Note: when I refer to “radio,” I mean all forms of audio advertising. Broadcast. Playlists. Pre-roll as you listen to your favorite chef’s podcast teaching you how to cook the perfect turducken.

What the AM-drive-time happened to great radio advertising? What happened to humor? What happened to using the theater of the mind? What happened to “Real Men of Genius” from Bud Lite and Ortho’s “Fire Ant Killer?” What happened to being smart, witty, or, at the very least, mildly interesting? It’s like ad agencies have given up. They’ve said “uncle.”

And, I get it. Great radio is hard. As a writer, I’ve sat at the keyboard, finger-wrestling with copy as I try to figure out how to keep Mr. or Mrs. Listener from voting me off the island by skipping my ad. It takes time to write something well. You have to noodle. You have to rewrite. And, time and time again, you have to start over. But it’s something clients should demand of their agencies. Because it’s well worth it. Ask Motel 6 and their agency the Richards Group, creators of what I believe is the greatest radio campaign of all time: Tom Bodette. Radio built that brand and continues to build it to this day. It’s won more Radio Mercury Awards (radio’s most prestigious competition) than any other campaign in history. So, a little advice on how to write great radio from an agency that also has multiple Radio Mercury Award experience.

First, don’t forget the three elements that make any great ad (audio, video, static, whatever). Those are a truth, an emotion, and a story. For more on that, read our post on the First Rule of Advertising.

Second, ensure your agency keeps it simple. Consider this Radio Mercury Award winner we did for the Utah Education Association. One voice. No music. The concept is clean, simple, and memorable. You don’t have to inundate your audio ad with sound effects. It’s the concept and the writing that matters. The best steaks don’t need steak sauce. The best radio ads don’t need a cacophony of effects, music and voices.

Third, the ads you run should surprise people. I’ve always considered great audio ads a sort of theme park ride. There are unexpected drops, twists and turns. Say things in ways never said before. Express your product promises in ways never expressed before. Bud Lite’s “Real Men of Genius” does this. Mr. Giant Foam Finger Maker? Mr. Bumper Sticker Writer? Mr. Over-Zealous Foul Ball Catcher? And it’s not just the titles that make me see something I’ve seen my entire life differently. Everything about the ads creates a new view of someone we ought to be honoring. Like Mr. Silent Killer Gas Passer. Yep, the real geniuses here are the writers of that campaign.

And fourth, approve great audio ads. In the end, clients decide what type of radio they run. If your agency presents scripts that make you laugh or feel some other emotion deeply, approve them with as little tweaking as possible. Move ahead. Get them produced and on the air. You responded emotionally to the ad. Others will, too.