In 2011, British pop-star Adele co-wrote and performed the song, "Someone Like You." In the United States alone, more than 5,000,000 copies of the song were purchased. It was played on the radio a gazillion times. I even heard it again this morning 22 months after the song's initial release.
The same elements that make "Someone Like You" resonate with listeners can be utilized to craft effective radio commercials. One of those elements is called appoggiatura. Put simply, appoggiatura (an Italian word than means to lean) is a musical embellishment where an off-key note occurs on the beat and then resolves into the correct note. Adele employs appoggiatura when she sings the word "you" in the first line of the chorus: "Never mind, I'll find someone like you." Adele sings the word on the beat but slightly off key. She then leans into the right key as she draws the word out.
John Sloboda, a professor of music psychology at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, told National Public Radio that Adele's appoggiatura triggers an emotional response in the listener because it is unexpected. "Our brains are wired to pick up the music that we expect," explains Sloboda. So when we're listening to music, our brain is constantly trying to guess what comes next. "And generally music is consonant rather than dissonant, so we expect a nice chord. So when that chord is not quite what we expect, it gives you a little bit of an emotional frisson, because it's strange and unexpected." "The music taps into this very primitive system that we have which identifies emotion on the basis of a violation of expectancy," he says. "It's like a little upset which then gets resolved or made better in the chord that follows."
One of our previous posts, Great Radio Commercials Tell A Story, points out that each of us ignore 10,999,960 pieces of data every second. This can include radio commercials if they don't grab our attention. Using off-key or unexpected language in a radio commercial can commandeer our attention and emotions in the same way Adele does with her use of appoggiatura. A great example of unexpected language occurs in a commercial for Day's Jewelers written by Roy Williams (aka, The Wizard of Ads).
Day's Jewelers is a retail chain in New England that places its stores near large shopping malls but not in the malls. Williams highlighted this inconvenient fact in an effective series of radio commercials. Each script ended with:
Day's Jewelers. Inconveniently located at 415 Philbrook Avenue in South Portland. Day's a little hard to find, but definitely worth the trouble. [To see the whole script, click here.]
We know that this commercial and its unusual language is, as Sloboda calls it, a violation of expectancy. Every time the commercial would air, our radio station would be besieged with calls from listeners claiming there was a mistake in the Day's ad. Very few commercial messages have ever provoked this level of response.
Williams invokes neuroscience to explain the response to the Day's commercial. He points to a region of the brain's cerebral cortex called Broca's area. This part of the brain is responsible for language. Moreover, according to Williams, this area is "the theater critic of the imagination, the part of the human mind that anticipates and ignores the predictable." Since "inconveniently located" is not a predictable language construction, Broca's area is confounded allowing the Day's message to pass through into the brain's information processing areas.
The use of unexpected language in the Day's commercial is, therefore, equivalent to the use of an appoggiatura in the Adele song. Both tactics compel the brain to engage improving the likelihood the information will be consumed and not ignored.
The topic of using unexpected language in radio commercials is also discussed in the article, Radio Advertising: 5 Common Rookie Mistakes.