Brief Aside: I am sitting in Miami airport waiting for a flight and a passenger just rolled by on a Segway. Is a Segway a carry on? Did I miss a memo?
So why did I have a minor freak-out the week before an event I hosted earlier this year?
It was the usual, garden-variety corporate hullabaloo: cocktails (them, not me), dinner and game show. No problem. Until the week prior, when my agent called to go over everything and she mentioned that the client wanted to make sure that I was going to be "entertaining." The word "entertaining" hung awkwardly in the air for a moment. There's a big difference between public speaking and "entertaining." All I could imagine were stone-faced employees staring me down if I wasn't a mini-Seinfeld.
Thankfully, I was "entertaining" (or entertaining enough) and the event went well (or so I was told). Of course, this wasn't the first time the issue of entertainment came up. We all need to be informed, but I would guess that the vast majority of us prefer to be entertained first. Which is why advertising in general -- and radio in particular -- strives to entertain.
Radio advertising, of course, comes with a unique set of challenges when it comes to entertaining. One is the medium. You're trying to get a lot of information across in 30 seconds without benefit of sight gags and visual shortcuts. I also understand that advertising can't always be entertaining. There are categories that aren't tailor-made for the 'ol song and dance – funeral homes, for example. Still, I honestly believe that a vast majority of radio advertising can be engaging, informative and effective -- and entertaining.
Bud Light's "Real Men of Genius" is that seminal idea that permeates through the industry and makes a real difference. I know plenty of fans of the campaign and there's a reason it does so well during awards season. In all honesty, I wasn't sure that DDB/Chicago could keep up the pace (foolish mistake on my part). There HAD to be a downswing at some point, right? Not even close. They customized it for radio stations around the country, they dug deep and found more platinum in places I couldn't even imagine. Does it sell more beer? I have no idea. What I do know is that this may go down as the best campaign in the history of radio.
Thankfully, I haven't heard anyone try to replicate the effort. Sadly, few (at least on a smaller/local level) have attempted to be as bold and entertaining on such a grand scale.
The truth is, though, even when the category is ripe for a little fun, it doesn't mean the client, copywriter or producer is fully equipped to pull it off.
I was part of one ill-fated attempt from a client here in the Pacific Northwest. They seemed to think that it would be highly entertaining to emulate Jon Heder as Napoleon Dynamite in one of their spots. I told them, in no uncertain terms, that it was a very bad idea. But the client pushed ahead, convinced otherwise. The gruesome experiment lasted for two weeks when the client realized that it was an unmitigated disaster. The voice guy sounded more like Anthony Edwards in "Revenge of the Nerds" than Napoleon Dynamite, the copy required "Napoleon" to sell cars and it just sounded bad. They tried to entertain and didn't even come close.
On the flip side, Horizon Airlines just launched a regional campaign promoting their flights between Seattle and Portland. This new effort is highly engaging, relevant to the audience, funny and entertaining. The new radio will be launched soon, but the online work is just great. (I wouldn't expect anything less from Wong Doody, one of my favorite agencies.)
It's good to entertain. Just remember, the object is to entertain the audience -- not yourself.
Gloat alert: Enjoy Michigan's new uniforms. They will be unveiled at their next game against Notre Dame.