In the Anatomy of an Ad series, I look at the art and a science of creating a commercial or campaign. In this post, I look at word count.
Listen, my friend. Stop cramming as much as you can into your audio commercial: information, products, deals, lists, contact details, and, for the purposes of this post, words.
Let me explain. One of my main gripes – along with most writers, producers and voiceover artists I know - is over-worded scripts.
In my experience, here’s how it usually goes down:
Let me explain. You’ve met someone who talks fast, right? And the faster they talk, the harder it is to understand them. You strain to listen and process what they’re saying, ask them to repeat themselves, and maybe even give up. Don’t let your commercial be that person.
The bottom line is that an audio spot can comfortably fit about three words per second. That’s an average script with an average read style, with average pacing and inflection. So, the ‘three words per second’ rule is great – if you want an average commercial.
But remember, if you want the voiceover artist to talk loudly or emotively, they’ll need more time. A deeper voice also needs more time.
But here’s the thing, the real power of an audio spot lies in the “theatre of the mind”.
The greatest thing you have working for you is the imagination of the consumer… And if you can get into that space, your ad can run all day.
- Don Draper (the writers of Mad Men knew what they were on about).
Theatre of the mind is using your audio to trigger people’s imagination and emotions. Surprise them! Entertain them! That’s when they’ll want to engage with your ad.
Some ways you can use theatre of the mind are:
Here’s an example. A couple of years ago, I wrote a branding commercial for a women’s clothing store. The script could have gone like this:
Clothing Store has all the latest fashions at great prices, like Brand Name 1, Brand Name 2, and Brand Name 3. Tops, pants, dresses, coats, evening gowns, starting from X pounds. All the latest styles from Paris, Milan, London, etc, etc, etc… Clothing Store, at Street Name, Town. Tagline.
Instead, I exercised brevity, concision and logic (logic being, don't waste time telling people what they know or will assume). This cut the word count way back, which gave us time to really use the voice and production. The result was a commercial that captures and holds attention; that people want to listen to.
In a nutshell, give the producer time to work with sound effects and the music’s rhythm.
Give the voiceover artist space for inflection and expression.
Give the writer an opportunity to let your message shine.
Simply stated, less is more - give your ad a chance to work.