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How to Break Down Commercial Copy (part 1)

So! You’ve taken the acting classes, the improv classes, the singing lessons and attended workouts and yet you’re still not able to capitalize on commercial auditions. You get frustrated and annoyed…you’ve done alllll the things, right? You’re prepared! Why are these opportunities passing you by? And then you decide that the only answer must be that maybe you’re just not ‘good’ at commercials. All the evidence is right there, right? Not booking MUST mean not ‘good’! Guess it’s time to try different genres. You never fully considered audiobooks but maybe that’s where you’ll thrive! Or maybe you should dust off your CV? Does this mental spiral sound familiar to you? (shhhh...this has been my spiral in the past...don't tell anyone).

Take heart! The answer to your commercial booking stagnation might not be how commercial or not you sound. It might not be how educated you are as an actor or how much daily craft work you’ve put into understanding your instrument. The answer might be because you’re skipping a crucial first step in your approach. Before you press record, before you open your DAW, before you ask ‘who am I talking to’, before you start to think about ‘winning the job’. The first step just might not be how to attack copy as an actor but how to understand it as…a writer.

The reason behind this is one part technical skill (aka craft work) and one part psychological. With technical skills or craftwork, how to read for an indoor educational point of purchase is going to be different than comical radio sponsorship. The former might be delivered dryer, calmer, slightly monotone, smooth, medium to slow pace and medium to low pitch. The latter might be delivered wetter, excited, varied pitch, textured, medium to quick pace and medium to high pitch.

The psychological reason is that if you’re a person who has an internal monologue, then you will be very familiar with the critical voice yelling at you about all the things you’re doing ‘wrong’. Oftentimes the more technical information we can give our critical brain at the onset, the more the critical voice will lessen control. It ‘hears’ you taking care of its needs and will be quieter when you start work on the creative and character work of the copy. And therefore, it will be far more fun to stay in the moment and play.

Begin your actor work by asking these three questions first BEFORE you look at the director's breakdown specs: What type of ad is this? What is this commercial being used for? What is this copy’s purpose? (hint for even better psychological success? Write these answers down!)

What type of ad is this?

  1. Radio - streaming or broadcast, commercial or sponsorship

  2. Online - site specific, social media, streaming and web

  3. Television - broadcast (local, regional, national), streaming

  4. Outdoor - Display, gas station monitor, event

  5. Indoor - point of purchase, display

What is this commercial being used for?

1. Institutional

Institutional copy’s aim is not to sell the listener anything specific. Rather the goal is to build a reputation with its audience.

2. Educational

Educational copy’s aim is to inform or update information to the listener. It assumes the listener already has a basis of understanding of the product or brand.

3. Selling

Selling or ‘reason why’ copy’s aim is to give the listener a reason why they need to purchase the product. It will use guarantees, customer testimonials, etc to show the necessity of the product.

4. Suggestive

Suggestive copy’s aim is to convince the listener to purchase or do something. It works best when the copy is looking to clear up any confusion the listener might have with the brand or product.

5. Expository

Expository copy’s aim is to expose the listener to something new. Its goals are based in facts about the product and uses its merits for the listener’s benefits.

6. Human interest

Human interest copy’s aim is to use emotional connection with its audience to entice the listener.

What is this copy’s purpose?

1. Fear

Warning or protecting the audience

2. Excitement

Energizing and engaging the audience

3. Comical

Entertaining to the point of laughter and bringing smiles on faces

4. Predicament

Dramatic benefits explanation of the product

5. Story

Narration of customer experiences

We all have heard these types of advertisements our entire lives. Whether we are fully aware of it or not, there’s a style each of these types [traditionally] has. Intellectually answering this question automatically sets up our critical brain to begin relaxing into its understanding and categorization of the world. Even if you’re not a technical aficionado in your [reads] yet, the more you know about a writer's process, the more you'll start to hear it while you listen to advertisements throughout your day. The more you hear with knowledge, the more you understand in your work.

Take the time to do this work! Starting your copy work with a writer’s hat on rather than an actor’s hat, could help you stay more connected to the intent of the advertisement and therefore more appealing to those who are casting them.

Keep working! Keep playing. You got this!! Stay tuned for part 2!

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