Avoid Clichés in Your Radio Ads


Why is it that many advertisers want their commercials to sound like commercials?  You know the kind – “tell everyone I’ve been in business since 1972, mention my convenient locations and be sure to include my phone number.”  Big yawn!  A commercial shouldn’t be about the business, it should be about the customer and how buying the product or service being advertised will benefit them.  Since you only have 30 (or 60) seconds, use the time to be creative and to attract the listener’s attention.  Also, avoid clichés that waste time and don’t communicate anything of importance to the listener.  Many local radio commercials are typically filled with such drivel – trite, meaningless clichés that do nothing to motivate customers to do business with the company being advertised.  A cliché is defined as a “trite expression.” Commercial clichés not are only trite; they also tend to be empty.  Some people just tune out when they hear a cliché and so they may miss the point you’re trying to make.

Here are just a few and why you should avoid them like the plague:

“For all your insurance needs”  This is “the biggie.”  Probably the most grating and unbearable item in the Canon of Copywriting Clichés.  I never even knew I had any insurance needs or hardware needs, or any of the other countless “needs” I keep hearing about in radio commercials.  Just tell me where I can get a good deal. You should avoid this phrase at all cost because it is totally meaningless.  Beware! When you ask a copywriter to think of another way of saying the same thing, he or she will invariably look for words to replace the word needs.  “For all your laxative requirements.”  “For all your electrical desires.”  “For all your…”  That’s just silly. It’s the “for all your” that’s actually the most cliché.

“Stop in soon”  Soon? Like tomorrow? How about next week? Or even next year?  Does it matter when I stop in?  This is a very weak call to action.  Think of something more compelling.

“And while you’re there…”  Who said I was there?  This is just another example of weak copywriting.

“You heard right”  Yes, thanks for telling me I heard it right.  I was wondering if what I heard was right.  Another total waste of words.

“Our friendly, courteous staff is waiting to serve you”  That’s good, I’d sure hate to have to deal with your rude and insolent staff.  Customers have a reasonable expectation that your staff will be friendly.  Having a “friendly” staff is not a selling point.

“All the top brands you know and trust”  Wake me when this commercial is over.

 “Just to name a few”  Yawn.  You only get 75 words in a 30-second radio commercial.  You just wasted 5 of them.

“Prom time is here”  More yawn.  Weak statement.  How does it affect the listener?

“Easter is just around the corner”  (see above)

“It’s that time of year again” – Have you ever noticed no matter WHAT time of year it is, it’s THAT time of year again?

 “Conveniently located…”  Every location is inconvenient to some people.  To those people, you’re lying.

 “Your school uniform headquarters”  Aaargh!  Just put a gun to my head and shoot me. Avoid the word “headquarters”, unless it’s part of your store name.  Does anybody refer to McDonald’s as their “hamburger headquarters?”

“Going on now”   Anyone who ever includes the phrase “Going on now” in a commercial – as in, “Going on now through Saturday at Sears”  should be kicked out of the advertising industry.

“Not to mention”  Incredibly dumb. It’s self-contradictory; you are mentioning it.  It’s like saying, “I’m not going to offer you any dessert, but would you like some dessert?”

“We offer complete repair service” – Really?  As opposed to inadequate repair service?

“Savings up to 50% and more” – That makes no sense.  Is it 50%, is it more, what is it?

“It’s the biggest sale in our history” – Yea right, whatever.  People tend to tune out hype.  Avoid sounding phony.

 “Prices have never been so low” or “Prices have never been better” – Really?  They were higher last week?  Will they be any lower next week?

“We’ll see you there” – Really?  Will you be waiting at the door or lurking in the back?

“At (store), they’ve got what you need” – Do they?  I need a new job, a better house, etc.

“Call now for a free estimate” – But it’s 9:30 pm.  Can I really call now?

“Hurry in now for the best selection” – Will it be the worst selection next week?

“You’ve tried the rest, now try the best” – Terribly over-used and not always helpful.  What’s in it for the listener?

“There’s never been a better time to buy” – Actually, there is.  When I have the money to afford it.

“We’re (city’s) best kept secret.” – That’s absolutely stupid.  Why would you want your store to be a secret?  Why even use such a phrase?

More clichés to avoided at all cost:

“Now is the time….”
“They won’t last long”
“With prices like these, this sale won’t last forever”
“Service second to none”
“Savings throughout the store”
“The sale you’ve been waiting for”
“It’s sale time”
“It’s bargain time”
“It’s inventory time”
“It’s big savings time”
“It’s clearance time”
“Storewide savings”
“It’s happening now”
“It’s happening at…”
“And, what’s more…”
“So hurry on down…”
“For the finest in…”
“It’s our people that make the difference”
“Quality service”
“One stop shop”
“Just to mention a few”

All of these clichés have one thing in common – they’ve been used so many times, people don’t listen to them and they say nothing to motivate the listener.  OK, so that’s two things.  Start your ad with an ear catching phrase and then back it up with the U.S.P.  Every business has a Unique Selling Proposition.  A businesses U.S.P. is simply the answer to this question: “Why should customers shop here rather than at my competition?”  The first answer may not always be the real answer, but you should determine the #1 best reason for someone to shop with your store.  Once you’ve found it, you write the script around that reason.  Follow up with a single Call to Action.  A Call to Action is what you are asking the listener to do with the information you just presented.  There only needs to be one Call to Action.  Do not ask the client to “come by for a test drive” and “call for more details” in the same ad.

A proper commercial will generally contain an ear-catching opener, the U.S.P. and a single Call to Action.  By the time you use these three things in a radio commercial, you won’t have any time left in your ad for clichés.

But wait!  There’s more.  Here are several cliché-like phrases that should be avoided when writing radio copy.  They’re a waste of words and they don’t add anything to the copy that would motivate a listener.

“Billy Bob wants you to check out his great deals on new cars” Oh, he does, does he?  Screw him.  The listener doesn’t care what Billy Bob wants, they care about themselves.  Remember W.I.I.F.M. – What’s In It For Me?

“We’ve been serving Smithville since 1962” Yes, but as Janet Jackson said, “what have you done for me lately?”  When it comes to experience, be careful waving that flag in your advertising.  You’ve been around for 50 years?  Customers don’t care about that nearly as much as you do.  The new kid on the block routinely slays the old dog with a better price, better products or a forward way of thinking.  In reality, businesses are judged by what they sell and the services they offer.  Your customer wants to know what you can do for them – not how long you’ve been in business. Save that part of your sales pitch for when they are already in the door.  Generally, you should keep it out of your advertising.

“We’re the valley’s oldest car dealer” Yawn.  If you’ve been around so long, you’d think you would have learned a thing or two about how not to have lame advertising.  This is meaningless.

“Located at 2576 West College Street” What’s that close to? Across from Burger King?    Unless the address is prominently displayed, use a landmark instead).  Furthermore, you can remove the word “located” and still make your point.  “Located” is ad speak.

“We would like to….” – As in “we’d like to thank our customers” or “we’d like to invite you to come in and save.”  To which I always mentally respond, “but we’re not going to.”  If you want to thank customers, just come right out and do it.  Don’t say you’d like to do it.

“We service what we sell” Gee, I hadn’t even thought about your products having problems that would require service. Thanks for planting that seed of doubt.

“Open Monday and Tuesday 8 a.m. till 5 p.m., Wednesday till Noon, Thursday and Friday 8 a.m. till 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. till 3 p.m. on Saturday” Hold on while I write that all down.  Unless this can be explained briefly, as in “open 7 days a week 7am till 7pm”, forget it.

“Call 699-4242 or 787-1812” Hang on, I’m still writing down the hours.  Unless you’re selling pizza delivery or something similar, phone numbers in radio ads are a waste of time.  People don’t remember them and don’t usually take the time to write them down.  If you are using a phone number, like for pizza delivery, make it the centerpiece of the ad.

“When you need a new car, call us at 633-8282” – Are you gonna bring one over?   (See above).

“Visa, MasterCard, American Express, cash and checks accepted.” Another big yawn.  Most places accept all of these.  What’s unique about your store and how does it affect your customers?

 “Mention you heard this ad on WXXX and get a free gift (or 10% off)” OK, sure I’ll make a fool of myself for that.  Advertisers typically do this to “test” radio.  However, radio doesn’t need to be tested it works.  Besides, most people are simply too timid to do this.  Consequently, response will be limited and the advertiser will conclude that his radio advertising does not work.  For a true test, make a really outstanding offer in your radio commercial and then gauge the response, but don’t make listeners jump through hoops.

More Time Wasters:

Generally, there’s no need to say “am” or “pm” in ads.  And avoid redundancy – “open tomorrow morning at 9 am” is redundant.  It’s not “tomorrow morning at 9 pm” is it?

When giving web addresses, skip the www.  Most people can’t properly say “w”, and it sounds really bad to hear somebody say “dub-ya dub-ya dub-ya.”  Just give the web address without it.  It takes about 1.5 seconds to say “www”, so you’re wasting 5% of a 30-second ad.

Generally, states aren’t necessary.  Everybody in the Delta knows that Lake Village is in Arkansas, so it’s not necessary to say “Lake Village Arkansas” when “Lake Village” will do.

Again, think of ways to make your commercial creative and compelling.  Tell listeners what’s in it for them.  Avoid clichés and meaningless babble.  Motivate listeners to do business with you, rather than boring them with a list of credit cards you accept.


Portions of this document were “borrowed” from “Commercial Babble” by Dan O’Day, as well as “Radio and TV Clichés and Phrases We Could All Live Without” by Donna Halper, as well as contributions from award-winning copywriter Joey Cummings.  (He really did win an ADDY award for copywriting.  Twice in fact.  Plus another ten or so ADDYs for commercial production.  But it didn’t go to his head, he’s still just a humble guy from Yazoo City, Mississippi, home of the annual Jerry Clower Festival).  Complied and edited by Larry Fuss, who has a particular disdain for clichés in advertising, because at the end of the day, there’s nothing worse than a bad cliché.