By TO411Daily Columnist Linda Chandler
I’m here at Pirate Radio, a creative audio production company based in Toronto and New York, to meet with its co-founder, ad writer and director Terry O’Reilly. We have worked together many, many times over the years, and I consider Terry to be a gift to smart brands looking for an authentic voice.
O’Reilly was chosen by Marketing Magazine as one of Canada’s “Most Influential” marketing people. Which is why we think it’s worthwhile hearing what he has to say about the medium that’s been the soundtrack of our lives since the 1920’s: RADIO.
The Brief: You say in your book, The Age of Persuasion, How Marketing Ate Our Culture* that “Civilization – for want of a better word – has long been based on two magic ingredients: talk and time.”* Maybe that’s why radio advertising survives.
O’Reilly: Radio is an ultimate survivor in many ways because it survived the onslaught of film and television. Prior to the recession last year, commercial radio had three record sales years in a row. CBC Radio has had three record audience years in a row. And growing.
And one of the reasons it survived in the industry, is that it’s affordable and from a sheer marketing perspective, radio is so targeted. Every station delivers a very definable audience, so there is little wasted media money on radio.
Radio offers you more than any other medium.
The Brief: We can be persuaded…!
O’Reilly: You can do more on radio, creatively, than any other medium. Because you are never held back by budget. It’s just a great idea, a script and a bag of sound effects.
Also, radio is the most personal one-to-one medium. People watch TV in groups, but never radio. Radio is a voice in your ear. Knowing that, great ad people can create messages that are compelling, because it’s so personal.
Plus, another perk, radio can drive people to websites. So it is a wonderful partner with digital efforts.
The Brief: It can be used as a conduit, and as a driver. Yet radio is still an entertainment medium, how do you convince clients to use radio for all its worth?
O’Reilly: I still say to clients: here’s my idea, here’s the concept and here’s how I want to do it: I want to launch with 60-seconds for 3-weeks, then transition to 30-seconds for the next 8 weeks. Because if I get to establish the idea with 60-second spots, I then earn the right to talk short-hand in the 30-seconds.
I don’t win that strategy with agencies very often.
Most of the time I win that is with direct clients who have no agencies. Our client, Creemore Spring Brewery Limited, for example, is an Ontario brewery that loves great work, and they let us do 60-second spots for them.
The Brief: Thirty seconds gives a brand so little time to flirt.
O’Reilly: Here’s the thing that suffers when you move from :60 to :30’s in my mind – persuasion. Persuasion takes time. And we’re in a persuasion business. And I think clients have really lost sight of that . . . I always say 30-seconds is a reminder. It’s reminding someone of something they already know. Like Pizza-Pizza needs to remind you of their phone number. They don’t want to sell you on pizza! And so I think persuasion has gone (somewhat) by the wayside.
The Brief: What I love about your work is that there’s always some storytelling involved. And your stories have an O’Reilly rhythm. What do you think?
O’Reilly: It is a lot like music. But it’s more about structure. It’s all about structure. A great story has an inherent structure. It has a beginning, it has a middle, it has an end. I always say in my seminars that I see a brilliant beginning, way too much middle and no end. And to me if you’ve ever judged an award show where you’re listening to 400 commercials in a day – as a judge – you start to pick out all the sins that radio commits and one of them is no great endings, and the award-winning spots all have great endings. The ending moment is the best moment in the spot.
The Brief: And that’s tough.
O’Reilly: So tough. The toughest write in the business. How many movies have you seen (where you wish for a more) satisfying finale, or a surprise! I love surprise in advertising. it’s so hard to achieve, but that’s what makes great radio, and it all comes down to structure.
The Brief: And the middle of the spot is all about the sale. And that’s right. But the client wants to sell so, so much in that little nest of time, and then there’s no time left for magic. Thieves of precious time, those clients! But then again, even some of the great sketches leave you longing for a better punch.
O’Reilly: And sketches aren’t against a time line – whereas we’re always working against the clock. Eighty-five words. An anorexic paragraph!
The Brief: …and don’t you agree, eighty-five, while correct, is still top-to-top copy?
O’Reilly: …so I would aim at seventy-five because that leaves me two things. It leaves me time if I want a beat for silence, or it leaves me time for an ad-lib that I know will always come out of the great actors in the room. But I want to make room for that. I don’t want to have a wall-to-wall spot where I can’t leave the ad-lib in or if I squeeze the whole thing in - the whole ad sucks.
The Brief: How do you know a great idea?
O’Reilly: I look at it and I’m filled with lust and desire and wish to the high heavens that I’d written it.
The Brief: Is there a trend in advertising that you’re not so keen about?
O’Reilly: I don’t believe in “bleeding edge” advertising. The constant drive to find the latest cutting edge music, the most cutting edge graphics, the most avant-garde film
To me, advertising is about simple human truths.
I’ve never done a “cutting edge” commercial in my entire career. Yet I’ve won a few hundred awards and sold a lot of product. Cutting edge advertising appeals to the smallest segment of the population. Most of that population is the advertising community – not the general public.
As Leo Burnett once said to one of his copywriters: “Go down to the bus stop, and read your copy to whoever is standing there. If they understand it and like it, then it’s good.” Persuasive.
I believe that, too. Give me big ideas, wrapped in simple human insights and truths. Not bleeding edge work, which only a handful of “downtown” people get.
And that’s The Brief for this week in “the age of persuasion.”
Sources of wisdom:
The Age of Persuasion, the award-winning CBC Radio One/Sirius Satellite radio show hosted by Terry O’Reilly. http://www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion.
*The Age of Persuasion How Marketing Ate Our Culture, Terry O’Reilly, Mike Tennant THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT, Vintage Canada Edition, 2010. 223 http://www.cbc.ca/ageofpersuasion