When I began producing radio imaging it was not uncommon to create a contest promo that ran over a minute. I would pack every single detail about what you needed to know to play the contest: the scheduled times, the number to call, what caller number to be, etc. Then there was a laundry list of the prizes you could win and sponsors as well as their respective slogans. It was a lot, and probably none of it ever really sank in with the audience.
These days, when I see copy like this in my inbox, I always think about how it could be shortened to just the basic information. After all, we now have websites and social media accounts that can be employed to disseminate the details of how you play the game and when. The contest promo should just whet the appetite of the listener and entice them to listen and play along. The old adage of “sell the sizzle, not the steak” is very appropriate here.
So, what is the “sizzle” and how can we sell it? Radio is all about storytelling and experiences. Give the audience something to feel. That’s what radio does best. It can be the experience of how much better life could be by winning the prize. Come up with real world examples of how to improve one’s life by winning. This is easiest to do with cash prizes. Create a theater of the mind scenario about what one could buy with that extra cash or the relief they’ll feel with that extra financial cushion like this:
“Designer shoes, an iPad 2, Bottle service at Diesel Nightclub, Hockey Play-off Tickets, a weekend getaway….just a few ideas on how you could spend the $1,000 up for grabs in the Free Money on The Fives contest on Star 100.7…”
When it comes to other prizes, like a station event, it can get a little trickier. Since social media plays such a huge role in our lives, why not use an experience we’ve all had: being tagged in a post.
“Sunday Morning, October 28th …you’re gonna be glad you were tagged!
(cellphone buzz, girl rolls over to check facebook)
GIRL: Kelly tagged you in a photo…wow! That’s a lotta pink!
(Buzz) GIRL: Amy, you’re taking me to Madonna, right? Oh gosh, I forgot I won the tickets for best costume.
(Buzz) GIRL: Me and Casey Abrams from American Idol…why don’t I remember that?
Cause you had an awesome time with 100.7 Star and The X Factor on Fox 53 at the Pink Party Boo’ze Cruise on Saturday Oct 27th. Get your tickets and all the info at StarPittsburgh.com and don’t forget the after party at Diesel!”
The character in the piece delivers most of the pertinent information: wear pink or dress up in a costume to score Madonna tickets, an appearance from Casey Abrams of American Idol, etc. In this next scenario for Madonna tickets, we relied on nostalgia to sell the prize:
(running thru leaves/night ambience) It’s a safe bet that’s it’s been a while since you last trick or treated. (front door slam/candy bag emptied) And it’s also pretty certain that you never found a pair of concert tickets in your sack when you got home either (kid: “Mom, look what I got!”). Beginning Monday (all this week/Now Thru Halloween), 100.7 Star is gonna bring back all the joy and anticipation of Trick or Treating with Madonna-ween! Grab your pillowcase and to be caller 10 (all next week) all this week, for the doorbell for your chance to see Madonna, Nov 6th!
“The joy and anticipation of trick or treating,” that’s the sizzle we’re selling here. This promo does mention the contest window, cue to call and number caller, but doesn’t get bogged down with phone number and specific times.
Now, what to do when you have a laundry list of mechanics, stuff to give away, or a bunch of sponsors to tag? National contests can always be a challenge because they tend to involve calling a number that is not the usual station contact and being a caller other than number 10. I used characters in theater-of-the mind scenarios to try to brand the number in the brain of the listener:
(Cattle Moos/Western “hop-along” theme under)
HOSS: This here’s Hoss. I’m the trailboss of the Y108 Widescreen Roundup. I’m passing thru Pittsburgh herding these 42” Panasonic Plasma TVs across the country. (Rope whirl/whip crack) You can lasso one yourself, if you’re the 110th nationwide caller when you hear the cue to call (cue sfx “Yeeahhh” whip sfx) and dial 1-866-EASY WIN. That’s 1-866-327-99-46. Who knows, you could win and qualify for the big one (bull noise) The 103” Panasonic Plasma. It’s be biggest Plasma TV ever. But you gotta listen to Y108!
(football crowd/quarterback calls the signals)
QB: 1-8-66-Easy Win
CENTER: What play are you calling?
QB: It’s not a play. I’m trying to remember the number to call in Y108’s Widescreen Roundup to win a 42” Panasonic Plasma TV
REFEREE: (Whistle) Delay of game…Offense…
STATION VO: "You’ll remember the number, right? 1-866-EASY WIN…Just listen to Y108 for the cue to call (sfx) and dial 1-866-EASY WIN, 1-866-327-99-46 to be the 110th nationwide caller for a 42” Panasonic Plasma TV. And qualify for the grand prize…The all-new 103” Panasonic Plasma…the worlds largest Plasma TV. Experience the Undeniable power of a Panasonic Plasma. Panasonic. Ideas for Life. But don’t forget 1-866-EASY WIN! Brought to you by (local Sponsor)…and Y108!"
Just like writing commercials for a client, boil the message down to the unique selling proposition. What is it about this contest or prize that makes it special? Sometimes it’s the mechanics of the contest itself, that are more fun than the actual prize being given away like this next example. Here, it’s the station imaging voices engaged in a conversation explaining the how the contest works:
JC: Starting weekdays at 7am, listen for your chance to win great tickets, like Front Row for Star Sessions with Sara Barielles, Pirate tickets or tickets for Justin Timberlake.
AD: Then, if you really wanted the tickets that the last person won, you just take them!
JC: (incredulous) What a minute? So if you won Justin Timberlake tickets and I’m the next caller 10, I can take your tickets and you get what I was going to win?
AD: Yeah! Then you become the Ticket Taker!
JC: Sweet! (excited but turning apologetic) Well, sucks to be you.
AD: Um, but the next caller 10 could take your tickets too.
JC: (realizing that it cuts both ways) Oh … (looking on the brightside) Well, here’s hopin’ they won’t like JT.
AD: (to Jude) Yeah right! (to Audience) It’s Ticket Taker on 100.7 Star!
We could’ve easily given tickets away to caller 10, but instead built in some anticipation (and anxiety) to the contest. You don’t need step-by-step instructions in your contest promos. Just some fun storytelling that will get the audience excited to play along. Cut the fat and sell the sizzle!