If you listened to Portland Radio anytime since 1957, you knew Stan Freberg. Maybe not by name. Maybe not by sight, But definitely by voice. Stan Freberg was the voice and the genius behind hundreds of radio commercials that caught the ear of 4 generations of radio listeners all over America. Freberg died this week at age 88 leaving a lifetime of lessons that can be utilized to improve the radio advertisements for Maine small business.
According to the New York Times, Freberg entered advertising because he considered most commercials moronic. Usually working as a creative consultant to large agencies, he shattered Madison Avenue conventions. He once produced a musical commercial nearly six minutes long to explain why his client, Butternut Coffee, lagged behind its competitors by five years in developing instant brew."
You Wanna Try That On Television?
Reporting on his death, The Washington Post wrote, "Freberg was a huge proponent of radio, which he said “stretched the imagination” better than television." Maine author Stephen King told the New York Times that he recalls from his youth a radio commercial that helped unleash his imagination. In Mr. Freberg’s telling, Lake Michigan is drained and filled with hot chocolate, after which a plane drops a 700-foot mountain of whipped cream and a 10-ton maraschino cherry. Some 25,000 imaginary extras cheer. Click the link below to hear an original version of the commercial King recalls so fondly.
From Prunes To Chow Mein, Freberg Made The Homely Glamorous
According to the Los Angeles Times, Freberg's unexpected and unconventional approach helped to spotlight what could be considered "homely things — frozen pizza, tomato paste, Chinese food, tin foil, dried fruit — which he sold in ironically inflated terms, in a stentorian voice. Click below to hear a 1966 radio commercial that advertised an unglamorous can of Chun King brand Chow Mein in the style of a hot, new sports car:
Story Is Everything
The commercials of Stan Freberg were effective because they never were a regurgitation of the advertiser's features and benefits. 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. 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.
If Maine small business owners who advertise on Portland radio told stories rather than recite a litany of facts such as store-hours, telephone numbers, and the aggregate amount of experience their salespeople have, then their commercials could be more effective. One Portland small business owner who channels the spirit of Stan Freberg is Dan Wilson aka "The Roofa." (Note Roofa is Maine speak for Roofer...you know the guy who replaces the shingles on top of your house). Every one of the Roofa's commercials tell a story, like the one below:
Of course, Freberg had the same humorous view on his life that he had on his radio commercials. "Some legacy," Freberg told Dick Cavett in a 1971 interview, mocking himself. "I've made the world safe for canned Chow Mein." With that said, however, I can say Freberg made Portland radio a better place
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