Maine Small Business Needs To Do The Unexpected To Stand Out
In a recent episode of the TV series Fargo on FX, the bad guy, played by Billy Bob Thornton asks the good guy, played by Colin Hanks, "Why can the human eye see more shades of green than any other color?" Not only did the answer save the lives of the show's heroes, it also provides great insight for Maine small business owners on how to create engaging and compelling radio commercials.
It is true, the color green occupies the largest part of the color spectrum visible to the human eye. And as the Colin Hanks character explains: the reason is, "Because of predators. Used to be, monkeys we were, right? And in the woods, in the jungle, everything’s green. So in order to not get eaten by panthers and bears and the like, we had to be able to see them, you know, in the grass, and trees and such." Hearing radio commercials, works the same way.
Getting Past The Brain's Traffic Cop
We are all exposed to 11,000,000 pieces of data every second. There is an area of our brain, however, called Broca's area, which, among other functions, decides which pieces of this information we should deal with. Since we can only deal with about 40 bits of information at a time, for our own survival we tend to deal primarily with unexpected information...data that does not fit into the expectations of our environment. Data like, "hey, there's a car stopped in the center lane of the highway. Or there's a stalking panther causing a slightly perceptible stir in the 50 shades of green of the jungle.
Most radio commercials do not contain the audio equivalent of 50 shades of green. They are black-on-black, using limp language, trite expressions, and clichés. These commercials are exactly what we expect a radio commercial to sound like, so, as a consequence, they do not pierce the Broca's area of our brain. Therefore, the commercial's data falls by the wayside...unremembered and un-actionable.
Violating Expectancy Is Critical For Success
For a radio commercial to be successful, the content needs to violate expectancy. The language and the sound needs to disrupt comfortable patterns. One of my favorite examples is a commercial a few years ago for Day's Jewelers, a New England based retailer. The chain places its store near shopping malls but not in them. The tag line of the commercial, written by Roy Williams The Wizard of Ads, was "Day's Jewelers. inconveniently located at 415 Philbrook Avenue in South Portland, Maine. Day's a little hard to find, but definitely worth the trouble. [To see the whole script, click here.] The listener expected to hear the cliché, "conveniently located" but instead, the phrase "inconveniently located" violated expectancy. The result, the commercial penetrated Broca's area. As a matter of fact, every time the commercial would play, we would get calls at the radio station saying there was a mistake in the Day's commercial.
Another example of unexpected language occurred in a commercial for Previews Grill and Bar in Saco, Maine. The commercial claimed that the restaurant was the home of the "funner summer." Most 12 years old can tell you that the comparative form of the word fun is more-fun and there is no such word as "funner." This egregious grammar violates expectancy and becomes one of the 40 pieces of information our brain will deal with leaving behind 10,999,960 less interesting pieces of data.
A Cornucopia of Lamb Shanks
A violation of expectancy also occurs in a commercial from Australia for H&R Block. In a typical tax preparation commercial we would probably expect to hear phrases like "our trained professionals," "fast return", or "fast and friendly service." But instead, the listener's expectation is violated with phrases such as "the cornucopia of lamb shanks can be splattered into a warm bath of mustached rigor mortis" and "check the instrumental mother's sprinkled seven times under a carrot handshake." This riot of nonsensical language is enough to breach our brain's filters and get noticed. You can hear the entire commercial below:
It is not easy to do the unexpected. As humans, we tend to do what is safe. As marketers, however, imitation may be a sincere form of flattery, but it will not compel and engage consumers. Caroline Kennedy once said, "I think my mother... made it clear that you have to live life by your own terms and you have to not worry about what other people think and you have to have the courage to ."
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