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If you’ve spent any amount of time around radio advertising or radio commercials, at some point you’re going to stumble across the phrase “theater of the mind.”

Copywriters, producers, on-air personalities will use the phrase “theater of the mind” to describe the ultimate performance on the radio.  Whether it is a comedy bit from the morning show or a commercial that tugs at your heartstrings, having the listener “picture” it in their mind is the greatest accomplishment.

“Theater of the mind” is almost a cliche’ in the world of radio, and people will flippantly use the phrase to prove they’re familiar with it, but so few can actually create it.  It’s more than clinking spoons inside a coffee mug so two friends can have a conversation about your product at the coffee shop.  (If you’re a dentist, what’s the purpose of the coffee shop to your service?)  I’m not talking about just putting chirping birds in the background to suggest a conversation in the park.  (Again, if you’re a mechanic, what does the park have to do with your oil change special?)

I just read a great description of radio dramas back in the 1920s…”In Australia, ‘live’ studio performances were always conducted in evening dress.  After all, you never knew who was listening.”

I immediately interpreted this as “theater of the mind, in reverse.”  Here the performers are imagining their audience.  They are the actors in the play, but on this stage, they can’t see their audience.  The actors won’t be rubbing elbows with the socialites in the bar across the street after the performance.

It’s a brilliant description and one I hope you take to heart regarding your commercials.

First, what is the imaginative value of your commercial for the listener, your customer?  And how do you picture your customer listening to your commercial?