Size DOES Matter
Go ahead. Try stuffing it all in. But ... copy for a 60 sec commercial is NOT going to fit nicely into a 30 sec spot.
Sometimes things fit. Sometimes they don't. We're taught these lessons early.
Square peg in a round hole. Nope, unless we're making that hole a whole lot wider.
Those cute pre-pregnancy pants a few weeks - or months - or, let's get real - a few years - post-baby. In your dreams, mama. That new waist size, courtesy of your new little bundle of joy, may be here to stay for a LONG time. Like forever.
And while we're talking tiny tots, there's ... Baby vs. the Bathtub. If you're a parent, you probably already know where I'm going with this.
When he was a small toddler, my son was terrified he’d be sucked down the drain with the bath water. Totally freaked out doesn't even begin to describe. it.
😘 No, I told him, we don’t throw out the baby with the bath water in this family.
Besides, he wouldn’t fit through that tiny drain hole.
He wasn’t having any of it. Fear and imagination are pretty powerful together, even in a little boy not quite two years old. He wasn’t convinced that his mother wasn’t pulling a fast one until he’d tested the drain thoroughly with all his bath toys.
Can't really blame him. It’s human nature. We believe what we believe until it’s proven without a doubt that it’s otherwise. And still, that’s not always enough.
But that doesn't mean we can still push the elephant through the doorway.
Align expectations within given restraints. And work from there. Forcing an elephant through a doorway leads to a shattered doorway. And one really pissed off elephant.
Chipmunk chops to the rescue
There are other truisms regarding fit. Like "one size fits all." Ha! No, sir, it doesn't.
Unless you're talking tent dresses. Or long bolts of cloth that can be wrapped and wrapped and wrapped around all sizes of bodies.
Fit certainly applies to the business world, though we usually assign different names to it like:
The 30 second commercial radio spot.
Let's talk about that last one.
One of my clients had written a radio commercial script that, when voiced, would run nearly 60 seconds. 54 seconds, to be exact.
No problem, except that it needed to fit a 30 second spot.
Hmmm. Some options here:
Significantly cut the copy to the essentials. There was clearly some unnecessary verbiage that didn't need to be in there. Repetitive phrases, an abundance of adjectives, and details that could have been left out.
Spring for longer air time.
Break the copy into two different commercials. Since it was for a local attraction, each commercial could come from a different person's perspective and serve to reinforce the overall message (that this place is something to see!). Or, alternatively, keep the radio commercial simple and to the point and provide all the extra detailed information on the company website.
Take on the challenge and voice it at break-neck speed. I'm talking chipmunk chops. To the point that even Alvin, Theodore, and Simon would have a hard time understanding what was being said.
And the client chose to ... play Dave Seville. He'd always liked the cartoon and never had a problem understanding what Alvin and his brothers were saying. Okayyyy....
I'm no Alvin, but I did squeeze it all in. Though I thought it sounded more like a little rodent lawyer barreling through the disclaimers on a car commercial than a cute chipmunk singing in a Christmas special. In other words, not so good.
The client concurred and that's when the cutting began. We went from 54 seconds to 43 seconds. OK, a start, but clearly not enough.
Then another round of cuts. And another. And then - voila! - an honest-to-goodness 30 second commercial that was much more to the point and actually more interesting than the original.
Having a hard time gauging the REAL length? Ask a pro.
All this could have been easily avoided. When in doubt about how long the written word takes to properly voice ... ask a voice actor.
Or better yet, work with a reputable agency or production company – they’ll know how to create a top notch spot for you. And save yourself a lot of aggravation and trouble.
So you want some general guidelines? My friend Samantha Boffin, voice actor, director, and former BBC producer, says that the rule of thumb followed at the BBC is three words per second. And, she notes, numbers usually work out to be more words than you'd think. For example, “2022” would be at least three words (twenty twenty-two).
Prices, too, take longer to say than you might think. $2499.99 is at least "twenty-four ninety-nine ninety-nine;" more if you say "two thousand four hundred ninety-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents." Before beginning any job, I like to ask the client how they want numbers, acronyms, and unusual names to be voiced. Just to avoid delaying the project with pickups. And, hey! It's always best to get the job right the first time, if you can.
The rule of thumb followed at the BBC is three words per second. - Samantha Boffin, former BBC producer
When it comes to copy, the truism is ... true. Less IS more!
So many scripts are truly over-written. Instead of throwing everything in commercial copy - plus or minus the kitchen sink - focus on the message and be succinct. Then think about these points:
Give the words space, so that the voice actor has something to work with. You'll find that intonation, pauses, and other delivery techniques can elevate the written word and create something memorable for the listener.
Make sure that the copy is written to be spoken. I've worked with corporate scripts that were clearly lifted from their websites. They're pretty easy to identify because they read as formal dissertations, not as conversational or even casual instructional speech. Overlong phrasing is also a giveaway. A complex sentence may be fine on the page (or website), but it can be rather awkward to say aloud. It's always a challenge to make those types of script sound like they're being said naturally. And they can sometimes be hard for a listener to follow.
Break up long phrases into shorter sentences. One idea per sentence. Keep to the point. Use action words to convey the message. It'll give the spot "legs" to lead the listener or viewer from one point to the next, beginning with your "hook" (or attention-grabber) and ending with your call to action.
Laura's Quick Tips
Let the copy breathe. Give the words space, so that the voice actor can really bring your message alive.
Write the copy as a person would speak it. Don't just lift text off your website.
Not sure where to begin? Reach out to one of the many excellent ad agencies or production companies who've raised creating commercials and videos to an art form.
Not sure who to call to help you with your project? I'm familiar with quite a few excellent advertising agencies and video production companies, and I'd be happy to recommend one or two in your area. Same thing with voice over talent - my network extends around the world. I'm sure I can help you find the right voice for your project - just describe what you have in mind! Feel free to reach out to me here.