How to Build a Successful Radio Ad

You can see the headlights on Friday nights in the fall. Lines of cars, ambling down America’s highways from town to town, neighborhood to neighborhood in search of a sound: the cracking of helmets. They’re headed to high school football games, of course. And on their way, many of them will hear another familiar American sound—the radio.

Yup. Radio. Your next business opportunity.

Radio is not a new invention, it’s got little to do with social media or search engine optimization or mobile web design; but if you play your cards correctly, this 120-year old invention—the one that predates both flight and the mass production automobile—can still drive a bevy of customers to your store. Just ask Yeager’s Sporting Goods, or…ask Larry Wood.

Wood, the station manager of WNWS-FM in Jackson, Tenn., has been in the radio business since he was 12 years old. Today, he’s in his 49th year in the broadcasting business, and he’s an expert in crafting successful radio ads for small businesses.

A Common Mistake

Wood says most small businesses make the same common mistake when building an ad. “They think in terms of their business rather than in terms of their customers,” he crackles over the telephone. “It’s very difficult to separate yourself from your business and view it the way your customer views it. There’s a saying in advertising…it’s hard to read the label when you’re inside of the bottle.”

Pause. Consider those words for a moment. It’s hard to read the label when you’re inside of the bottle.

That makes perfect sense. As a business owner or a store employee, you’re caught up in the day-to-day operations of your store, you’re busy managing inventory and talking to customers. You’re busy doing so many things that your customers don’t do. They, after all, simply saunter in for a few minutes at a time, (hopefully) pick your brain and proceed on their way to the water. You are stuck inside of the bottle. But Wood knows a way to help you out. It’s a simple method, one he’s used for over 35 years, to create successful radio ads.

Here it is.

Come to PAPA

PAPA is a formula for escaping the bottle. It forces you to think from the other side of the label. It stands for Promise, Amplification, Proof and Action. It’s a four-step process for building radio ads.

Promise: This is your lead. Make a promise to your customer that shows them the benefit of whatever product or service you’re selling. Wood says it’s easy to get caught up on features, and features are good, but those are for later. Right now, you want to lead into your advertising spot by telling the listener the benefit you’re selling. “You don’t go to a hardware store to buy a drill. You go to a hardware store to buy the hole that the drill makes.” Wood quips.

What benefit are you giving the angler in this ad? Catching more fish? Catching bigger fish? You decide.

Amplification: Back that promise up. Amplify it. “You’re going to have more fish in your live well this Saturday if you stop by The Rusty Bucket first.” Reassure the customer that your initial promise is going to be kept.

Proof: Some people need data to back up the emotional response that your promises are causing. This is the place for data, for features. “The Rusty Bucket has over 900 weeks of fishing experience on Lake Endor behind the counter. We know how to catch what you’re looking for no matter the time of year.”

Action: This is the juicy part. Your call to action. You’ve been building up the anticipation for this throughout your ad. Now is the time to invite people to your store, to your social media page or to your mother-in-law’s house—whatever your goal is, encourage listeners to act on it here.

There you have it.

Wood doesn’t take credit for the formula. “Somebody gave it to me 35 years ago,” he notes. “It’s really simple to use and very, very effective. It’s not the only way to construct a good ad, but if you follow it, you’ll always have one. You may not have a great ad, like GEICO, but you will have an ad that works and works every time.”

An ad that works every time. Now, that’s a sound any business owner could get used to.