The typical 60-second radio commercial has 150 words. As we discussed in our previous article, Great Radio Commercials Tell A Story, each of us is exposed to more than 11,000,000 pieces of information every second. So, during a 60-second radio commercial, the 150 words have to arm wrestle with 660,000,000 other bits of information for the listener's attention. How can the humble radio writer overcome such awesome odds? According to Communication Expert Lisa B. Marshall, figures of speech are the "salt & pepper" we use to spice up writing.
During the January 17th Grammar Girl podcast, Marshall said, "Sometimes even with salt and pepper, our food still tastes bland; we need a wider array of spices. Different combinations make the food taste different—at times radically different." Some radio commercials do use figures of speech, but these tend to be metaphors, similes, and idioms. But, these are the "salt & pepper" Marshall refers to. These types of figure of speech probably are not powerful enough to win the war of the listeners attention since they are common and do not violate expectancy. As we discussed in the article Adele Has A Lot To Teach Radio Commercial Writers, violating expectancy is one way 150 words of radio commercial can hold 660,000,000 other pieces of information at bay.
The Paprika, Cardamom, and Saffron of Language
Marshall has identified 5 figures of speech that go beyond the salt & pepper of metaphors, similes, and idiom. We are going to discuss three of them:
Marshall calls these figures of speech the "paprika, cardamom, and saffron of language." She says, "These figures of speech convey meanings in a more vivid and impressive manner both in writing and speaking. Use them in different combinations to add depth and emotion to your writing."
For the benefit of those of us who napped during Mrs. Bishop's seventh grade English class, here is how each of these figures of speech work.
According the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, Anaphora is repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect. Probably the most famous example of Anaphora begins in the sixth paragraph of Martin Luther King's speech. King repeats the phrase "I Have A Dream" at the beginning of 6 successive phrases. In advertising, "Choose Sony. Choose Wisely" is another example. According to Marshall (utilizing anaphora), "What’s important to remember is that anaphora is repetitive. What’s important to remember is that the repetition is what makes it effective and memorable."
Antithesis, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is the rhetorical contrast of ideas by means of parallel arrangements of words, clauses, or sentences. Charles Dickens uses this figure speech in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Neil Armstrong used antithesis when he first stepped on the moon: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." According to Marshall, "Advertisers often use figures of speech because they can efficiently express ideas and they’re memorable." My favorite advertising example (for those old enough to remember): "Everybody doesn't like something, but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee."
Chiasmus is an inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. President Kennedy used chiasmus in his inaugural address when he said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." Johnson & Johnson use chiasmus in their advertising when they say, "I am stuck on Band-aids and Band-aid's stuck on me." Marshall use chiasmus when she explains why this type of figure of speech works in advertising, "we repeat what we remember and remember what we repeat."
To carry the figure of speech as spice metaphor one step further, you must be careful not to overdue. Just like you wouldn't want to overwhelm the flavor of fine lamb with too much rosemary, you wouldn't want to overwhelm the message of a radio commercial with too many figures of speech. But when you do use figures of speech, be sure to consider anaphora, antithesis, and chiasmus because, according to Marshall, "Once you’ve tried cardamom, cumin, and saffron, you’ll never be satisfied with just salt and pepper."