The 2012 Radio Mercury Awards for the best commercials were announced this week. The winning commercials all had one characteristic in common....they all tell a story. Most radio commercials contain 150 words of fact. Great radio commercials are 60-second epics using story to cement relevant facts into the receptive mind of the listener.
The Human Mind Craves Story
In her book Wired For Story, Lisa Cron points out that every second "your senses are showering you with over 11,000,000 pieces of information. Your conscious mind is capable of registering about forty of them. And when it comes to paying attention? On a good day you can process seven bits of data at a time." Cron goes on to explain the research of neuroscientists who have found that our brains have developed a way to consciously navigate the overwhelming amount of information we are bombarded with every second. She distills the findings into one word: STORY.
Take a listen to the story told by this 2012 Radio Mercury Award winning commercial for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:
This commercial does not spend 60-seconds spewing facts and figures about the horror of Domestic Violence. Rather, the commercial makes its chilling point using the story of a wedding ceremony. But instead of the triumphant strains of Wagner's Bridal Chorus, the commercial starts with a much more ominous version of the traditional wedding music. Then key phrases of the standard vow are replaced with words that are uncomfortable and downright frightening. The result: this is an engaging commercial that blocks the other 660,000,000 pieces of data we are exposed to during the 60-seconds it takes to tell the story.
We Think In Story
According to Lisa Cron, "Story is hardwired in our brain. It's how we make strategic sense of the otherwise overwhelming world around us." She goes on to explain, "When a story meets our brain's criteria, we relax and slip into the protagonist's skin, eager to experience what his or her struggle feels like without having to leave the comfort of our home." HBO proves this point in the story they created for the 2012 Radio Mercury Award winning commercial advertising their series "Eastbound and Down." Take a listen:
Few among us have ever been part of a cock-fight. In fewer than 160 words, HBO's story transports us from the glow of our flat-screens into a world of gambling, violence, federales, and Mexican prison. At the end of sixty-seconds we are convinced that we can share the experience of the protagonist, but from the safety of our Barcolounger.
Every Business Has A Great Story To Tell
It's easy to be seduced into believing that only big national advertisers can tell a great story and that local commercials are only filled with the minutiae such as telephone numbers, operating hours, and pricing. But, this does not have to be so. Listen to this 2012 Mercury Award winning commercial for a pet store in Illinois:
As in the earlier examples, this commercial weaves relevant fact into a compelling story. We remain riveted from the beginning by the foreboding music and the quickly building tension as the fish, the cat, and dogs exchange glances. By the end of the 60-seconds the name of the store, the location, and what they have to offer makes it safely into our brains while 659,999,997 other pieces of data from our world have been effectively locked out.
Five Tips for Telling Your Story
Here are five storytelling tips from one of our earlier posts about effective radio commercials that can help you create effective radio commercials in the fashion of this year's Radio Mercury Award winners. These tips appeared in a New York Times Blog that discussed the work of expert storytellers William Lee and Rick Patrick:
1. Keep it simple. The brain gets overwhelmed when trying to process too much information.
2. Openings and closings are very important. When Master Lee and Mr. Patrick organize their shows, they make sure to begin and end the evenings with their strongest material since this is often what stays with the listener.
3. Be mindful of your story’s spine. If your story has six parts, all six parts must be essential. Beware of tangents: if something goes too far astray, you will probably lose your audience’s attention.
4. Make sure not to alienate your audience. When speaking about delicate subjects or things that have the potential to offend, carefully plan your approach. Mr. Patrick tells a story about a pedophile priest in his hometown, but he has crafted the story in a way that draws listeners in before he reveals the sensitive details. “When I was 15, something happened in my hometown that you don’t mention,” he begins. Later he draws the audience in further by adding, “You all know you had one in your hometown, too.”
5. Tell the truth. According to Mr. Patrick and Master Lee, if you are not telling the truth, listeners will know. “A certain amount of lying is ingrained in the business world,” Mr. Patrick said. “We’ve all heard ‘everything is fine’ right before the company’s demise.” In those instances, it’s a good idea to look for an excess of jargon. Remember, good stories can be told in simple language.
To experience all of the 2012 Radio Mercury Award winning commercials, click here.