View Full Version : A RADIO ADVERTISING TIP from A 26 year veteran

01-03-2008, 08:22 AM
I’ve been in the broadcast advertising and multi-track production biz for about 26 years and have learned a few things along the way. What I’m about to describe is a technique I learned years ago that may be of help in your radio advertising.

I started doing haunted attraction advertising and productions in 1994 and through the years have had the opportunity to work with some great folks in this community and my thanks to all!

THE BEST STYLE RADIO FOR HAUNTS (In my humble opinion of course.)

I learned something very interesting about twenty four years ago, that I discovered through experimentation, with a chain of formal wear stores.
I have used this technique successfully in ads for other businesses, including haunted attractions. (Bear with me on this, because it really can help you reach and sell your intended audience on radio and do so with a lot less

Getting back to the formal wear experiment...

The two big pushes for formal wear are of course, proms and weddings. If you think about it, these are two of the most emotionally charged times in a guy’s life and I figured this is a very unique aspect of the formal wear business. Your not just selling or renting tuxedos, you’re selling an emotionally-associated-product, that will play a key role, in an emotionally-charged-experience!

Few businesses have this very Unique Selling Proposition and a HAUNTED ATTRACTION is for sure, one of them! You’re selling an emotion and it’s called... FEAR!

The first, emotion-tapping-ad I tried for selling formal wear was for weddings.
I’ll never forget what the owner said when he heard it, “Shit Bob, you’re only mentioning our name ONCE at the very end of the 60 second ad!!!” “Can’t ya get our name in there a few more times???”

It took about a half hour to explain the method to my madness but I basically said, “I want to get into grooms’ heads and let them IMAGINE the scene for themselves and they will, because their emotions are heightened at the moment.”

I went on to say that if you can get someone to IMAGINE something in their minds,
they’re doing the creating and because of that, they’ll never forget the scene NOR your name! (Haunters: Think about something you’ve created from scratch. I’ll bet you can tell me every single element of it, in minute detail and even if you did it over ten years ago! It’s just the way it is.)

Once I finally talked the client into it, we gave it a good run on radio. (I eventually did a 30 second television version of the ad for a client in another state but it just didn’t have the same punch.) The reason being, is that TV is showing you the scene, whereas with radio, you have to create the scene in your mind. What you create will be yours alone. That’s the beauty of radio and how it actually began, as Theater of the Mind. I recall my grandfather describing many a scene from The Shadow or Amos & Andy etc. and yes, in very, minute detail!

That first ad of this type created, had all of 40 or 50 words in it, compared to normal 60’s that USUALLY range from 95-120. (Less is definitely more in these type ads) Anyway, rather than me TELLING grooms to come to this joint because they have the best tuxedo names, the lowest prices and yadda yadda yadda…I presented a touching scenario that tapped an element of their pre-wedding emotions.

I’ll describe the ad here to show you the technique, for purposes of better understanding the Theater of the Mind approach in radio advertising. It does work incredibly well with businesses having an emotion attached in some
fashion. Again, a haunt is a natural for same!

TITLE: Alone in the Gym

OPEN with soft, sparse, story-telling music.


Bill (Out loud as voice trails with a Gym’s ambient reverb)
JOHN?...........ARE YA HERE YET?

Bill (To himself, no reverb)

Bill (Out loud again and as we hear his FOOTSTEPS on the Gymnasium Floor, music continues)

Bill (To himself softer, no reverb)
WELL…..HE DIDN’T SOUND THAT GOOD ON THE PHONE………Footsteps Continue………OH…..Footsteps Stop……THERE’S A LIGHT ON IN THE LOCKER ROOM……(Music up for 3-4 seconds)…..footsteps fade left to right……

Bill (Out loud, SOFTER but reverb reduced for smaller area)
JOHNNY…….YOU IN HERE?...........Pause…………..WHAT’S THIS? A SUIT BAG?
THERE’S A NOTE ON IT…….SFX: Paper Crinkling……WHAT IS THIS?...................Paper Crinkling more……..

Bill (Reading Note)
……………………………….HERE’S YOUR TUXEDO......Music Swells Up briefly and down….

Bill (Out loud yell with tincture of humor in voice)


So as you can see in this ad, I didn’t say a damn thing about tuxedos, prices or anything about the stores. MOST IMPORTANTLY…….I didn’t TELL grooms something like, we know how ya feel or what you’re thinking. TELLING someone about an emotion ISN’T the same as letting them FEEL it for themselves.

It’s like Haunted Attraction ads I’ve heard that say, “YOU’RE GOING TO
BE REALLY SCARED!” Yeah, yeah, yeah…..means NOTHING to the “listener.” AH….but if you get them to IMAGINE being in a very scary scene or FEELING rather creeped-out……BAMM……ya got ‘em, just like I got the grooms by letting them actually FEEL the emotion.

The results of that gym ad were as follows: Rental Sales skyrocketed 55-67% over the previous year, at all 7 locations and the owners reported that the grooms to be (and/or their fiancées) mentioned the radio ad repeatedly. The owner told me that one lady called and said she cried every time it came on.

Here’s something interesting. I happened to speak to the owner’s daughter a month ago and she said, “Bob, remember that gym ad you did 20 some years ago?” “Well, you won’t believe this but we still have people mentioning that ad to us!” “They’re now mothers or father’s of the grooms!”

I hope I haven’t bored you with this but I wanted you to see that RADIO can be EXTREMELY effective for businesses that sell some form of an emotionally charged product or service. (ie Haunted Attractions!)

So if you’re going to use radio in your marketing, don’t forget the inherent and powerful Theater of the Mind potential of the medium!

Try to create a scene in the beginning of the ad that manifests an element of fear.
DON’T TELL someone they’re going to be scared….give ‘em a taste of it and let them really FEEL that emotion. The scene doesn’t even have to be one from your haunt, just a slice of darkness that most folks have experienced or with which they can readily identify.

Give ‘em a few goose bumps up front to lure them in and ……whammm……THEN mention your name. It will literally be PLANTED in their imaginations' and in essence their subconscious minds. You can then switch to a sell of the haunt’s strong points.

Keep your words short and make, each, one, count, in description. You can use sound effects, screams or music stings, INSTEAD of words too.

The biggest mistake I see in radio advertising is that a lot of people do nothing more than, talking print ads. Sure, that type of ad will still work if you’ve got a huge budget. But if you don’t, save all the fine points for your web site or print marketing. Take advantage of that unique aspect of the medium and let people IMAGINE and FEEL just how scary this haunt of yours really is!

If you get people to FEEL the emotion of fear, creepiness or the bizarre, your ad will be ten times more effective than a laundry list of all your show’s marvelous attributes. If you intrigue them enough with a few goose bumps or mind twists, they’ll go to your site to learn more or simply go to your haunt to experience more.

Less is more in the Theater of the Mind game and doing this sort of ad is indeed
scary, especially when budgets are tight. But heck, it takes a lot more than that to scare you! Right?

Well, that’s kinda it in a nutshell. I hope it helps. Best of luck in 2008!

Bob Harper

01-03-2008, 09:20 AM
Great advice and so true Bob. You nailed it totally. Goes to show your years of experience.

Jim Warfield
01-04-2008, 08:08 AM
Very good, Bob, very astute.
What is an ad supposed to do? Communicate!
Communication takes "Time", time to speak or rather time for the person hearing to comprehend, there is a human -speed element in all of this "storytelling".
Just as good music has spaces in the beat and sound to make the ear want to hear it, so does good, effective storytelling.
Pauses are a definate part of the picture too.
Allowing the customer to think on their own , giving them the space and time to comprehend and anticipate makes their imagination kick-in, THEN you have them!
Parts of my front room routine of storytelling have immense "spaces" and this really does work to draw out the "monsters" that dwell within their minds making me much more effective.
It's as simple as stopping the talk, stopping the noise and just having a room very dark with no sound, waiting, waiting, maybe waiting some more, Then making small sounds with no human voice added, spacing the sounds illregularly the mind fills in the spaces with those very personal fears that will never be actually spoken of or defined for another person.
I do recommend making them laugh right afterwards though.

My one little radio ad was written and spoken by me, I provided the meager woman-screaming sound defects heard in the backround, all of 30 seconds long(done in one take!)
I began the ad talking like a little kid with a haunted house in his parent's basement then slipped into a deep-adult scary voice telling them how "lazy" I had become, buying a haunted house to make it into a "Haunted House!"
The ad won third place in the state competition, two radio station employees each wanted to claim it for their resemes, one quit over it!
The one guy turned a knob once on the control panel, I did all the rest of it, pretty funny, huh?
It was a weak station with a bad car battery for power almost nobody on this planet ever heard it I am pretty sure.

01-04-2008, 01:56 PM

I see you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about and your tour technique is very similar to the concept at large. I'm sure your performance, as described, makes for 50% of the scare factor! Bully for you! Yes, the pregnant pause has more power than a page full of finely crafted script. I agree wholeheartedly!

I too believe the greatest fear is the fear of the unknown.
I once had the sublime pleasure of getting to know the late Rod Serling quite well. It's a long story but in a nutshell, he used to teach writing/production etc. at my college. I learned more than a few techniques from him including elements like: perfectly timed pauses (as you mention); the beauty of "fear of the unknown"; colorful phraseology with ironic twists in the tail; using props or effects sparsely...for maximum impact and the power of opposites.

Many of his tales incorporated all of these elements and oftentimes spun around an everyday situation or event but simply twisted a bit, in an unexpected or 'opposite' fashion. (ie. To Serve Man etc) Haunters can do this in ads.

I used his techniques for the last course I had with him my senior year. The last assignment was to create a 20 minute film about a Social Event. Everybody came back with parties, weddings, birthdays, etc etc. etc. but I chose to do a Western Hanging, with all the outfits, horses, wanted posters etc. Afterall, hangings were indeed social events on occasion and at some, they actually sold popcorn. Rod agreed and it was the best "A" I ever received from any teacher or prof!

I really think that Haunted Attraction ads should be as sparse and eerie as possible but it's extremely hard to convince people to do that. I'm well aware they've spent fortunes on their haunts and want people to know every detail but with broadcast ads, radio especially, the focus should be on the scare, rather than the wares. (That's what print ads and web sites can do!)

I recently did some haunt ads for a nice group of folks in Virginia and we rotated two radio ads. One was the laundry list type and the other was dark, sparsely worded and simply eerie. Guess which one the customers kept mentioning. ;-)
My premise is simply, if you're selling fear, give me a taste of it, tease me, give me a goosebump or two and intrigue me enough to come in for more.

As you pointed out in doing your own ad, it's really not "hard" to do, it's just hard to carve out 30-50% of the "must have" wording. Another thing haunters should realize is that the faster an announcer has to read, the pitch of his or her voice will defintely go up! If ya want low, talk slow!

Rambling on...sorry but maybe a tidbit here or there will help a haunter
in his or her broadcast pursuits. Less is better than more....pause whenever possible....don't tell 'em it's really scary, let 'em feel it........


Jim Warfield
01-04-2008, 11:51 PM
Of course there will be some customers of mine who may read what I said about pauses, ex cetra and say "?" I have also done my routines here like an auctioneer!
Talking 90 miles an hour, not scary (unless you fear auctioneers? But the funny thing concerning this delivery is that I have told people funny things talking fast, they heard what I said, but didn't "get it"...until three months later when they were back home in Colorado! The time bomb joke! What an ego-feeder this is!
"I have the power to make you laugh months from now, when you least expect it!!! You are helpless before me! Submit your mind to me now!"

I looked at each tour as an experiment in entertainment, my own "Vaudeville"!
I would do the same lines for long periods of time for thousands of customer-guinea pigs, experimenting with pauses and pronunciations, silly voice inflections.
Sometimes silly voices and even accents were deemed a necesarry evil to save my vocal chords for the long night ahead.
A tour the other night for just two people lasted 2 1/2 hours, with me talking most of that time. They were alot of fun, I just kept on going........we make peculair memories here that double as an extended self-energizing advertising program which has been extremely beneficial to my livelyhood for all of these last 20 years .

01-05-2008, 11:47 AM

Can you post samples or a link or website where the two radio spot versions can be heard? I would like to hear these two styles to compare....

Thank you,

01-06-2008, 05:21 AM
Dear DA:

Out of fairness and confidentiality to my client, I can't post the two ads. Please understand that I used that comparison merely to make a point regarding the power of subtlety over wordiness in haunt advertising.

If if you'd like to hear a few examples of my horror work, the direct link is:


If you'd like to hear that formal wear ad I described earlier,
I actually found it during site development and it's at:


Feel free to give me a call sometime if you have any questions.
I do work for haunters on an exclusive, per market area basis.