On Creativity – lessons from LA Gear, Jesse Stone, James Bond, and the Bible)

“That’s really creative—I like it!”

For an ad writer, getting that kind of reaction to a new spot or campaign idea brings joy-joy feelings.

But what makes someone creative? Is it innate or learned behavior?

What exactly is creativity?

I Googled it and this is what popped up:




  1. the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.

Original ideas? How original? If we start (as I do—) with the existence of God, who has always known everything about everything and who created all things including us, then really, He alone has truly “original” ideas. Human creativity is derivative. Whatever we may create follows from our having been created in His image.

So-called “artificial intelligence” (AI) is a construct of the human intelligence upon which it is built. The Metaverse is accessible only through a virtual reality headset, a product of human invention. And Marvel’s bizarre Multiverse owes its existence entirely to human imagination—uncoupled from logic, reason, and the restraining order of the physical laws of the universe.

The definition of creativity that informs my own work is this: the combining of existing ideas, resources, or materials in new or surprising ways. So, I believe creativity is aided by curiosity, attention to details, and willingness to try something new—or at least to repurpose something old.

Let me illustrate.

In 2003, I wrote and produced for Keeney Bros. Music Centers in Moscow, Idaho, this commercial, which generated so much buzz for the client that I decided for the first time in my career to enter the spot into a national competition. It ended up winning the 2004 Radio Mercury Award for best station-produced commercial. Joy-joy feelings through the roof!

The script and production details were mine, but the idea for it came from something I’d heard 13 years earlier, a commercial for LA Gear, entitled “Fantasies of a Single Girl.”

I don’t know what inspired the writers of the LA Gear spot back in 1991 but something did. And many years later their spot inspired me.

The late Robert B. Parker created the character of Jesse Stone in his novels and subsequent made-for-TV movies starring Tom Selleck in the title role. His creation worked so well that Parker later gave the world a female version of Jesse Stone, former Boston cop-turned-private detective, Sunny Randall. Jesse and Sunny have similar flaws: they’re both attractive and either divorced or separated, and float through a series of casual relationships for the sex; they both drink to excess; both see therapists, etc. They even appear occasionally in each other’s stories.

Parker’s signature writing style—short chapters, frequent scene changes, clipped dialogue, all easily transferrable to a screen play—is similar in both series. The only difference (so far) is that nine Jesse Stone movies were made but none of Sunny Randall—despite the fact that Parker wrote the original book at the request of actress Helen Hunt, who aspired to play the character.

I ran across another example of repurposing an older idea recently, following news of the death (7/11/22) of Monty Norman, best known for having composed the legendary James Bond theme. As I learned at MontyNorman.com, the Bond theme was derived from an earlier composition he’d written for a stage musical that never got off the ground, A House For Mr. Biswas. The song was called Bad Sign, Good Sign. Listen for a few seconds and you’ll recognize the signature.

Norman wrote, “With a heavy heart, I did what all composers do with their obsolete songs, I put all my melodies from Biswas, including Bad Sign, Good Sign, into my bottom drawer hoping one day to resurrect one or two of them in some other context.”

That context would appear years later when Norman was hired to write the music for Dr. No.

He split the notes, lost the sitar and singer, and reimagined the melody for an electric guitar, accompanied by strings and brass—giving birth to one of the world’s most iconic and enduring movie themes.

There was some dispute over how much of the successful theme was Monty Norman’s idea and how much was John Barry’s, who embellished it in creating the soundtracks for the Sean Connery Bond movies. According to the ABC News write-up:

Producers hired composer John Barry to rearrange the theme, and Barry was widely assumed to have written it — to Norman’s chagrin. Barry, who died in 2011, went on to compose scores for almost a dozen Bond films, including “Goldfinger” and “You Only Live Twice.”

Norman went to court to assert his authorship, suing the Sunday Times newspaper for libel over a 1997 article asserting the theme was composed by Barry. He won in 2001 and was awarded 30,000 pounds in damages.

There are zillions of books out there on the subject: Unlocking Creativity. Unleashing Your Creativity. Understanding Creativity. Et cetera. I’ve ready many books on advertising, copywriting, sales, and marketing, but don’t recall having read anything with Creativity in the title. But I’m convinced that practical creativity is within reach of anyone willing to take the time to observe, think about what he’s observing, and be a little curious as to why things work the way they do.

I wonder…” is a great way to start.

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“Make Us Famous”

Early in his snarky, whip-smart analysis of what advertising can and cannot do for a business or brand, veteran adman Bob Hoffman asks:

Bob Hoffman

 – Why do some actors get million dollar fees for appearing in movies while other equally good actors get nothing?

  – Why do some people get the best tables at fancy restaurants while nicer people can’t even get in?

  – Why do some people become President of the United States while there are millions who are smarter and more decent?

Right, because they’re famous. Fame is a massive advantage in business and in life.

* * *

Simple ideas like “fame” are anathema to the marketing industry.

We advertising and marketing professionals make our living by convincing business people that marketing communication is a deeply specialized practice that requires particular knowledge and acumen. So we do our best to complicate the shit out of it.

(Source:  The Three-Word Brief by Bob Hoffman. Highly recommended.)


What about your advertising? Do you see it as an expense or as an investment? It’s either one or the other.

Effective advertising not only yields positive returns, but the longer you do it, the better it works. I’ve seen it happen again and again in my nearly five decades of working with local advertisers. And here’s a funny thing: the simple principle you need to succeed in business is the very same one that will make your advertising successful: just keep showing up!

Here in my small corner of the world—Pullman, Washington and Moscow, Idaho—thanks to the two land-grant universities that have been shaping our communities for the past 133 years or so, our market is constantly changing.  Hundreds of businesses that were around when I began working for the Pullman radio stations in 1979 have disappeared.  The reasons are many but a few worth noting include:

  • Population turnover. 25% of our student population turns over each year. Thousands of graduating students leave the market and thousands of new students enter it.  That’s thousands of lost customers and thousands of potential new ones.
  • Changing business landscape. One month after I started working for the Pullman radio stations, the Palouse Empire Mall opened, immediately and dramatically changing shopping habits. Pullman merchants waved their white handkerchiefs at the edge of town to bid a literal farewell to the throngs of customers and their dollars sailing eastward.
  • New direct competitors. If you have a unique offering and it succeeds, it won’t be long before somebody enters the market to compete for a share of your market. Count on it. The two or three brands at the top of a category get the lion’s share of the business, leaving all the rest to fight for WLO. This is why books on advertising strategy, positioning, differentiation, etc. continue to sell.
  • Life changes.  Marriages and divorces, births and deaths, illnesses and injuries, employment and career changes, life changes affect consumer behavior, sometimes leading previously loyal customers to start shopping elsewhere.
  • Outside interference.  The last 36 months have been replete with outside interference, as overweening governors, lawmakers, and medical “experts” bullied their way into making decisions about your family, business, church, and school with disastrous consequences. At the time, the legitimacy of their incursions into these institutions may have seemed expedient, if not prudent. In hindsight, more and more of us today are realizing (too late) that the cure was worse than the disease. My wife and I were discussing the big disappointment that COVID-19 vaccines have been. Yet billions of dollars were poured into advertising their efficacy; some states and cities even took to bribing citizens with special lottery prizes, free drinks and meals, etc., in an effort to persuade the masses to get vaccinated.  Looking back, I’m reminded of all the money that once was poured into ads like these, intended to convince the masses of cigarette smokers that medical experts could be trusted to have their best interests at heart. As it turned out, they were just blowing smoke.

Medical “Experts” Blowing Smoke

There are, of course, problems that advertising can’t solve.  If you run your business poorly, advertising won’t make things better. In fact, advertising might even put you out of business faster, because good advertising accelerates the inevitable. So, if your business poised to succeed, a great advertising campaign can help you achieve success sooner.

Here are some other things good advertising can accomplish for you:

Control over your messaging. As many businesses have learned the hard way, social media can be very fickle. You have little to no control over what is said about you in online reviews and social media posts, or in coffee-shop conversations for that matter. But you have complete control over your advertising. And unlike in print media, for example, where your ad may compete with others on the same page for a reader’s attention, radio advertising provides an exclusive showcase for your message.

Mass media means mass reach. Everyone knows that word-of-mouth is powerful, but it’s also slow to provide any momentum. Radio advertising multiplies your word-of-mouth messaging exponentially and instantaneously.

Radio + Website is a powerful combination.  Use radio advertising to drive traffic to your website, where you can further engage customers at their convenience and on their schedule.

Your share of voice can be purchased. Share of market must be earned.  How can you increase both? Here’s some help for you.

Advertising increases your familiarity with consumers.  Customers prefer to buy from people they know and like. Want to be the brand that people think about first and feel the best about when the need arises?  Advertise!

Businesses that advertise regularly attract the best employees.  Job applicants prefer to apply for jobs at companies they know and like. (On a related note, radio advertising can help fill job openings faster, with better-qualified applicants.  Here’s why.)

These are just a few of the many things good advertising can do for your business.

Most business owners are not advertising experts. Working in and on their business leaves them precious little time to work on their marketing and advertising. Therefore, it behooves the business owner to find someone he or she can rely upon to develop an advertising strategy likely to succeed, and to create advertising messages and campaigns that will execute that strategy effectively.  David Ogilvy, one of the advertising giants of the 20th century, wrote in his Confessions of an Advertising Man (in chapter five, How to Build Great Campaigns):

I once asked Sir Hugh Rigby, Sergeant Surgeon to King George V, “What makes a great surgeon?”

Sir Hugh replied, “There isn’t much to choose between surgeons in manual dexterity. What distinguishes the great surgeon is that he knows more than other surgeons.”  It is the same with advertising agents. The good ones know their craft.

(To be continued)

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The Era of the Ear

“…there is virtually no waking moment that isn’t now an OTL (opportunity to listen) to some form or other of third-party content.” – Charles Vallance

Despite the many constraints of lockdowns and pandemic living, there are two parts of us that have never had it so good. I refer, of course, to our ears.

As anyone who has worked in radio will tell you, our ears have historically been an underestimated part of the anatomy. Our eyes have always dominated. We talk about things being eye-catching or eye-grabbing, not ear-grabbing or ear-catching. At creative awards, we value print and TV accolades over radio gongs. OTS is a well-known acronym, OTH less so. Even when we say “share of voice”, we really mean share of TV spend or total media, of which the purely auditory is a small fraction.

But over the last few years, our ears have mounted an (ironically) silent advance. They may not yet have caught up with the all-conquering eyeball. But they’ve closed the gap. And they’ve done so on numerous fronts in numerous ways.

Technology, as ever, has been one of the main accelerants. Mass adoption of the smartphone, combined with the digitisation of radio and prevalence of streamed music services means that, where once our ears were idle, they are now occupied. Indeed, unless engaged actively in conversation, there is virtually no waking moment that isn’t now an OTL (opportunity to listen) to some form or other of third-party content.

The rise of the OTL is further driven by hardware trends. Our homes are better equipped with audio than ever before. Great sound no longer requires expensive kit or posh AV systems (though these must be popular given the trebling of Sonos’ share price over the last year). There are a wealth of smart speakers which provide excellent audio, whose affordability and portability mean they can be omnipresent in the home. We listen anywhere and everywhere, not just in certain rooms. And when we are out and about, our ears are similarly spoilt with an array of headgear options, from earbuds and AirPods to an almost endless range of bluetooth and wireless headphones. And that’s before the widespread adoption of spatial audio, which is already supported by AirPods Pro and the PS5 Pulse 3D headset.

While full audio AR may still be a little way off, all modern cars are designed with sound in mind and are set up to interface seamlessly with our audio preferences. So whether we’re driving or dusting, ironing or running, gaming or gardening, meditating or vegetating, the likelihood is we’ll all be listening.

Perhaps the biggest factor driving the Era of the Ear is techno-social. We are now simply more open to voice and auditory protocols. I still struggle to ask Google to play the radio, but no-one else seems to. Alexa gets bossed around right left and centre (“please” should become a mandatory part of the UX). Social media has latched onto the auditory curve, with sound-led phenomena such as TikTok and Clubhouse. These in turn have prompted beta efforts from Twitter and Facebook, with Twitter Spaces now in test and build phase and a Live Audio feature in development for Facebook’s Messenger Rooms, not to mention Slack’s imminent introduction of audio features to its project management software. The huge popularity of podcasts and the rise of the spoken word scene further exemplify the ear’s ascendancy.

The implications for brands within all this are immense. As I’ve said before (Campaign, Sept 20), the time has come for the return of the slogan or, at least, that piece of brand shorthand which is said or heard rather than seen or shown. Brand soundtracks are equally at a premium, as are recognisable voiceovers.

The implications for the making of ads is also considerable. I already see this in play in creative reviews. Rather than fitting a voice or a track to a filmic narrative – which was often the way things worked – the creative process increasingly and intuitively begins with more attention to the ear. With a voice, a soundtrack or an audio theme upfront. Similarly, there is a growing tendency for directors to lay the track or soundscape first, before rather than after shooting.

Of course, visual narrative remains crucial. But, in the Era of the Ear, we must increasingly beware the tyranny of the eye. We are pre-programmed to think of image and imagery, the appearance of a brand. Moving forward, we should think beyond just how it looks, to how it’s heard; of sonic as well as visual properties.

Twenty-first century brands, unlike Victorian children, should be heard as much as they’re seen. The first task of advertising is to make your brand visible, but it can be what people hear that makes it meaningful.

Charles Vallance is chairman and founding partner of VCCP. This article originally appeared in the April 6, 2021 edition of Campaign UK. (https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/era-ear/1711854)

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This Appliance Dealer Digs April Fool’s Day (and these Radio Commercials Prove It)

Every year at this time, I get to do something extra special—and thoroughly enjoyable, as Don Frei, co-owner of Howard Hughes Appliance, Television, and Sleep Shop in Moscow, Idaho, and I collaborate on creating radio commercials that hit the airwaves for just one day a year.

April 1st.

Their purpose is simply to bring a smile, maybe even a chuckle, to their friends and customers. We created the first five of these spots for April Fools Day, 2010, not knowing what to expect. The response from listeners was flabbergasting! Quite a few people stopped by the store to thank Don personally. A few—and I’m not joking—even came in hoping to see the “pet-drying attachment.” Many more called the store to say how much they’d enjoyed the spots. Even the morning man at a rival station made it a point to express his appreciation.

Each year since, we’ve added one or two new spots to the collection. This year, we drafted Dana, a longtime service technician, to lend his expertise on a fun science project. And Don’s daughter (and partner in the business), Melissa, agreed to do a daughter-dad spot featuring refrigerator jokes. And Don recorded a third new spot on washing golf balls with the laundry. (Yes, it’s a thing.)

Here, for your enjoyment, are Howard Hughes’ special April 1st commercials, starting with the three we recorded for this year’s schedule.

If you especially like one of them, we’d love to hear which one and why. Enjoy!




















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Meet Your Listeners/Customers Where They Are

by Roy H. Williams

This article was originally published in Williams’ Monday Morning Memo (10/4/21) and reprinted in RadioInk (11/8/21). Understanding the distinction between transactional and relational customers is vitally important for business owners and advertising professionals alike, and no one I know has explained this as well as Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads®.

Did you know that mood and mode share the same root word?1

I point this out because you cannot take your customer where you want them to go until you first meet them where they are. And where they are is in one of two different moods, or modes of shopping: transactional mode and relational mode.

Each of us operates in both modes, but we tend to choose our mode according to the category. If the category in question is one which you (1.) have an interest, (2.) have no preferred provider, and (3.) are willing to spend time to save money, you will approach that purchase in transactional mode.

If the category in question is one which you (1.) have no interest, (2.) have a name in mind that you feel good about2, and (3.) are willing to spend money to save time, you will approach that purchase in relational mode.

A customer in relational mode

  1. Thinks long term.
  2. Considers today’s transaction to be one in a series of many.
  3. Does not enjoy comparison shopping or negotiating.
  4. Fears only “making a poor choice.”
  5. Hopes to find an expert they can trust.
  6. Is willing to spend money to save time.
  7. Desires a long-term solution provider.
  8. Is likely to become a repeat customer.

A customer in transactional mode

  1. Thinks short term.
  2. Considers today’s transaction to be the end of the relationship.
  3. Enjoys the process of shopping and negotiating.
  4. Fears only “paying more than they had to pay.”
  5. Considers themself to be the expert.
  6. Is willing to spend time to save money.
  7. Desires a lower price.
  8. Is a good source of word-of-mouth advertising.

Relational customers are High CAP:
High Conversion
High Average Sale
High Profit Margin

Transactional customers are Low CAP:
Low Conversion
Low Average Sale
Low Profit Margin

When you target High CAP customers in Relational Mode, you face these dangers.

  1. You must create a company culture that causes your employees to take pride in delivering the experience that is expected by the customer in relational shopping mode.
  2. If you disappoint the relational customer, they take it as a personal betrayal. You were their trusted provider and you let them down.

When you target Low CAP customers in Transactional Mode, you face these dangers:

  1. Transactional customers have no loyalty to you. Your relationship ends when the transaction is complete.
  2. Transactional customers who are attracted to you for reasons of price alone will abandon you for the same reason.
  3. There is nothing that someone else cannot do a little worse and sell a little cheaper. This is why no business is secure when it targets customers in transactional shopping mode.

The words you use in your ads send signals to your customers. Do your word choices appeal to customers in relational mode, or do they speak to customers in transactional mode?

Give it some thought, because it really is a big deal.

Roy H. Williams

1 Latin modus “measure, extent, quantity; proper measure, rhythm, song; a way, manner, fashion, style,” from a Proto-Indo-European root med  “take appropriate measures.”

2 When you “feel good about a name,” it is because you have repeatedly heard good things about that company though advertising or word-of-mouth.

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Harness the Power of a Five-Second Ad

I sold my first five-second radio commercials back in 1975. For the record, that’s thirty years before Clear Channel would proclaim “Less Is More” and with great fanfare begin offering five-second “adlets” or two-second “blinks.” Twitter founder Jack Dorsey had not yet been born.

It was sales trainer Jim Williams who started me on the path of selling five-second ads, with this simple example: “Don’t make a $500 mistake. See Bob’s Used Cars.”  Jim wasn’t alone. The Radio Advertising Bureau also had been reporting that some stations were having success with what they called “eight-word ads.”

Funny aside: I was a young advertising salesman in 1975-76 when my manager, after putting us through our first Jim Williams “boot camp,” gave the sales team a special promotion to float with prospective advertisers. It was called The Three-day Blitz: 70 five-second ads to be aired over a weekend (Friday-Sunday). We sold so many of these packages that our poor traffic lady had to type an extra legal-size page for each hour’s log. (Since logs were typed manually, this created a lot of extra work for her, which she did not appreciate. Presumably, management did something to mollify her.) I chuckle now when I think about it, but the response was instructive. We ended up adding five-second ads to our rate card, as well as standardizing the Three-day Blitz. 

There are several advantages to shorter ads:

1) They force the writer to craft a clear, concise message. There’s no room for “fat” in a five-second ad.

2) It’s much easier for a listener to comprehend, retain, and recall a short message in its entirety. It’s in-and-done before the listener can even react to it! (Stick around and I’ll share with you a powerful presentation technique for demonstrating this effectively to a prospect.)

3) Greater frequency can be achieved at lower cost. Because five-second ads cost less than 30’s or 60’s, the advertiser’s budget buys him greater frequency—more repetition of his message.

Short ads can be deployed to trip the recall switch, reminding the listener of something he’s heard about in greater detail in a longer commercial. Think of this technique as “clutter busting” – referring not so much to the other ads on your station as to all of the messages that bombard us daily everywhere we turn, from computer monitors and cell phones to the chatter of our co-workers, from in-store POP to ads on public benches, buses, billboards, and buildings, television, newspaper, magazines. While there may be disagreement as to how many advertising messages we see or hear in each day, we can agree that there’s plenty of competition for a listener’s attention. We live in an age when distractions are plentiful.

So, let’s say you’ve sold your client a schedule of 30’s or 60’s to get the word out about his big store-wide sale. His commercials include a number of price-and-item illustrations, maybe a special financing offer, prize drawings, and so forth. Let’s imagine that he’s running 10 commercials a day for ten days, and these ads are scheduled to run between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Assuming even distribution, he’s running one ad every 78 minutes.

By adding just 10 five-second ads per day to his schedule, you’ve doubled his frequency, cutting the time between exposures in half. Add another ten and now your listeners are being reminded about his sale every 26 minutes. The marginal cost of the additional five-second ads has tripled his frequency!

All other factors being equal, this advertiser is going to enjoy better results from his buy on your station, which ought to bring him back for more.

Sometimes longer ads aren’t even necessary. It’s quite possible to build an entire campaign around five-second ads exclusively. I have a client who for many years sponsored the weather update following network news at the top of the hour. His five-second message – usually a positioning statement, but occasionally a call-to-action – ran once an hour, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For all intents and purposes, his advertising message reached the station’s entire audience.

Every listener, every day.

Think about that. How many of your advertisers can claim with reasonable certainty to reach every single listener on your station during the course of a day or a week, let alone all year long? It’s terrific exposure, and much easier for an advertiser to achieve and afford with a five-second ad.

The proliferation of satellite-delivered syndicated programming has all but eliminated the flexibility most stations once enjoyed when it came to scheduling commercials. If your station does all its own programming, consider yourself fortunate, indeed. You still have the freedom, or at least the potential, to schedule ads of any length, in any combination, at any time. The world is your oyster. Go for it. Stations whose programming comes via a bird in the sky have little choice but to fill fixed-length breaks with fixed-length ads at fixed times, with few opportunities for deviation from the 30/60 standard. It might be worth sitting down with your Program Director and asking him to identify any possibilities for running short ads (such as the five-second weather sponsorship mentioned earlier).

If you are able to identify and secure the appropriate inventory, and you’re ready to put it to work for an advertiser, here’s a technique you can use to demonstrate to your advertising prospect the power of a five-second ad: First, write the copy. Create the actual message that you’re going to propose the client run for this campaign. Take the time to make it a good one: clear, catchy, and memorable.

When you’re sitting across from the prospect, tell him, “I’d like you to help me with a little experiment.” Pause. Make sure you have his undivided attention. Then, read the five-second copy aloud, with appropriate feeling.

Read it a second time.

Read it a third time.

Then, ask him to repeat what you just read.

In most cases, he’ll repeat it verbatim without hesitation.

“You’ve just demonstrated the power of a five-second ad. I read it to you only three times and already you have it memorized, the whole thing.”

Rehearse the advantages of the five-second ad with him:
1) forces lean, concise copy;
2) more easily understood, retained, and recalled by the listener (as he just demonstrated)
3) allows more frequency within a given budget

Then, present your proposal. Make the sale. And enjoy the results.

Between 1975 and 1979, I used to drive the 55 miles between Winona and Rochester, Minnesota, two or three times a week. One Sunday I tuned in to Chicago’s WGN (720 AM) and kept it there to hear what was happening in my old hometown. I don’t remember the name of the host (though as I recall he had the most wonderfully soothing rich bass voice), but to this day I do remember two ads that he read live, several times each, during the course of my commute:

Seven-Up, the Uncola. Chicagoland’s Number One Refresher.”

“Chapped Lips Need Blistex. Buy Blistex.”

I never intended to memorize them. It just happened.

Like magic.

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Good writing makes us feel deeply.

If you’ve ever loved a canine companion, these words will reduce you to a puddle. And you will feel richer for having read them. Because good writing touches our emotions.

Good writing also paints pictures. And when good writing meets human speech—in storytelling or radio advertising— the pictures painted in the mind spring to life.

Listen to these four very different radio commercials. What you see in your mind’s eye as you listen to each?

Die, sucker!
Is that even a word?
Beethoven’s life — in 60 seconds
Burgess Meredith captures childhood magic.

When your commercial paints vivid mental pictures or makes the listener feel strongly about something you both care about, you’ll win her attention. Do it consistently and you’ll win her affection. And that’s crucial because consumers prefer patronizing businesses they like.

But if your commercial is filled with unsubstantiated claims, tired clichés, or pronouncements about how wonderful you are—it’s unlikely to move the Why Should I Care? needle in your direction.

Good advertising isn’t about you. It’s about your customer.

Take the time to find out what your customers care about, the problems they’re facing (that you can help solve), in other words: the things that matter to them. Listen to them Then craft your advertising messages with empathy.

This is what good writers do.

If you cannot do this yourself (be honest about it), I urge you to enlist the services of one who can.

A good writer will weave words into gold. It will happen right before your very ears.

Aspiring young copywriters come to me for advice from time to time; that is to say they are looking for jobs, but when they find out my own ego is so strong I can scarcely bear to have other copywriters around at all, so it shouldn’t be a total waste they ask polite questions to fill in the remainder of the time. After warning them that a career in advertising is like skin-diving in a barrel of piranhas, I generally advise them to get a job wherever they can. Then, I tell them to look around until they see an account that nobody else in the place gives a hoot about and grab it and run like hell back to their own cubicle. Since nobody else cares about it they can do it just their way, and, if possible, smuggle it out the back door direct to the client so that nobody else’s hands taint their lovely child. Actually, this is a very good way to start, but, in fact, my recommending it is simply a waste of good breath. Because anyone capable of following such advice would do it naturally anyway, with no more thought than a dog uses to wag his tail.

– Howard Luck Gossage, How to Be Creative
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The Radio Mercury Awards – #ThirtyYearsinYourEars

2021 marks a milestone for the Radio Mercury awards. For 30 years, these awards have recognized exceptional audio advertising created by advertising agencies, production companies, and radio stations across America. The Mercury is to radio commercials what the Oscar® is to movies.

The details and prizes awarded have changed from time to time, reflecting changes in media, culture, technology, and the advertising landscape but the essential vision of the Radio Mercury Awards has remained the same: to reward the creators of outstanding audio advertising messages.

The very first Radio Mercury Awards celebrated the best commercials of 1991, dubbed fittingly “Radio’s Top 40 for 1991.”

Among the brands and advertisers in that first class of finalists were L.A. Gear, U.S. Bank, Crain’s New York Business, Nike, Nynex Information Resources – Yellow Pages (remember those?), Molson Breweries, Washington Apples, Fox Photo 1-Hour Service, USPS Express Mail, The New York Lottery, and Motel 6.

Here are a few of my favorites from that first collection:

“Pirahna” — produced for Crain’s New York Business by Goldsmith/Jeffrey, the spot combines great copy and a compelling voice to deliver its message…incisively. One of three 1991 finalists for this advertiser and agency.

“Different Announcers” — is how U.S. Bank addresses turnover in the banking business by promising to take a longer-term approach to its relationships with small business customers. The ad never says how they plan to do this, nor is U.S. Bank even prominent in this spot. But what impressed me was the parade of famous voices no longer with us, including Mason Adams, Gary Owens, Don Pardo, and Edward Herrmann.

“Fantasies of a Single Girl” — one of three finalists for L.A. Gear produced by Jennifer Joseph, this spot impressed me at the time for its surprise ending. Twelve years later, the memory of this spot would inspire me to write and produce this commercial for a local music store. In 2004, it became that year’s winner of the Radio Station-Produced Radio Mercury Award, an honor that still brings a silly smile.)

“Two A.M.” — A middle-of-the-night phone call from a desperate woman delivers the message that John Moore Plumbing’s 24-hour emergency service is ready to help. The tagline nails it: “Call John, get more.” Cute, entertaining, effective. Created by Radio Works, Inc.

Not Smoking Habit” — Popular cigarette advertising themes of the past are brought back in short vignettes to describe the pleasures of not smoking. Clever and effective message for the Michigan Department of Public Health by Brogan and Partners.

“Bad Connection” and “I Wish I Was Mary Hart” — Two spots for television shows, written and produced by one of my favorite radio mavens, Joy Golden. Her advertising company, Joy Radio, Inc., was known for its smart writing, witty punchlines, distinctive characters, and astonishingly effective mental theater. (Listen to her iconic Laughing Cow cheese ads and reflect on what you’ve seen with your ears.)

“Singing Telephone Number” — Tom Bodett’s aw-shucks delivery and The Richards Group’s amazing writers have kept the lights on at Motel 6 for 30 years and counting. Winner of the $100,000 Grand Prize in the very first Radio Mercury Awards, this spot was the first of several Motel 6 commercials to earn recognition and cash in the years to come. The consistency of the Motel 6 campaign over the past three decades is possibly the finest demonstration of how to grow a national brand with radio.

If you’ve enjoyed listening to these commercials and would like to hear more, click here to explore the Radio Mercury Awards audio library. And remember, on radio anything is possible!

The Radio Mercury Awards, the only major advertising awards program devoted exclusively to audio advertising, was established in 1992 to encourage and reward the development of effective and creative radio commercials. The annual Radio Mercury Awards competition draws entries from advertising agencies, production houses, radio stations, and educational institutions across the country. Approximately 20,000 commercials have competed for close to $3.5 million in prizes. The Radio Creative Fund (RCF), a non-profit corporation funded by the radio industry, governs the Radio Mercury Awards. The Radio Advertising Bureau produces the Radio Mercury Awards.

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Remembering Rush Limbaugh

So much has been written and said about Rush Limbaugh recently in the wake of his death at age 70. Much more will be said in the weeks and months ahead, as his millions of listeners and fans mourn his passing and recall the impact he had on their lives.

Rush’s death was not unexpected, of course—he’d been frank with us about losing the battle he’d been waging against his lung cancer—but that didn’t make his absence any easier to embrace. Such was his relationship with his vast audience, a relationship that cannot be quantified by the numbers alone: 27 million listeners, 600+ stations, and a compensation package worth more than the combined salaries of the big three network television personalities* at the time (Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, and Tom Brokaw, with Barbara Walters thrown in for good measure). Heck, even his branded “No Boundaries” collection of neckties brought in over $5,000,000 in the first year they were offered.

KQQQ-AM here in Pullman, Washington was the first station in the Pacific Northwest—and one of the first 100 stations in the country—to carry  Rush Limbaugh’s nationally syndicated program that began in August 1988. It remained a fixture here for 32 years.

I recall getting a telephone call a year or so earlier from one of my advertising clients, Dr. Arthur B. Sachs, Optometrist—he had offices both in Pullman (next to the Audian Theater) and Clarkston (above Wasem’s Drug). Art had just returned from visiting relatives in California and he called to tell me about a show he’d heard on a Sacramento station. “He’s got a funny name. Rush Limbo or something like that. You guys gotta get his show,” Art said. “He’s really good!”

I didn’t know anything about “Rush Limbo” then, and it wasn’t until he hit the airwaves in Pullman that Art reminded me that this was the guy he’d heard in California. And he was, indeed, really good.

Dr. Arthur B. Sachs became a regular advertiser in Rush’s show, as did Wasem’s Drug in Clarkston. In fact, Cliff Wasem, who typically wrote and voiced his own commercials, asked me to find out what it would cost to have Rush voice a spot for him. Rush wanted $350 per spot at that time. Cliff drafted his message, which we sent along with Cliff’s check to Rush. Within a week or so, during the daily closed-circuit feed to network stations, we received this:

Was that disdain in Rush’s voice, a sigh of exasperation when he said “here comes this…spot.” It felt like it. And he may well have preferred not to be endorsing this particular product, but once he started reading—and notice that he read it live in one take, zero mistakes—he made Cliff Wasem’s anti-oxidant enzyme formula for arthritis sufferers sound like a gift from above. (And at $350 for a single read, he was effectively charging $21,000 per hour!)

For a number of years, Rush was a spokesman for Snapple beverages, along with shock jock Howard Stern. (Prior to being hired as a spokesman, Rush had, in fact, been giving Snapple free plugs on his show on WABC, simply because he enjoyed the product.) At the time, Snapple had limited distribution, centered around the New York region. But because his show was nationally syndicated, Rush helped to create such a demand for Snapple across America that the company, which had no manufacturing facilities of its own, made arrangements with some 30 bottling plants around the country to increase distribution to meet the pent-up demand.

Finch’s Grocery in Pullman was an advertiser on our station; the owners, who happened to be Rush Limbaugh fans, were amenable to my suggestion that they acquire all the Snapple they could get their hands on when it first became available here, keep it under a tarp, and advertise for a week that Snapple would be released to the public on such-and-such a date. Because of a familial relationship between the grocers and the beer distributor who became the area’s Snapple wholesaler, Finch’s enjoyed an exclusive franchise for the first few weeks. They created the display, we ran the ads, and when the day came, Snapple was flying out of the store by the pallet load. Here’s Jerry Finch, recalling the promotion nearly 30 years later.

Our contract with the syndicator ensured that we would be the only station in the Quad Cities—actually, the only station between the Tri-Cities and Spokane—to carry Rush, and we were hearing from listeners not only in our primary and secondary coverage areas but out in the fringes of our signal, as well.

Curious to learn more, we offered to send any listener that requested it in writing a printed copy of Rush’s 35 Undeniable Truths of Life, to which he often made reference in the early days of his show. We were flooded with requests, and the cards and letters that poured in spoke volumes about Rush’s popularity with listeners. One farmer from the St. John area wrote that he listened in his tractor, timing his fieldwork so that he’d be working on top of the hill when Rush’s program came on.

Rush loved to “illustrate absurdity with absurdity,” by means of the jargon terms he invented (e.g., “Drive-by Media,” “Club Gitmo,” “Governor Coomo,” “Gorbasm,” etc.) and his exuberant news-of-the-moment updates, introduced with his trademark vocal trumpet fanfare: Dadelut dadelut dadelut dadelut dadeluuuut….

Among the dozen or so categories were homeless updates (theme song: “Ain’t Got No Home” by Clarence “Frogman” Henry, whom he subsequently invited to perform on stage with him at a Rush to Excellence tour appearance); animal rights updates (theme music: Andy Williams singing “Born Free” mixed with the sounds of animal cries and gunfire); feminist updates (several themes over the years, ranging from Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” to this over-the-top mash-up); and condom updates (theme song: “Up, Up, and Away” by the Fifth Dimension). Here’s an example of the latter from June 15, 1990, featuring a story from Moscow about a University of Idaho vending machine:

Additional satire was regularly cooked up by Rush’s program announcer, Johnny Donovan, and celebrity impersonator and parody songwriter, Paul Shanklin, whose wickedly funny riffs on popular tunes took on a life of their own.

Not everyone liked Rush, of course. Occasionally we’d receive a complaint, sometimes accompanied by a demand that we take him off the air or risk losing a listener; we’d politely remind the individual that they could choose not to listen to Rush simply by switching stations.

His detractors, most of whom evidently never really listened to his program long enough and carefully enough to arrive at an informed opinion, accused Rush of being a racist, among other things. He was not.  And who better than James Golden, aka “Bo Snerdley,” his intrepid call screener and longtime producer, to lay that criticism (and so many more) to rest. One of the best pieces I’ve read on the erroneous perception vs. the true reality of his character is this from the WSJ.

Rush was a gift to many. One person I spoke with today said she felt that she’d lost a brother, adding that even though she was several years older than Rush, she considered herself a “Rush baby,” introduced to his show by her father.

*Rush’s success as a national broadcaster endured for more than 32 years, a span surpassed only by that of Paul Harvey, whose national broadcasts aired for more than 57 years. (However, Rush filled 3 hours of airtime every weekday, compared to Harvey’s 15 minutes.) No TV anchor enjoyed as long a career on the air: Walter Cronkite (“The Most Trusted Man in America”) occupied his CBS perch for 19 years; his successor, Dan Rather, anchored or co-anchored the CBS Evening News for 24 years; Peter Jennings at ABC lasted 22 years; Tom Brokaw at NBC, 21 years.

KQQQ is inviting its listeners to record their own memories, tributes, and stories about what Rush meant to them, by calling (509) 339-7676 and leaving a message.

(Author’s note: I will be adding to this post from time to time as additional material warrants. -RS) 

Selected older Rush Limbaugh videos and interviews:

Additional links of interest:

Photos from Rush’s funeral, courtesy of Kathryn Limbaugh

Rush answers a 13-year-old girl’s question on why getting American citizenship should be difficult

Oliver North and David Goetsch on Rush’s tireless devotion to America

Heartwarming remembrance by Rush’s cousin, Stephen N. Limbaugh III, a musician and composer (3/27/21)

Rush Limbaugh Tribute Video, featuring his family and friends (opens in new window)

David Limbaugh’s tribute to his brother (4/9/21)

SE Missourian Tribute to Rush (5/25/21) (includes a list of Rush’s achievements and accolades)

James Golden, aka “Bo Snerdley,” is hosting a new podcast: “Rush Limbaugh, The Man Behind the Golden EIB Microphone,” a 12-episode series chronicling the legendary host’s award-winning, 30-plus year career in radio that revitalized the spoken-word format, and provided a platform for him to develop and lead modern conservatism in

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What POTUS Can Teach Us About Marketing

Editor’s Preface: The following article has drawn more response than any we’ve ever run. Heading into what is likely to be the most contentious political contest in recent history, a number of readers have asked about this piece all over again. I wrote it in the first place, and run it again, because of the marketing principles involved; no political position is expressed or implied.

Back in the 1980s, Philip Kotler formulated five attack strategies and six defense strategies that together compose a novel way of looking at marketing. I got to thinking the other day that our current president has displayed an uncanny mastery of these strategies, whether instinctive or learned. We’re going to review Kotler’s strategies later in this article, but first, let’s look at some of the principles that our unlikely Commander‐in‐Chief employed to win the nomination, win the presidency, and continues to employ to solidify his position. In other words, the seemingly random behaviors, utterances, and tweets that emanate from the Oval Office might actually be based on solid marketing principles. What is interesting about the president’s application of these principles is that he seems to be playing both an offensive and defensive game simultaneously, using a mash‐up of strategies from both columns.

Here’s what I’ve observed:

KEEP IT SIMPLE. Trying to communicate complex, nuanced concepts is futile in a marketing environment. Use short, catchy, memorable phrases; the fewer the words, the more likely the message is to be understood and repeated. Examples: “Lock Her Up,” “Drain the Swamp,” “Build the Wall.”

REPOSITION THE COMPETITION. Whether it’s “Crooked Hillary,” “Little Marco,” “Fake News,” or “The Failing New York Times,” the average consumer (a.k.a. voter) is likely to be swayed by the appellations when they are repeated, consistently, often enough.

This is a particularly effective technique in that the competition is powerless to fight it—because they can’t even acknowledge it. If Ms. Clinton were to say something like, “I’m not crooked,” or The New York Times were to adopt a slogan like, “We’re Not Failing,” they would be playing into the president’s hand. (Neurolinguistic Programming teaches us that the mind ignores a negative. “Not failing” is “Failing”; “Not crooked” is “Crooked.”) Naturally, the marketer who has effectively repositioned the competition would love nothing better than for the competition to respond; that merely gives more exposure to the repositioning.

BE CONSISTENT. Whenever referring to Ms. Clinton it’s always “Crooked Hillary.” It’s always “The Failing New York Times.”

BE REPETITIOUS. Any good marketer knows that anything repeated often enough seeps into the public consciousness and becomes “fact.” (Coca‐Cola has certainly proved that over the years by taking truly awful taglines and making them work by pouring billions of dollars into their promotion.) This rule is a corollary of “Be Consistent”; the two work together to build up impressions and solidify viewpoints.

BE PREEMPTIVE. This is one of Kotler’s defense strategies. A great example is this whole “Fake News” business. By using that epithet early and consistently, the groundwork has been laid for a response to any unfavorable reporting. Since the constant repetition of the phrase “Fake News” establishes it as fact in the mind of the consumer, then any reporting negative to the president is deemed to be “fake news” and thereby discredited.

DOUBLE DOWN. A good marketer understands the value of the competition acknowledging what you’re doing. No matter how withering the competitive response, it’s important to stand your ground—and take advantage of the opportunity to use consistency and repetition yet again.

BE UNPREDICTABLE. Kotler calls this the “Mobile Defense”—it’s hard to hit a moving target. However, in the case of the president, he seems to be using this as an offense. It’s hard to marshal a response when the attacks cannot be predicted. Do anything and everything you can to keep your competition off balance and chasing their own tails. Any time and effort spent in regaining balance is time and effort not devoted to defeating you.

USE THE EBBINGHAUS PRINCIPLE. In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus came up with his famous “Forgetting Curve,” which proves what we already know: we forget stuff over time. The president employs this tactic quite frequently: “I’ll have a major announcement in four days”—and the announcement never comes. After four days, most people will have forgotten all about it—and any news media outlet that does not forget has already been branded “Fake News,” so there you go.

Now we turn to a review of Kotler’s attack and defense strategies. How many of them can you see in the president’s behavior?

Kotler’s Attack Strategies

FRONTAL ATTACK. One of the less subtle forms of attack. It involves meeting your competitors head‐on, and generally requires a lot of resources to pull off successfully.

So you will look at where your competitor is currently strong and then pump marketing resources into competing on those strengths. If successful, you can deal a massive blow to the competition and turn their strengths into your own.

There is also an alternative strategy, which Kotler termed a “modified frontal attack.”Here you match your competitor on everything but price, with which you come in lower. By undercutting them, you can convince the market that your offering is of better value, which could sway more customers over to your side.

2. FLANKING ATTACK. Flanking is a little shrewder than a full frontal assault. On a real battlefield, an army will deploy more defensive troops and resource to the areas it expects to be attacked, leaving certain other areas more exposed.

The same is true on the marketing battlefield, as your competitor will be likely to spend more resource defending its key territories. But this gives you the opportunity to identify and geographical areas where they’re weaker, allowing you to focus your efforts on them for some easy wins.

You can even launch a mini frontal attack to encourage the competitor to divert even more resources to their key territories, while you launch your real flanking attack on their exposed areas.

3. ENCIRCLEMENT ATTACK. Encirclement attacks are all about overwhelming your competitor into submission, and like the frontal attack they require a lot of resources.

You need to identify all of your competitor’s positions and products in the market. You then need to launch a well‐orchestrated simultaneous attack on all of them at once, for example by introducing rival products to every one of theirs. You can even give your attack a super‐cool name like “Operation Total Market Takeover.”

This will force them to either spread their resources extremely thin to defend their territories, or get them to sacrifice some so that they can afford to defend others. Either way, you’ll deal a heavy blow.

4. BYPASS ATTACK. Sometimes in the face of a tremendous enemy, the best tactic is to avoid a confrontation altogether. But that doesn’t mean just giving up, instead you keep a careful eye on the enemy so that you can build up your strength in areas they haven’t even considered.

So you might decide that since your competitor dominates the domestic market, that you’ll take your business overseas. Or you might develop types of products and services which your competitor doesn’t even offer, so that you don’t need to worry about them standing in your way.

And then, once you’ve built up your strength in these new areas, you might find that you’re able to spend some of your new resources on launching a successful attack against the original competitor.

5. GUERRILLA WARFARE. Guerrilla warfare is all about winning multiple small victories against a competitor, which cumulatively become a larger victory over time.

You might launch attacks on small territories you know the competitor won’t bother to defend, but over time you could start to build up a substantial market share. Think of it as death by a thousand cuts.

But guerrilla warfare shouldn’t be thought of as a cheap option. If you actually want to ‘beat’ your opponent then it will probably just have to be a preparation for a real frontal, flanking or encirclement attack.

Defense Strategies

So now you now how to attack, but how do you go about setting up an effective defense? Well, Kotler devised a number of strategies for that as well.

POSITION DEFENSE. This is the marketing equivalent of sitting back into your chair, stroking a white cat, and saying “bring it on.” It’s where you pour all of your resources into building a fortress around your flagship product, with full confidence that it’s strong enough to carry your whole business.

But in practice, no fortress is impenetrable. After all, even the Death Star had an exhaust port‐ shaped chink in its armor. Resting on your laurels like this is generally the least effective strategy, as in the long run you’re likely to end up losing out.

2. MOBILE DEFENSE. As any boxer will tell you, it’s much more difficult to hit a moving target than a stationary one. In marketing this principle is applied by diversifying into new products and segments.

By spreading your efforts out this way, you become a much more difficult target to pin down. They’ll be reluctant to commit to a large‐scale attack on you as it will only affect one part of your business, and may not deal the massive blow they want it to.

3. PRE‐EMPTIVE DEFENSE. Maybe you’ve got a spy in your competitor’s ranks who’s tipped you off, or you’ve heard rumors that they’re working on a product to rival yours. If this is the case then you could be in the position to launch a pre‐emptive defense to shut down your competitor’s attack before it gets a chance to start.

You might rush out a new product which will outshine your competitor’s new one, or you might pump more advertising resources to that sector to drown out any noise your rival wants to make.

4. FLANK POSITION DEFENSE. Getting flanked by an enemy is a constant concern for military commanders, which is why efforts are made to protect yourself from all sides. In marketing, taking a flanking position means that you establish a defensive presence in a weaker segment which you anticipate your competitor will move into.

So you might launch a regional version of your brand or product overseas to counter any expansion your rival might make into that market. The important thing is to dedicate enough resources to secure a decent foothold in each flank, otherwise your enemies will be able to steamroll you out of the competition without much cost or effort to them.

5. COUNTER‐OFFENSIVE DEFENSE. Ever heard of fighting fire with fire? When you’re facing a head‐on assault then chances are that you’ll want to retaliate. Well, Kotler suggests three ways of doing so.

First is a head‐on counter assault of your own, where you lock horns with your enemy and see who’s tougher. The second requires more tact, as you pause for a moment and wait for the attacker to reveal a weakness you can exploit. So you might find that your competitor’s product lacks a key feature, and really play on that in your own attacks. Finally comes a pincer movement, where you might release two counter products at once. One could match the opponent’s and the other could beat it on price, so that they struggle to defend against both.

6. STRATEGIC WITHDRAWAL. This isn’t the same as just giving up; the word “strategic” means that it’s different. It’s always better to live and fight another day than to foolishly fight a losing battle until the inevitable grizzly end.

This strategy is where you withdraw from your more vulnerable areas and redirect your resources to the more defendable ones, which Kotler likens to a hedgehog withdrawing into a spiky ball. So you might sell off some of your smaller operations to focus more efforts on your more profitable ones.

Reprinted with permission from The Small Market Radio Newsletter

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