Maraca Media-John O'Mara

Freelance copywriter and blogger, shakin' and rockin' it

Tag: radio (page 1 of 4)

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:







Being paid what you’re worth

In December of 1985 I drove 100 miles or more to start my first job, after graduating from the journalism program at Centennial College in Toronto.

In Durham.

Not “region” as I had thought based on the job posting in The Globe & Mail. Not commutable Oshawa or Whitby.

Nope, Durham, Ontario. North of Guelph, south of Owen Sound and for this aspiring writer hailing from what has often been called “Scarberia,” the Toronto suburb-city in it’s own right-and now part of the GTA, Scarborough.

My boss was a wheeler-dealer named George Benninger. The monthly publication was called “Insight on Collectables,” a trade publication that gave industry folks, gift shops and fans of collector plates, Royal Doulton figurines and art prints the latest news about the pieces and artists they loved.

One of the many Norman Rockwell collector plates I wrote about

The starting salary was $225 a week.

But…if I recall, it went up $25 a week for the next three “you’re still here” periods so after a year I was making a whopping $300 week.

And the rent on my bachelor apartment in Owen Sound was $225 a month. In a 3-storey building with next to no sound dampening. Which can be annoying. Or entertaining. One night, the young lady upstairs woke me up with her orgasm and she and her man got busy at all hours of the day.

No complaints here. A woman experiencing pleasure is a wonderful experience. Life is short (and I’m guessing her man wasn’t).

So, money, bills and all that stuff.

Making more a week than I paid a month in rent? I had lots of beer money. Subscribed to the movie network package on cable TV, a conversation overheard by a cheap co-worker who still had a black and white TV (it was 1985).

One of the coolest parts of my job at Insight was interviewing the artists at trade shows. I met James Lumbers at The Buckhorn Wildlife Art Festival, north of Peterborough, Ontario.

Lumbers would take photos of an abandoned gas station and add the ghosts of patrons and service attendants to what one gallery owner called “spook stuff.”

I interview James Lumbers, the man who painted this. He combined modern day scenes with ghosts of people and cats.

Sadly, the “make more in a week than you pay for rent in a month” equation has flipped. Expenses have gone way up, salary hasn’t. Though I bet my bank CEO is making ten times the money he made three decades ago. The rich get much richer. The middle class stay in the middle and are made to feel grateful for still being employed.

Or they get downsized or restructured.

I’m now a freelance writer. No salary or guaranteed income but if there’s one lesson I have learned over these many years it’s that you have to be in control of your future.

A few years back, someone recommended this book to me.

So true. You can’t keep running back to where the cheese was. It’s been moved.

I’ve got a long way to go in paying off my condo mortgage. But I’m in control of my earnings.

And the sound dampening isn’t great here either but my neighbors upstairs are in their 70s, living in Australia from September to June and the most I ever hear during the four months they roam above, thankfully, is snoring.



Alan Freed and the birth of rock and roll

My latest iTunes podcast (free to download and subscribe, and the episodes are relatively short). Legendary DJ Alan Freed introduces white kids to African American R&B.

Reference material:

 Big Beat Heat by John A. Jackson.


Elvis: The Louisiana Hayride takes a chance on a 19-year-old

My new iTunes podcast episode (free to listen and subscribe). The radio host tells the young rocker that the “folk music” scene has been looking for something new and he could be it. Country radio and fans weren’t so sure. With interview clips from the future King of Rock and Roll.

Elvis: Can’t sing, dance or play the guitar

My new podcast: In 1956, Elvis responds to an old fart of a newspaper critic who doesn’t get why Presley appeals to the younger folks, in an interview with TV Guide.

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