TCC Podcast #113: Creating viral ads with Daniel Harmon | The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #113: Creating viral ads with Daniel Harmon

Creative Director and copywriter, Daniel Harmon is one of the brains behind the popular ads for PooPouri, Purple mattresses, Chatbooks and more. In the 113th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Kira and Rob talk with Daniel about The Harmon Bros. approach to creating advertising that’s calibrated to go viral, demonstrate the product, and sell enough to make a lot of money. Here’s what we covered:
•  how growing up on a potato farm led to a career in advertising
•  using YouTube to sell a tongue brush, air freshener and mattresses
•  how a Huffington Post article gave the Harmon Bros. their name
•  the creative process that led to working with Golidlocks
•  why they hold “writing retreats” as part of the creative process
•  how he (and the HB team) knows when something is truly funny
•  how they cast talent for their videos and look for the “comedic X-factor”
•  the two levels of hell and how to stay out of both (when it comes to casting)
•  what ads need to do at the end of the day—even the funny ones
•  how the HB formula works for both humor and serious ads
•  what it takes to get hired by an agency like Harmon Brothers
•  what it takes to turn “gross” into “gold”
•  the course they built to share all of their how-to secrets

There’s a ton of great advice, stories and ideas that anyone serious about creating compelling ads (especially those that work in environments like YouTube and Facebook). To hear it all, click the play button below, or download the episode to your favorite podcast app. Or scroll down to read a full transcript.

 

The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:

Orabrush
Devin Supertramp
Austin Craig
Poopouri
Harmon Bros.
The Goldilocks Ad
Studio C
The Abe Lincoln Ad
Hey Whipple Squeeze This
How to write ads that sell  (The HB Course)
Kira’s website
Rob’s website
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
Outro: Gravity

 

Full Transcript:

Rob:   This podcast is sponsored by The Copywriter Underground.

Kira:   It’s our new membership designed for you to help you attract more clients and hit 10K a month consistently.

Rob:   For more information or to sign up, go to thecopywriterunderground.com. What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts? Ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes, and their habit, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.

Kira:   You’re invited to join the club for episode 113 as we chat with the Chief Creative Officer at Harmon Brothers, Daniel Harmon, about storytelling and humor, what it takes to create viral videos that also sell products, building an agency, and what we need to do to create amazing work like the Harmon Brothers.

Welcome, Daniel.

Daniel:           Thank you. Thanks for having me on, guys.

Kira:   All right. Well, why don’t we start this off with your story, Daniel, about how you ended up as the Creative Director at Harmon Brothers.

Daniel:           My story actually goes back to when I was born. No. Not exactly. I was born in Idaho, Burley, Idaho specifically, and grew up working on the potato farm. This seems tangential, but it’s not. I learned to do sales face-to-face before I ever got into selling anything through video or through social media. What I mean by that is in order to earn money, my brothers and I, we would grab a truck that my uncle had and we would fill it full of 50-pound boxes of fresh Idaho potatoes and illegally, I’m sure, drive it down across the Utah border and go door-to-door or street side and sell boxes of potatoes. We would sell a 50-pound box for $20.

Utah was a really good market because it wasn’t Idaho where everyone already has potatoes and because there’s a lot of families there. We figured out that we could make more money selling potatoes door-to-door and face-to-face than we could if we worked minimum wage jobs, you know, as teenagers. The pitch was pretty basic. It was like, ‘Oh, I’ve just come down from my uncle’s farm with a lot of fresh Idaho potatoes that I’m selling to earn money for college,’ or in our case, ‘Earning money to pay for a mission to go and sell for our church. Does your family eat potatoes?’

If they said yes, we’re like, ‘Okay. They’re $20 for a 50-pound box. Do you want one or two boxes?’ It was basically the pitch. If they said, ‘No, we eat rice,’ then we just kind of moved on with our tail between our legs because we didn’t know anything about overcoming objections or anything like that, but it was very successful. We were able to make I think probably double the money that we would have made had we just worked minimum wage jobs. The first vehicle we ever owned was a van that my uncle came down and bought in Utah at auction. He bought it from an old copper mine. It was run to death. It was a 15 passenger Econoline Ford van.

Big old white van, industrial strength kind of thing, but it had been beat to death. He bought it for 900 bucks and then he brought it back when he saw that we’re having some success and we’ve been running his trucks into the ground, putting all the miles on. He said, ‘Well, I bought this van and you guys are going to buy it from me.’ We’re like, ‘Okay. I guess we’ll do that.’ The first vehicle we ever owned was a $900 15 passenger van. This is teenagers. We’d load that thing up with potatoes and we blew the tires on the freeway on a couple of occasions because we didn’t want to spend money on replacing bald tires until we were forced to.

That was kind of our first jump into sales. Then later on while in college, we went and did a summer sales program where we sold ADT alarm systems door-to-door. Here we learned more about the structure of a sale, that there’s an actual structure to it, that’s been used over time for basically probably centuries, but certainly decades. We learned how to overcome objections when people bring those up. We learned how to make something very complex like home security systems for people that don’t have them, boil it down to something very simple. We were some of the top salesman in the company. We were very successful with that. It was also a job I hated.

I always hated going door-to-door, but the money trade-off was worth it to me. Coming back from that, I studied advertising at BYU where I got a degree, where I went to their creative track. I went out and worked in Chicago as a copywriter at DDB Chicago, as well as BSA Partners and worked on brands like McDonald’s and Dell and Chicago International Film Festival, with Caterpillar, Harley-Davidson, GE Healthcare, just to name a few, and got a sense of the big agency world and the big city. Really liked the big city overall, but didn’t love the commute and kind of got tired of that.

At this time, my brothers had co-founded a company called Orabrush, which made a tongue cleaner that helped cure bad breath. It was basically this tongue cleaner that the inventor, Dr. Bob, had tried to peddle online. Well, excuse me. He hadn’t tried to peddle online. He tried to peddle it in grocery stores and things like that and had no success. In kind of last stage effort, he took it over to the local university here, BYU, and had them do a study on it and see if it could be sold online.

The class basically came back with the conclusion of, ‘Oh, based on our surveys and all this data, it suggested maybe like 7% or 8% of people would be willing to buy a product like this online, so we suggest you just don’t do it.’ Then my brother Jeffrey that was kind of hanging out in the back of the class and always just like reading things like TechCrunch and watching YouTube videos and stuff during class, kind of raised his hand. He said, ‘Well, wait a minute. 7% to 8%? That’s still millions of people. Why not sell to them?’

Dr. Bob was really excited about this response from him and kind of joined up with him after class and said, ‘Why don’t you sell this for me? Why don’t you sell the Orabrush for me?’ That led to my brothers Jeffrey and Neal becoming Co-Founders of Orabrush with Dr. Bob where they ended up making a video in order to try to promote the product. They’ve been driving traffic to the Orabrush sales page, so basically a landing page or sales funnel. They were having some success, but just a little bit. Jeffrey decided to pull a video from YouTube that was a way to test if you had bad breath or not. It used a spoon.

It didn’t have anything to do with Orabrush, but just putting that video on the landing page increased the conversion rate by like 30%. It really made him think, ‘Man, what if we did this, but was actually branded for Orabrush and we did it as an actual ad?’ They made this really cheap video for Orabrush. It cost about $500 to make. Jeffrey’s roommate at the time, this is my brother Jeffrey of course, his roommate at the time was Devin Graham, who is now known as Devin Supertramp online. They shot the video together. He had his other roommate Joel help him make the script really funny. Jeffrey and Devin directed it.

They got a coworker, Austin Craig, to be this guy in the lab coat to do the video. They made it and they put that on the website. All of a sudden, everything started converting much better. That’s when YouTube launched their platform for ads. This was back when you could buy views for less than a penny. Jeffrey got out in front of it and Orabrush was literally buying up views by the hundreds of thousands. It was probably honestly buying up more than half of the inventory on YouTube at the time. People were getting pretty sick of the ad, but I mean it drove the Orabrush in a big way. The sales really took off. It ended up getting placement in Walmart.

Essentially, what happened from there is I mean they went into Walmart. They went into CBS, Walgreens, into retailers all over the world and started getting cited all over the place. I mean YouTube used Orabrush as a case study all over the place as a way to do good business with YouTube. They would go and present it to places like Coca-Cola and everything. I joined Orabrush. I’d been consulting from Chicago on this Orabrush project on the side. I’m just kind of moonlighting, working on doing writing for them and branding stuff. I also do design. Did a lot of art direction and eventually Orabrush hired me on as Art Director.

We produced over a hundred videos during our time there at Orabrush before we resigned in 2013 and went and did the PooPouri campaign. What happened is PooPouri had been trying to recruit Jeffrey through LinkedIn after they had seen what had happened with Orabrush. They’re big fans of the work. They sent him some product and he was really impressed with it. Ultimately, Jeffrey and Neal, my brothers that were Co-Founders of Orabrush, left to start the PooPouri campaign. But in order to do that campaign, the last thing on their minds was making an ad agency.

They just needed a legal entity to put the money into to do the campaign because the idea was we’re basically going to become part of PooPouri in the same we were part of Orabrush. This is really long-winded, guys. I am sorry. I’m going on forever. Way more detail than you need, huh?

Rob:   The story of how you got to where you are I think is pretty important, but there’s definitely a lot to unpack here.

Daniel:           No or to cut. You could cut a lot as well. Basically what happened is when it came time to take the campaign money for PooPouri and put it in a legal entity, my brothers were like, ‘Well, let’s just call it Harmon Brothers and then we’ll change it later.’ They weren’t really worried about it. That’s what they did. They received the money. We made the campaign. It launched. Huffington Post got a hold of it, ad agent got a hold of it and everybody started citing creative agency Harmon Brothers. We were reading this in the news and looking at each other like, ‘Creative agency Harmon Brothers.’ I’m like, ‘Are we an agency?’ We’re like, ‘I guess we’re an agency.’

Literally, the name had stuck. There was almost nothing we could do about it at that point. Basically our backstory was we learned to do sales face-to-face with good principles before we ever applied it to anything with online video. Essentially, that’s what we’ve done is just use really good sound sales principles and execute it in a branded humorous way. That is the not cliff notes version of the Harmon Brothers story.

Rob:   It’s such a great story though. The thing that I really like about it, Daniel, is that in telling it, so much of it is accidental or serendipitous actually. It’s probably a better word. Among our audience, so many people become copywriters not because they have this dream of becoming a copywriter, but they’re coming from other fields or doing other things. To hear that this agency that you guys have built so successfully over the last few years and have done some pretty amazing things with was also kind of an accident. It just kind of fits into the narrative that so many of us in this field have. It’s a great story.

Do you mind talking a little bit more about the creation process on the videos? You said that it’s all sound sales principles, which is true. I think of like the Purple mattress spot with Goldilocks is one of the best demonstrations I’ve ever seen. Will you talk a little bit about the thought process behind the creation of these kinds of advertorials or advertisements?

Daniel:           Yes. Our starting point is always what would sell us. We think that we think best as a marketer when we actually think like a customer. When we approach a project, I mean one of our main things here at Harmon Brothers, we don’t market anything we don’t love ourselves. If there isn’t somebody that’s willing … That’s like really sold on it internally, like we have to have a creative director that’s really sold on something in order for them to champion it. We feel like ultimately that nothing sells better than the truth and that authenticity comes across in your creation.

For the Purple mattress specifically, I was, gosh, at the time I was probably almost 10 years into marriage. Had had the exact same queen mattress that I had bought when we had first got married. It was time to replace it, right? It was time to get a new one. The same was the case for my brothers. When they approached us with this awesome product, we made sure we tried it out. The cool thing about what happened in the creative process of Purple is they had this seat cushion at the time that they weren’t looking to actually go out the door with before the bed, but they had us sit on this seat cushion and they put a raw egg underneath our rear end.

We sat on it and it didn’t break. In fact, you could hardly even feel it once you sat on it. To us, that was like mind-blowing, right? That the egg didn’t break, that you couldn’t hardly feel it that it was there. That demonstration just really stuck with us and we just thought, ‘Man, if this is selling us this much on this technology, then certainly this has got to make its way into the video in some way,’ right? This is after Purple had seen us do PooPouri. We feel like some of the best insights come with how you were sold on the product, right, or in this case, how we’re sold on it. When we think like a customer, we can portray that effectively.

Then that one evolved over time where what’s the best spokesperson to talk about beds, specifically one that’s not too hard and it’s not too soft. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s got to be Goldilocks,’ right? That just makes sense as a brand character. Then when we went and wrote up the entire ad based on that, one of the biggest things was … We had what are called writing retreats. We’ll bring a number of writers together with the client and we’ll collaborate on the same team in order to solve problems with instantaneous feedback. This takes place over the course of two days where we enter with script concepts. We choose one that we feel like is the best backbone.

We run with that and then we iterate and we refine. We come out on the other side with a ready to start pre-production script. One of the big insights as part of the creative process was realizing that it wasn’t too hard and it wasn’t too soft. It wasn’t average either. It wasn’t a medium ground, right? It was that you got the best of both worlds without the actual drawbacks of them. That was kind of where it made sense for Goldilocks to be a part of it, but at the same time, it flipped it on its head, right, where she’s not going for the just right. She’s actually going for … Actually you get the best of both worlds.

We don’t have to have the crappy side of the rest of it. Then it all came down to how is the egg demonstration going to take place on film. We didn’t solve that all there in the writing process because when we started into actually producing the ad itself, we’re pre-production for it and doing the test, like you can sit on the egg, but then ultimately it hides it, right? You can’t really see what’s going on and then oh, did someone use camera tricks to fake it? We wanted that authenticity come across that it was for real. We have this idea of like, ‘Let’s take a giant piece of plywood and strap eggs to the bottom of it and drop it down.’ That worked, but visually it didn’t actually make any sense. Then in comes the idea of okay, we’ve actually got to have a layer of glass of some kind as it shows this. If it’s going to be glass and it’s going to be like compelling and all, it needs to be a substantial thick piece of glass, right? That’s where we come in with this 330-pound piece of tempered glass where you strap the eggs on the bottom and drop it down. You see that demonstration very viscerally and in a very concrete way. Yeah, it just worked. I mean again it was coming back to our original insight as customers ourselves where we had needed new beds.

We tried out all the other competitor’s bed. Found that Purple’s was clearly the best. I mean I still sleep on a Purple to this day. Luckily, I mean I got one for free. Mine actually doesn’t even say Purple on it. It was one of the earlier prototypes. It’s got like one of the makeshift actual wraps on it. It’s not like the final mattress. A lot of the creative process comes in scripting. Some of it comes after the fact. Hopefully that answers some of your question there.

Rob:   Yeah, it does.

Kira:   I would love to dig deeper into the creative process. This writing retreat sounds interesting and it kind of makes me think that you’re all in the mountains having this sleepover, staying up late with creative ideas. Can you talk through what specifically this writing retreat looks like and what your role is as the chief creative officer?

Daniel:           You bet. So it is very much in the mountains, sleepover. Exactly as you described it.

Kira:   I knew it. I knew it.

Daniel:           We do. We usually get a cabin up in Sundance which is pretty close here to Provo, where we’re located. The idea is to get away from everything, get away from cell coverage specifically. Put away the cell phones. Put away all distractions, have everybody really dialed in, and then bring diverse perspectives. So different writers from different backgrounds. They’re going to approach the same problem but in different ways creatively. Then put everybody on the same page, where you’re solving problems with the clients. Where it’s not like, ‘Oh, we’re coming in and we’re pitching this thing and we’re trying to sell you in on it,’ as much as it is, ‘Here’s the three of four concepts that we’ve brought to the table. Let’s see which one kind of rises to the top as like the best backbone.’

Then everyone checks their egos at the door. We’re all trying to solve the same problem. The cool thing about bringing diverse perspectives of writers and different concepts is you’re able to kind of take the best parts of each script and put that together into one script, where you get really great jokes that you never would have gotten because someone … We might not have used the concept in the script backbone that say, you know Jessica came up with, but she also had these awesome jokes that we can splice in there.

Or we might be using the concept that Dave came up with, but ultimately he needs to funny it up in these different parts or whatever, and it’s very collaborative. Like I said, it’s very much about putting everybody on the same team of trying to solve the problems. Yeah, we come out on the other end with a lockdown, let’s produce this script. When you’re editing, you’re usually doing it in a Google doc, so that everyone can kind of chime in and put in their comments. I’m saying the writers specifically.

But then doing readings, actual out loud readings with the client, with people there so that you can get authentic laughs and see how people are reacting to that. Yeah. It’s just, I’d say the key principles, it’s very collaborative. It’s very much everyone wants to achieve the same goal. It’s very focused in that you’re kind of taking yourself away from the rest of the world, focusing in, getting rid of cell phones for a time. Then you are all trying to come up with the best end product out the door. I’ve heard it described as very similar to a TV writer’s room in some ways.

Rob:   That’s what I was going to say. It sounds like it’s the writer’s room in a comedy sketch, which is maybe a little ironic because I think some of your writers actually participate in a comedy group. Is that right?

Daniel:           Correct. So a lot of our writers and we’ve used different writers from the sketch group Studio C. They’ve come on and participated in several scripts and given excellent ideas. In fact, we’ve used some of them because they’re very capable comedians, very talented. We’ve actually cast some of them in the lead roles in some of our ads as well. I guess one of the things is that we feel like starting with a comedy writer and teaching them sales can be a lot more effective than taking someone that knows sales and trying to teach them comedy, if that makes sense.

Rob:   Totally makes sense.

Daniel:           That’s kind of how we approach things. Is that, for my writing style, I lean on the sales side. Definitely play in the comedy area but I’m not like a standup comedian or a sketch comedy guy. No one really laughs at my jokes ever. There’s all these things where we can find much more capable people to come up with jokes and stuff, but I mean, I’m very much involved in this writing process. I think Kira, you had asked, what’s my role?

Kira:   Right.

Daniel:           So that depends. For example, going back to PooPouri I was a writer on PooPouri and Squatty Potty and Purple and all these different ads. I rarely write as like a writer anymore. I’m usually coming there more to just kind of guide creative, either as a creative director on the project or just kind of overseeing and being a part of it as a Chief Creative Officer but a lot of it is just, from my sense, is being able to identify what are really key elements that the writers have brought that can really trigger a tipping point for our customer. Like what’s, what’s the core of that? Are we nailing that?

That’s where a lot of my focus is. Because everyone kind of has the same sense of what’s funny. Not exactly the same sense, but you can quickly get a sense of what jokes are working by the way everyone laughs at it, right? Especially when you’re all working together like that. For example, the writers haven’t seen each other scripts when they come. So they’re able to actually laugh genuinely at the other writers’ stuff because they’re seeing it fresh for the first time, right? A lot of what I do, at this point, is just kind of oversee and guide and make sure that sale is really strong and clear.

Kira:   Hey, we’re just jumping into the show today to tell you a little bit more about the Copywriter Underground. Rob, what do you like best about this membership?

Rob:   So this membership community is full of copywriters that are investing in their businesses and taking what they do seriously. Everything is focused around three ideas. Copywriting and getting better at the craft that we all do, marketing and getting in front of the right customers so that you can charge more and earn more, and also mindsets, so you can get out of your head and focus on the things that will help you be successful at what we do.

Rob:   There’s a private Facebook group for the members of the community, and we also send out a monthly newsletter that’s full of advice, again on those three areas, copywriting, marketing and mindset. Things that you can mark up and tear up, put them in your files, save them for whatever and it’s not going to get lost in your email inbox. Kira, what do you like about The Copywriter Underground?

Kira:   So, I love the monthly hot seat calls where our members have a chance to sit in the hot seat and as a big question or get ideas or talk through a challenge in their business. Because we all learn from those situations. Then I also feel like the templates we include in the membership are valuable because who wants to reinvent the wheel and Rob and I end up sharing a lot of the templates and resources we use in our own businesses. I would definitely want to grab those.

Rob:   So if you are interested in joining a community of copywriters that are investing in their business and in themselves and trying to do more, get more clients, earn more money consistently, go to thecopywriterunderground.com to learn more. Now, back to the program.

Rob:   So Daniel, I’m curious. You mentioned the casting decisions that you make and when you worked here with the Studio C actors. Tell us a little more about that process. This is really different from what I think most copywriters are thinking about, when they are scripting something. How much does that influence the end product, what you end up with?

Daniel:           In who we cast?

Rob:   Yeah. With who you cast or why you choose the people that you choose. I mean, for anybody listening, if you watch Goldilocks in Purple, she’s a phenomenal actress. The Abe Lincoln in the political spot that you guys did. Like they’re very capable at delivering the roles that you write for them.

Daniel:           Yes. My mentality and for you copywriters out there, a lot of you have probably read the book, ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze This,’ Which is like standard reading in my ad program, but in there, he talks about there being two levels of hell. He says there’s regular and extra crispy. He says if you get to, like your third day of shooting on an ad and you’re in like your 16th hour and you know you’re in a double overtime, and you’re shooting. You’re in your 47th take, and I’m paraphrasing obviously, and you’ve got this actor that just can’t nail the line, like you’ll know what extra crispy hell is.

What his recommendation is, is always cast for the performance and not the look. I’ve taken that from ad school very literally, especially when your character has to carry an ad for anywhere from two minutes to five minutes, like they do in ours. That we always look first for the performer. Try not to get too caught up in the look.

I think a really good example from Hollywood was when they cast Christian Bale for Batman. When Christopher Nolan did that, at first I was like what? Jack from Newsies? How’s he supposed to be Batman? And then all of a sudden, when he’s in that role, it just makes sense, right? The same thing kind of happened with Daniel Craig. Just an aside, my middle name’s actually Craig. Just aside, a namesake, but Daniel Craig, when he was cast as Bond, they’re like what? He’s blond. He looks older. He doesn’t look at all like Pierce Brosnan or Sean Connery. He has this different air, but this wasn’t like the Bond that was always throwing out the puns and doing that cheesy kind of stuff. This was like a gritty, different kind of like parkouring Bond. You know? Then everyone just kind of bought into it.

We feel that’s very much the case. For us, we try to cast a comedic X factor. That we know even when we’ve written the best jokes we could possibly do, that at the end of the day, there will always be things in filming that land a little flatter than you thought they would, and other parts that will actually be way better if you have that someone that brings that extra special comedic timing, and so we very much look for performance and comedic X factor as we cast.

Kira:   You have talked a lot about the structure of the sale. Where do you find that most writers go wrong with video scripts? What, is there a component that we miss or we just repeatedly miss out on?

Daniel:           I think for a lot of people, they get too caught up in being entertainers or being artistic or branded, without remembering at the end of the day, advertising. I mean if you were to ask me what my definition of advertising is, it would be three words, media that sells. That’s it. If at the end of the day, your advertising isn’t getting people to buy, then what’s the point?

I think people get a little bit too caught up sometimes in making something really conceptually artistic or strong, and losing sight of what the end objective is. So, so much of what we see in the way of traditional advertising, like the 30 second ads or 15 second ads or a lot of what you see on TV and a lot of what makes its way over to online is to do a really, something really funny or really interesting and then you just kind of drop the brand at the end.

Not to say that that can’t be effective. It can, and that has its place, but I think even for people that get into more long formats and we see a lot of people kind of try to copy our style, which is very flattering. It’s awesome. We’re trying to actually teach people how to do that more effectively, but they get too caught up in trying to be entertaining or funny, and not realizing that you actually get the best of both worlds if you get your sale right, if you really make sure you structure things in a way that are compelling. That’s where we always start from, and that’s how we make all our writing decisions and our editing decisions, is at the end of the day, will this sell me? Will it sell the customer, and if it’s not, if it’s a distraction, it’s got to go. That’s how we approach it.

Rob:   So Daniel, when you talk about something that’s compelling to you. You guys have used humor a lot. I’m wondering, would you ever consider doing non-humorous demonstrations, or is humor really an integral part of that kind of message that really connects with the customer.

Daniel:           I’d say yes to both. Humor is integral to what we do at Harmon Brothers, and yes we are also very open to doing non-humor messages, depending on what it calls for. The best example I can think of is the one we released just earlier this summer for a non-profit group called Save the Storks. Save the Storks creates these mobile medical buses that provide free ultrasounds and pregnancy tests to women in crisis pregnancies. They’ll go and park them near abortion clinics. They’re not actually trying to push anything on these women at all. They’re very much trying to help the women who feel trapped into having basically no other decision than to abort their baby. What they do is they give them a free ultra sound, let them hear the baby’s heartbeat. Then if the woman decides to keep her baby, then they provide adoption resources and financial aid and all these different things.

When you’re approaching a touchy subject like abortion, regardless of which side you approach it from, and in my mind they’re doing it very respectfully in the way that they’re respecting the decision of the mothers. They’re just kind of empowering them to make kind of a well-informed decision and to have the resources there, and that’s kind of why we got behind it, is that the way they’re approaching it isn’t like the traditional Washington DC polarizing kind of way, but it’s a 12 minute long documentary that we ended up coming up with. It’s a mini-doc. It’s literally 12 minutes long.

It follows our same structure that we normally do. It’s kind of our same formula, but there’s hardly a joke in the whole ad. It’s very emotional, very dramatic, tug at the heartstrings kind of thing, because it’s just telling real stories of people that have gone through some really hard times, and these women that have been in these kind of crisis pregnancies, but the video was extremely effective. The whole purpose of the video was to get donations for the organization.

It actually surpassed the donations goal within three months that it had for the entire year. So, yes, you can have an effective sale that doesn’t have to rely strictly on comedy. We did another video. It wasn’t necessarily a sales video but we did a video back in the day with the piano guys. You guys might have heard of, where we did like a whole nativity video, and that was very emotional as well. No humor involved.

It was a music video. It wasn’t like our traditional ad and stuff, but yeah, we’re totally open to taking whatever route we feel like the brand needs. Most people, when they come to us though, they are usually looking for us to make things really funny. That’s fine. That’s what we’re known for, but we’re not stuck on that 100%.

Kira:   I’m wondering how copywriters can be more of a copy chief, more of the Chief Creative Officer in their own businesses, even if they don’t have a team, or maybe they have a small team, or maybe they’re just working solo from home. I think it helps to step back and kind of see the holistic picture of the project and be able to really understand the pieces, the sales pieces and how it all fits together. Is there anything that we can do more of, that you’re currently doing to be that bigger role in our projects?

Daniel:           Well, obviously you’re going to want to expand on your network, right? You’re going to want to have talent people that you can trust, that you can go to for writing and stuff, if you’re going to go that route. First and foremost, you have to find other people that are as creative as you are, that are very like-minded in their ideals, and ultimately for us, going that route is all about trial and error, meaning we always try to start small with anyone that we’re trying out new, when we’re bringing in new talent.

We try to give them a small writing project that they can get involved in, and just see how they do, right? See how they work with us. Because like resumes, work history, and like the work you’ve done … Ultimately resumes don’t mean that much to us. It’s much more about what work you’ve actually produced and then are you good to work with, and then ultimately can you work with us. That’s kind of our thing. It is very much about expanding your talent pool and your network in order to get into more of that Creative Director or Chief Creative Officer type role, where you’re kind of more high level, not having to do all the work yourself.

Daniel:           One of the things that we try to do all the time, is we always try to have multiple checks and balances creatively when we go through a project, meaning even if a Creative Director owns the project from beginning to end, that they have other writers or Creative Directors that they can go to, to get gut checks on certain points of the script, or of the production that they’re putting together or of the edit. We very much use the Pixar model, which is described in Creativity Ink, which is a brain trust. Where the primary goal of a brain trust is to have really talented people that you’re surrounded by, whether it be friends or family or just other creative professionals that you like to collaborate with, that you can show your work to and get honest fresh eyes that can identify problems that you can’t see because you’re too into the weeds. You’ve got too much tunnel vision right now, right?

And they can look at your edit or look at your script and be like, ‘This isn’t working for me. This part is completely confusing me, why is this here?’ When you see it from that perspective, you’re like, oh yeah, of course. Why didn’t I identify that sooner? Well, you can’t. At the end of the day, when you’re in the project, you simply can’t. We understand that that’s inherent to being a creative, is that you ultimately get deep enough into a project that you always end up with blind spots.

The purpose of a brain trust, or a collection of people that can review your work and give you honest feedback and identify problems, and maybe even offer solutions, but ultimately … that’s not up to them to provide the solutions, that’s up to you, heading up the project … is to be able to get a bigger hive mind, a greater collective of creative thinking that’s not just your own, your own perspective, because if everyone just thinks like an Idaho farm boy, we’re in big trouble. So anyway, that’s how we approach it.

Rob:   So Daniel, listening to you talk about the team makes me wonder, okay. So when you guys hire, what kinds of things are you looking for from the pitch that you’re getting from somebody who might want to join Harmon Brothers? I’m guessing you probably see dozens of them a week. What works and maybe what doesn’t work when you’re trying to pitch an agency of your caliber?

Daniel:           Gosh.

Rob:   And of course, if you spill secrets here, you’re going to be inundated with everybody who listens to the podcast-

Kira:   Right.

Rob:   … saying, yeah, I want to work for Harmon Brothers.

Daniel:           No, that’s totally fine. Networking is still the first and foremost, to have an introduction from someone within our company that I trust … That’s your biggest foot in the door always. But that is not necessarily the only one. You have to figure out a way to cut through the clutter and to understand what the clutter is, basically take a look at a whole bunch of the work of other people around you that you would be maybe ‘competing’ against, and figure out, how do you stand out from that?

And actually, sometimes it even as less to do with how perfectly executed it is as much as it is just how different and how much it sticks in your mind. It’s so funny. We had a person that applied for a job and just even as an intern, she wanted it really bad, and she was running around her college campus, and she just did this handheld video. She was like, ‘So, I really want this job. And just to show you how brave and creative I am, I’m going to go spoon with this complete stranger that’s sleeping in the hallway.’

So there’s a person that was literally sleeping in the hallway of one of the campus buildings, and she just laid down on the floor and spooned up next to him until they woke up, and then ran away. But filmed the whole thing, and it just really stood out from all the other applicants. And we could see the passion was there, and it wasn’t perfectly executed or anything, but we really appreciated that tenacity and that … Oh, I’m just going to go try something.

And so I think you kind of have to think in terms of, how do you stand out? And yes, it does go a long ways when you actually have work that’s been out there, that’s been viewed, that’s had traction and success. And you definitely want to lead with your best attention-grabbing thing first, and you don’t want to include all the work that you’ve done that might be distracting to, or make me call into question … Oh, well, which are they? Are they this awesome thing that they did, or are they this kind of mediocre thing that they did? It can be literally three pieces if they’re great pieces.

But definitely, networking your way in is always the best way to go. There’s a lot of local filmmakers here in Utah that … They just go and make sure they get onto sets, even if they have to get on for free as a production assistant, which is kind of … In film, that’s kind of like being an intern. Basically you do what anybody asks of you. My first internship out in Chicago, I did it for free. I wasn’t paid anything, but I just wanted a foot in the door. I wanted to get to work on really cool stuff, and I got to work on McDonald’s and Dell and some big names like that by just doing that.

Anyway, that’s kind of, I guess, a good starting point for us, because that’s what we’re looking for. Again, that has very little to do with resume and with pedigree and with degrees and all that stuff. It’s really about, what cool work have you done? What do people that we trust say about you in working with you? And then ultimately, let’s try you on a project. How did you work with us? It’s those three things.

Kira:   Cool. So you’ve mastered the art of turning gross into gold. I want to know the secret, because I love gross and creepy. I feel like it’s part of my brand.

Daniel:           Oh yeah.

Kira:   But there’s a line, right? So how do you know when you’ve crossed that line, and how do you know when you’ve nailed it?

Daniel:           It’s so funny. We were having a conversation about this just in a meeting two days ago, and we’ve got this project coming up for a deodorant company, and we were discussing … Specifically, this is a deodorant that can be used on other parts of the body, let your imagination wander, that don’t have to be your armpits, because it’s that kind of safe, natural thing.

Ultimately, our script had crossed the line, and we showed it to people with fresh eyes that weren’t part of our company and got some feedback from it. And what I’ve seen … And maybe this is a good litmus test, now that I’ve used it once … What we’ve seen is when we see people go out and try to copy our style, that they’ll often go and cross the line. They’ll make it too gross or too crass, or it’ll just be too offensive to where it’s not capturing a wide enough audience. And this script that we had had a particular part in it that was kind of offensive. It was very much towards the beginning, and I couldn’t see it at the beginning, until we started hearing fresh eyes telling us that they were getting kind of offended by it. We’re like, oh, that’s kind of core to it.

But then what I did is I actually imagined the video being produced by someone that’s not us, specifically by another agency altogether that maybe has done work in the past that has been offensive to me. And I imagined them doing that, and then all of a sudden I could clearly see, whoa. If they came out with that, I’d be totally like, whoa, what are they doing? Why did they decide to go that far?

And I think that is what it takes. You have to separate yourself from your own work for a second, and if you put it in the shoes of someone that’s offended you in the past … Like, say, what if it came from this person, where they’ve done this offensive stuff? And if it was coming from them, would I think it was offensive? And if it would, then maybe you need to take a second look at it.

But a lot of it is just having fresh eyes on things for people to say, ‘Eh, that’s not working for me. Why’d you guys go there?’ To be quite honest, I’m kind of, in my own media habits, I’m kind of conservative by nature. I have six kids and I’ve got really little ones, and very much thinking about their developing minds. And so I’m not really in a habit of going out and watching everything that’s pushing the boundaries out there in the way of content. I’m not watching all the latest HBO or whatever stuff. My own viewing habits are a lot more, I guess, family-friendly, for lack of a better term.

So I actually have a fairly high sensitivity myself to that kind of stuff, and I think that actually benefits us, because it helps us know a little bit when we’ve crossed the line to some degree. And I was actually talking to some of our coworkers about that. I’m like, man. I guess it’s find that I don’t love all these things. I hate horror. I hate it. All the horror movies do nothing for me. They’re not entertaining, I just hate them. That’s just to use one example. And I just … I never find blood entertaining. I see its place in telling authentic stories and different things, but when people use blood for humor, it just almost never does anything for me, and I clearly could’ve never been a surgeon. We would be in a really problematic place with that.

But just somewhat of that sensitivity level, having kids, and my own viewing habits, actually helps us out a lot in knowing when we’ve crossed the line. And then even then, just getting outsiders who haven’t seen the stuff and having them take a look at it and getting an honest view from them. I’m not talking focus groups, I’m talking individuals watching it, and filming their reactions to things. Then you can see what’s really funny or what’s really offensive, and you can ask questions and just be open to the fact that not all sensibilities are the same as yours.

But that also depends on … It all depends on your audience, who you’re going after. Maybe you’re going after the horror market, and then you can throw whatever at the wall and you’re going to be fine, I don’t know. But that’s where we land, is usually going for more general population kind of products, consumer products, where we don’t want to cross those lines.

Rob:   So Daniel, when you talk about … Others have tried to copy your approach to advertising and to the videos that you create … You guys actually put together a course to teach people how to do it the Harmon Brothers way. Will you tell us a little bit about that, maybe some of the challenges that you faced there, and is that open for anybody to join? Or how do you make that available to people?

Daniel:           At the beginning of this year, we decided to take what we do and translate it into a course that anybody can take to learn the style of advertising that we do, which is essentially … We’ve married the worlds of the traditional infomercial with direct sales, and the traditional branded ad with no kind of hard sale in it … We’ve married those together in our Harmon Brothers ads, and we have a course that’s called How to Write Ads That Sell.

And it is … What we started was harmonbrothersuniversity.com. If you go there right now, it’s actually not even open for enrollment. We only have select enrollment periods that we’re letting people in, because one of the challenges is making sure the people that go through the course get the attention that they need. We don’t want to expand it and not be able to guide people through the process as best we can and respond to their emails and those things.

And the course is basically the culmination of millions of dollars spent in the advertising that we’ve done, the campaigns that we’ve done, for making ads that sell for our own clients. And our philosophy with this has from the get-go been hold nothing back. So literally, any trick, any formula, any strategy, any principle that we use, we are putting it in this course.

So, How to Write Ads That Sell is very specifically … goes in depth about the structures that we use in our ads. It goes in depth about the writing retreat that I already referred to, about the principles about keeping things focused on what matters and not losing sight of the important stuff. And again, it’s not open for enrollment right now, but what we’ve done is we’ve got a specific URL for your audience here, Kira and Rob. It’s harmonbrothersuniversity.com/copywriter. And if they go there, they’ll actually get … It’s an enrollment literally limited to your class, to your followers. And the other cool thing is, it’s actually 20% off on the course itself-

Rob:   Wow.

Daniel:           … which I haven’t even gotten approval from our CEO, we’ve just done it. So it’s literally going to be a window of a week that we’ve going to have this open because it’s just something we can’t have all the time. But that will make it available for anybody that wants to learn this. This is basically all the stuff, every secret we have in our book on how to write an ad that sells.

We have other courses that will be additional enrollment that will be coming down the pipe later about how to actually create ads that sell, that take you through everything through casting, directing, filming, editing, motion graphics, sound, all that stuff, you name it. We’ll have that. And then also, an additional course will be coming later as well, probably towards the beginning of next year, on how to distribute and buy ads, or do ad spend for a campaign that will sell.

So again, that’s coming a little bit later, but that one course right now will be available to your audience for 20% off. And like I said we’re going to have a window of about a week that we’ll leave that open, and then shut it down. And then like I said, we just have certain enrollment periods that we do here and there as we are trying to expand on this and teach people these principles. But it’s been pretty awesome to see, especially those that go and apply … That’s the big thing, is we can give you all the tools. But those that go and apply, we’re seeing some awesome videos come out of that, and a lot of creativity. So I’m very excited about it.

Kira:   Who is a good fit for this program?

Daniel:           So the program How to Write Ads that Sell is basically for copywriters. I’d say it’s for entrepreneurs and innovators that are looking to get their brand and their product out there. And it’s also for marketers. And I’d say it’s even for comedians, and just anyone that’s wanting to make an ad that’s more successful at selling and using the principles that we’ve been using.

We always say, make it good enough that it doesn’t have to be viral, and this is very much teaching you how to make an ad that’s effective enough that you don’t have to rely on the whims of virality. And so that’s kind of it’s geared for.

Kira:   Awesome. Thank you so much, Daniel. This has been really fun. We’d love to have you back again.

You’ve been listening to the Copywriter Club podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive, available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing on iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.

 

 

 

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