad, the customers will choose us!


Listen to this ’90s gem from the suburbs of Philly. Prepare to be amazed.

Told ya!

What a gloriously awful mix of hard sell and hype! Yes, that was real and from what I can gather, Gary Barbera’s #1 Dodgeland frequently tortured folks in beautiful Roxborough with messages like that. Oh, and they were charged with upping the monthly payments without telling those customers who had bad credit, went through a divorce or whatever else that didn’t matter at that crazy car dealership.

Those in Radioland don’t enjoy being yelled at in the raunchy, over-the-top manner of Dodgeland. They tune out because they’re waiting for the next song, or the weather forecast.


I’ve been in radio nearly 30 years and witnessed this routine many times. Rep makes the sale. Books it, schedules the spots. As for the copy?

“What do you want to say in your ad?”


“Here’s the email of our writer, send him some copy points.”

You don’t have time to come up with ideas so you recycle the same crap advertisers have used for decades. Maybe you suggest an opening line.

“How about, The leaves are falling and so are the prices at…”


Before we continue, how about some advertising fun from George Carlin?


It’s not your fault. Think about what sets your business apart. Tell the rep or writer what customers like about your business or services. Share your success stories.

You’re not selling flooring. You’re giving customers a more beautiful living room and allowing them to take greater pride in their home. Or increasing the resale value. Play that up!



  1. Talk directly to the listener. As Dan O’Day says, enter a conversation they’re already having. Heating bill too high? They need a more energy-efficient furnace.
  2. Spark their imagination. Radio is, after all, theatre of the mind. Roy Williams, The Wizard of Ads, has made clients (and himself) rich by painting pictures with his words. Sound effects, music and production tricks are fine but what you say, and how you say it, will make the difference.
  3. Avoid filling your spots with Yellow Pages info or social media links. No one is going to “Like” you on Facebook until they’ve had a good experience with your products and services.

The fact is, the creative departments at many radio stations are staffed with non writers. People who graduated from broadcasting programs to become radio personalities or producers. Sure, copywriting was likely part of their training but it wasn’t why they chose radio as a career.

They took a job in creative as an entry point in the business. Or the company went through the dreaded “restructuring” process and jobs were combined. Copywriting became an extra chore for that aspiring morning show host.

I am a writer. I don’t retype copy info, I analyze it. What would I, as the consumer, find appealing?

It sure isn’t their claim of being “conveniently located.” Again, what the heck does that mean? What if I’m at the other end of town, or in another town?


I’ve been to many seminars, including those of Dan O’Day and Roy Williams, and the result is a combination of my unique style with O’Day’s “make the cash register ring” philosophy and the imaginative, storytelling approach of The Wizard of Ads.

I can help your business, or become a freelance addition to your creative team. Feel free to send me an email:







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