Episode Description

Empathy in advertising seemsobvious, but it is often overlooked in favor of calculated strategies. In thisepisode, FrankIppolito, Copywriter and Senior Creative Director for OH Partners, joins host Scott Harkey to talk all thingsadvertising. Frank shares incredible insight on how empathy is the key tocreating an ad that truly connects and resonates with people. They talk aboutthe common thread between some of the most memorable and iconic spots andreminisce about brands that truly hit home. Scott and Frank also share valuabletips and reminders for anyone out there looking to create an effective ad.

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Episode Transcript

I'm here with a good buddy of mine and OH Creative Director, Frank Ippolito. Let's jump into this, Frank. You're my guy. We have a lot of crazy conversations about brands and who's doing well, who's struggling, why and what was the consumer insight behind that. My favorite conversation is when you store in my office as usual and we're talking about Nike, of course. Talk to me a little bit about the insight you and I talked about with Nike in the campaign they launched with Tiger Woods.

Nike does it well and they've always done it well. It's more of Wieden+Kennedy than Nike. Wieden is good and has been good. What they do best is they tell a story. They're great storytellers. The Tiger Woods spot after he won the Masters was pure, it was almost student-like. It looked horrible.

The production quality was not there. For people who haven't seen that spot, walk us through that spot. First of all, our agency has a serious crush on Wieden, big time. The work they do is amazing. It’s a little agency in Portland that has done work with Nike for many years. They launched on Twitter through Nike’s account right after Tiger won the Masters. Set the spot up for people who haven't seen it.

On a Saturday when Tiger was in the running, you knew that they were working on this. They were like, “If he wins, we need to come out with something.” Tiger has always been wanting Jack Nicklaus’ record for majors so it wasn't necessarily about, “Congratulations, Tiger. You did it.” That's what other brands would do. Rolex would have done that. They would have said, “Nice picture. Congratulations, Tiger. You did it,” but no. Wieden wants to tell this story of redemption because, let's face it, Tiger has had a bad run of it over ten years. He’s horrible. His life is a train wreck. This redemption story then Wieden just told a beautiful story. They wanted to get at your heartstrings. They wanted to endear Tiger back into us. The spot is student-like. It was mashed up photos and video but the words, music and essence of the spot were the reason why it was so emotional.

At the end of the spot, you see this three-year-old Tiger Woods with this grainy, crappy footage. It's this little kid saying, “I'm going to beat Jack Nicklaus.”

Don't we all want that to happen? It's his lifelong dream and you don't want to root against anybody. It was pure gold.

In my office, you said this and it resonated with me. I even wrote it on my whiteboard. People can relate to almost giving up on a dream but then not.

What we talked about that day and it was this insight that I had, is that instead of saying, “What does the brand stand for?” That's what we always do in the agency up until, “When am I going to start doing this?” We've always said, “What does our brand stand for? What does OH brand stand for? What does Arizona tourism stand for?” That's where the agencies come into this process. We've always done it that way forever. We're taught this way. What we talked about was that instead of what the brand stands for, why don't we ask the question what are we fighting? That's a more emotional question than what does the brand stand for? The consumer doesn't care what you stand for. They care about, “What are you going to do for me in my life? That's how I'm going to be connected to you. That's how I'm going to be brand loyal. Make me feel something and then I might give you my money.”

Do you think people have an internal fight that they're fighting? Do you think people relate to a cause or something externally that they want to get behind a movement that is fighting some injustice?

It's internally. It's up to brands to connect with that. “Speak to my soul and then I'll give you my mind and then I'll give you my money.” What we talked about was, what is Nike fighting? Let's go back to Tiger Woods. What is he fighting?

How does Nike relate to what Tiger is fighting? What is Nike as a brand fighting that people can relate to?

From the beginning, the first Just Do It ad, the first time that they realized that what they were fighting was non-movement.

Is it apathy of your athletic dream?

Yeah. They're fighting inertia. People didn't want to move. “Give me a reason to move.” “You could just do it.” Who's going to argue with that? No one. When they had the Tiger thing, he was fighting a bad set of PR issues. He was a jerk a little at the end before this new Masters. What he was fighting internally was respect. This is what they did which was so great. It's like, “Remember how much you loved this guy ten years ago? Let me reintroduce you to the guy you love.” The day after he won the Masters, the red sweater sold out on Nike online. It was gone.

Nike stock has gone crazy since the Colin Kaepernick thing and people thought that was crazy. It was genius.

They waited at the right time.

Their execution is always perfect. Their execution works. A lot of people on the Kaepernick thing would have done it the wrong way, the way probably Gillette did it the wrong way and got fried. The way they executed it in the subtle way that they inserted Kaepernick into that spot speaks to their demo of 18 to 34-year-old men. Let's face it. They're like, “Nike has some guts. Nike has some balls.”

Empathy In Advertising: When you understand that you can write something that’s going to touch somebody emotionally, you just don’t stop until you have the perfect words.

They're bold. We love the word bold. I'm a writer and I've always been convinced, if you could write that perfect spot, the rest is nothing. It takes care of itself because you have people, cinematographers, directors and art directors. Unless you have that perfect spot, doing the right thing and saying the right things to tell that great story, it could go all sorts of bad. The perfect spot has an arc like a movie in 30 seconds, which is the hardest thing to do in the world.

These agency people are like, “We get no respect. The story arc in 30 seconds and we got to sell stuff.”

Do you know that meme where the hot girl is walking this way and the guy with the girl is looking back? It's the funniest thing ever. On sets, the writer is sitting around there going, “All you people wouldn't be here if it wasn’t for me because you wouldn't have to say anything.” The director gets all the love and that's how it goes on.

Once you have the consumer motive that triggers their emotional being, you can write that out that also is true and authentic to the brand, how do you insert a story arc so quickly? Is that the secret sauce?

Carefully. It's not as easy as anybody would think. You and I have done these spots where it's nothing but retail. There's no arc whatsoever. “Buy this now.” Sometimes, that used to pay the bills and it still pays the bills. You still have to do it. When you get those rare moments where you understand that you can write something that you are going to be able to touch somebody emotionally, you don't stop until you got the perfect words. That arc has got a big beginning. It takes you up to an emotional crescendo and then it comes back down to the brand. That's the best story writing ever.

Why are brands doing it wrong? How do brands get it wrong? No brand is like, “I want to be boring. I don't want to be bold.” Let's face it, most ads we see are junk. How does somebody like Nike do it so well and others that we respect in the business? How do most of them get it so wrong?

One, they lose their way because of revenue.

They're impatient.

They got a board that they got to please. Those people are super impatient and they're like, “Where am I going to see my return on investment on this?” We love Nike. Other brands like Warby Parker understand that it's a long game. The revenue is not going to come quickly. If you keep on doing the right thing, getting into the soul of the consumer and attracting them because you got to have great products, with Nike and Warby Parker, it's never the product first.

There's so much more clutter than ever before. The average American consumer was seeing 5,000 ads a day or something like that. I don't know what Google's latest study is. Google said, “Today, you need a frequency of 22.6 to even be relevant in consumer’s mind.” That's why we're seeing so many brands take such a hard stance that resonates with their tribe and they're not bashful about it. You're seeing brands almost say no to people that don't fit them in a way that is so bold. As a customer service person, that's not right. They're understanding that if you can empower your brand advocates, that's the real power of loyalty. Not watering down the message to make everybody happy. Even big brands like Nike are doing this. They’re like, “If you don't like us or you don't like the Colin Kaepernick thing, screw you because other people are going to love this.”

“If you're not vibing on the Kaepernick thing then you're not our customer anyway. Go buy Adidas or Reebok."

That's counterintuitive to the customer service model.

At OH Partners, what we try to do is get into that soul and that headspace. Instead of, “Buy this. Do this,” we create those brand advocates and then set them off into the world. The perfect example is eegee's.

Tribe is an understatement for that group.

It's an absolute cult down there in Tucson. You can't say anything that will stop anybody from buying eegee's.

It's different than the entertainment industry. In the advertising industry, you have to entertain but you also have to be strategic and authentic and you have to sell a product to the end of the day. How do you tap into that heartbeat of a customer and understand those trigger points? It can't just be some Facebook data, some analytic data and consumer trend data. As a writer, how can you tap into somebody else's heartbeat and understand those emotional triggers?

The consumer doesn’t really care what you stand for. They care about what you are going to do in their life.

The one thing that I don't think a lot of people on the outside of our world understand is that as a writer and probably art directors, too, we are students of the human being. We're students of psychology. As a writer, this is what I tell all of our younger people, “You got to know everything about your brand. Until you know everything and if you're not deep inside what shapes that brand, you're not going to be able to write anything. You won't be able to write humor or emotional stuff.” That's the most important thing. It's going back to, “Where's that meaningful truth? What does that sound like? What does that feel like? What’s that human truth?” Sometimes it's humor. Sometimes it's dramatic. Sometimes it's no-nonsense. Our opioid campaign for the Arizona Department of Health, it’s super emotional. It's a giant epidemic. It's the worst. What I did as a writer is say, “If I'm a teenager, what's my mindset? What am I fighting?” It wasn't fighting addiction necessarily. It was more fighting peer pressure. It was more fighting the feeling of being trapped. You've seen those spots.

That consumer doesn't resonate with addiction but they resonate with being trapped somewhere.

That's what we got to. What does that feel like? What does it sound like?

That consumer insight is where getting in is easier than getting out came from.

If we talked addiction and hit them with a bunch of stats or go Nancy Reagan on them and say, “Don't do it,” they're not going to listen to you because they're at a party or they're at home and they're feeling bad things about themselves and their lives.

You went across the state to talk to all sorts of different teenagers about it.

We went right to the source and we talked to kids that were in jail and addicts.

They felt trapped.

They didn't say trapped. What they said was they couldn't get out of the cycle of abuse. What we did creatively is getting this can’t get out of the cycle of abuse and creatively shifted it to getting in is easier than getting out, which was our position line.

If people haven't seen it, it's a kid trapped inside a pill. It's freaky.

It's almost like one of those movies where the alien pops out of that dude’s stomach.

Another creative director at a well-known agency I respect a lot texted me, “Thanks a lot for that TV spot. My kids are freaked out.” I’m like, “Yes, it's working.”

That's good. I didn’t know that. You didn't tell me that.

I was like, “Cool.” That's respect.

A little bit of background on that, addiction spots, everything has been done. I'll explain to you a little bit about it. We wanted to start off on this one kid who absolutely looks like she's an addict. She's got dark circles around her eyes and her hair is all messed up. She's scratching and itching. Instead of putting her in a bedroom or putting her in a park, we wanted to get to that idea that this person feels alone because that was the emotion for the teens. It wasn’t addiction. Remember, it was feeling alone. It’s like, “I'm all alone.”

Feeling alone is an emotional trigger.

We put her in a seamless white environment where nothing was there. There was no horizon. As the spot goes, she's getting crazier and crazier and freaking out. She walks to the camera and then you cut outside of an opioid pill. You have this grotesque profile coming out and not being able to get out of the pill and then she passes out. That's represented by hand that comes down. It was interesting, the State wrote it into the legislation that there had to be some consequence. We couldn't just leave it where she was stuck.

They had some research around that.

The legislators put that in there. I don't know if they have research or not but that's what they wanted to show. Hopefully, they have research.

Empathy In Advertising: You can learn so much from old campaigns because they still mirror the insight of emotion.

A couple of reasons for this show. Number one is we've all worked with people in the business that just get it and the work flows. Our philosophies are aligned in terms of how to build a brand, how to how to scale a brand and how to do great work. We've worked with other people that from day one, it's a struggle. That goes from the client-side to the agency but it also goes within an agency. What would you say to somebody coming out of school or somebody mid-level in the business that wants to be a creative director or great writer? What would you say to the next marketing director or next chief market officer? What philosophies have made you successful in the twenty-plus years you've been in this business?

I work with all the young writers in the building and what I try to teach them is empathy. They need to feel before they write. Make sure that they understand that they're doing something and dig deep into the human psyche because that's what we do.

I've never heard empathy being talked about in marketing books or marketing strategy. Why haven't I heard that? That’s genius.

I just thought that up. It is empathy and this goes in life, too and even in our agency. If you're not feeling something for what you're working on, you shouldn't be working on it. Even if it's a Pandora 30-second radio commercial that's for eegee's or something like that, you need to love that thing that you're doing or else it's going to show. If you have that empathy, it brings it to another level. What you do is you say, “How am I going to affect this person who hears this commercial or sees this commercial?” That's empathy. If you're going into it, you're just phoning it in, “I'm going to write these words,” not thinking on the back end.

You're still in the logical mode, which we know logic does not work.

You're not only in logical mode but I teach them, “Take that next step. Go outside of your body and feel what that person is going to feel.”

How do you do that?

Not everybody can do it. There are a lot of robotic writers that I've worked with. You're like, "You're just writing a spot."

Can empathy be trained?

Yes. Going back to the marketing director, the account person and stuff like that, you have to have that empathy to be able to relate to somebody. This is such a stressful business. If you don't have that, you're a robot at that point. All you're thinking of is, “I have a deadline. I have ROI to hit. I got people to please.” You're not loving what you do because this is unlike any other business. It's a craft.

This is a personal story. A few years ago, I started diving more into counseling and trying to figure out some things inside me that I wanted to understand better. When you do that, what you find you get into other groups of people who are saying, “You're in this group therapy and all that stuff.” I've learned more in those scenarios around empathy and feeling whether people were going through than anything I've ever done in my whole life. First of all, it's made me a better person. Secondly, in terms of the marketing business, I can see things differently, even as your stereotypical account guy. I've never heard anyone say the empathy word. Why haven't I heard that?

I have no idea. We should write a book.

This is good stuff.

Let’s do it.

I've heard curiosity.

Wonderment.

Name that thing. That was what it boils down to. When you get great work, you're empathizing with the stresses of life. Everybody has stresses in life and everybody has brands that are aligned with for whatever reason. If you can tap into that stress of life, find a way to humanize it, be there with them and tap into that then the brand will automatically be top of mind and doing good things which is what brands need to be doing nowadays.

I am a believer in this idea of empathy. It goes back to writing a creative brief. A creative brief is what we write to help the creative people, art directors and writers create the work that needs to be created. We're working on our SRP, Salt River Project. It would have been easy. I've read these bad briefs for all these years, saying, “We live in a desert and we have to protect our water.” That's the insight. That's the single-minded proposition. You’ve read this. You’ve seen this. As a creative person, you're going like, “What am I going to do with this? This is nothing. This is not emotional.”

Marketers need to feel before they write and make sure that they understand they’re actually doing something.

When you have empathy, it changes. When we were talking about this water with everybody and I wrote the brief, I came at it from a different point of view. I came at it with, “As a person out there in Arizona, how do I feel about water?” I’m being empathetic. The interesting thing about it in the way the creative brief was written this time was that people don't care about water. They don't think about water. I'll ask you a question. This morning when you woke up, was there ever a doubt in your mind that the water was not going to come out?

Not a doubt.

It's never happened to you. It's like magic water fairies. You turn on the faucet and the water comes out. It's never not come out for me.

Until one time, the city of Phoenix didn't get my water going and I felt homeless because I could not take a shower for a day.

That's when you cared.

I was freaking out.

You haven't cared since. That's what our single-minded proposition was. People don't care about water and they don't care who brings it. I never worried about it. Nobody worries about it and they don't care where it comes from. Especially in Arizona and you're a big golfer, all they know is how much water is there in this valley. It's everywhere you look.

There's a lot of green grass.

Arcadia floods their yard. As a consumer, I'm driving going, “We got plenty of water. What do you mean? We're not in a drought. Are you kidding me?”

I will not turn the water on while I'm brushing my teeth. Only jerks do that. If you don't put the shopping cart back after shopping in the shopping area and if you don't turn off your water while brushing your teeth, you're an asshole.

That was the consumer’s mindset. Without empathy, you don't get there because you have to feel what they feel.

What did you come up with?

The single-minded proposition was where there's water, there's lifestyle and life in general.

It's almost like a gratitude campaign.

The creative team killed it.

Once you have the brief right then the work can stand out.

It's a no-brainer.

We subscribe to so much research stuff. I see our research bill and it's a lot of money. I don't think you get the insights out of all that research. It's great stuff but it's looking at that and then putting yourself in those shoes and having your empathy muscles going hard.

You can't just sit there and go, “There's no water. We're going to run out of water. We're in a drought.” That's unemotional. That's a literal problem. If you're not going to be emotional, you can't connect to people.

What other skillsets or philosophies would you counsel people that they should hone in on in this business?

Overall, one of the things that are important to have as an advertising person, a creative person, account person, is that you have to love this business or you're not going to like this business. It's a one-way street.

Empathy In Advertising: You get one or the other. You have a really crazy visual and a simple headline or have a really intricate headline and a simple visual.

What do you mean by that?

The people who don't love this business and who are in this business don't succeed in this business.

It's a passion business.

You got to go one-way. It's up to eleven.

You're all in or you're out.

We have a lot of younger kids. It's hilarious. Coming out of school, they have a false sense of what to expect because it's not like school at all.

That's one thing that is frustrating. For me, I tell kids this all the time who come to our schools, “If you want a real marketing degree, go work for an agency for four years.” That's the real degree because the five Ps are not going to cut it in this business. You don't talk about the five P’s. We're talking about the consumer path to purchase and consumer insight. It does not happen the way people think it does in school. You work your way into being a generalist. Coming out, you've got to be able to contribute in one specific area early and often.

One of the things I try to teach everyone is, “You guys are standing on shoulders that you don't even know exists.” Bill Bernbach, Ogilvy, the old Goodby with Silverstein, “Got Milk?” Those are the legends. Hal Riney still has one of the most talked-about spots in the history of advertising.

What's the most talked-about spot of Hal Riney that you loved?

It still ranks up in one of the greatest spots ever. It was Morning in America for Ronald Reagan in his campaign.

He did the Ronald Reagan stuff?

He wrote it. It was his voice. He did most of his voiceovers.

Make America Great Again wasn't Trump?

I don't think he wrote that. We talked about the story arc. When you start off a spot that says, “It's Morning Again in America,” you're done. That's it. I got chills just thinking about it because it was never done before for a political campaign. Not this way. Hal Riney is one of the greatest storytellers in advertising history.

Who's your Mount Rushmore of advertising?

That’s hard. Is this old school?

Anyone you want. For me, Ogilvy is on that because he's a creative and account guy mixed. I love Ogilvy. I'd put Droga on there, of course.

You’re new school.

You got to throw one on there. LeBron and Jordan are going on there.

I definitely would have to put Bill Bernbach number one for me.

What's your favorite campaign of Bernbach? You're the historian of agencies. I love it. I know a lot about that but I talk to you and I’m like an elementary kid.

Nothing. Bill Bernbach had so many great campaigns. The bagel campaign where it says, “I'm Jewish,” and it was like a Native American guy. You know it's for bagels. That was a great campaign. It's got to be the Volkswagen, the lemon. It was so authentic and awesome.

It’s bold. Who approved that ad? That's what I want to know. We could go to the Mount Rushmore of campaigns.

We'll be here all day. I have to do old school.

I'm fine with that.

Definitely Ogilvy and Bernbach. Lee Clow, my hero, has got to be on there.

Can I put Jay Chiat on there?

I was going to say that.

He's an asshole. He was a suit a little bit but he was a smart guy. Chiat\Day and the West Coast of advertising brought the business to California.

If you’re not feeling something for what you’re working on, you really shouldn’t be working on it.

You got Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy and Lee Clow. Maybe we should represent New York somehow like Donny Deutsch. He’s a great PR guy. I have this great funny story about Bill Bernbach. When he started, he was last in the name list and he always wondered why he was last. They kept on telling him because it rang well. If you put Bernbach first, that doesn’t have a good ring to it. He was talking about his creative process and his creative direction style for all the great work that he did. He was a great guy as well but he was maniacal and there was no off switch to this guy.

He had a couple of writers that always work with him. He had this great saying, “I don't like the little words.” What that meant was he liked the big concept. He let the two copywriters write the copy because he didn't care about it. He’s the concept guy. I can relate to that so well because when I'm talking to one of our account executives and they're like, “The client wants to change this word.” I'm like, “Fine. Did they change the headline?” “No.” I don't like the little words either.

You do well in those scenarios.

If you're sweating that, that's the wrong thing to sweat in.

Some creative directors are a little too fanatical about that.

That's a funny story and I could relate to that so well. If the client inherently changes the concept, that's when you start turning over tables. You start getting upset. If they're changing copy or they're doing this, they're just trying to put their mark on it and that's fine.

That's what a lot of people miss in this business. It's not our work. It's not even the client’s work. It's the consumer’s work. We're in a democracy and we're coming up with something that resonates with the consumer. If it's a collaboration and we're working on that together, we're molding this masterpiece of a piece of content or a headline or an idea. It can be together and you're graded on the fly in a room developing that.

It's because I don't care about those little words. If you adopt that trait, you become a better creative director straightaway because you're not micromanaging your copywriter and your art director. You let them do what they do.

That could be for CMOs and marketing directors too. It’s understanding that piece. This could be tidbits for both in-house agency people and creative people coming up with suits, account people and even on the client-side. We're all in this thing together.

I don't think I’ve finished my Mount Rushmore. I got to do one more. I can't put Donny Deutsch up there. The art director for Doyle Dane could be a good one.

You’re going to tell me some guys I don't even know. I’m going to have to try to pretend I know what you're talking about.

This is super old school. This is ‘60s stuff. Mary Wells Lawrence is my spirit animal.

Help people out here. Who are we talking about?

Mary Wells Lawrence was maybe the second woman creative director in advertising.

Was this the person they created that Mad Men character copywriter off?

It was.

I've met her.

How the hell did that happen?

I was in some ANA event or some national event and I met her. I heard her speak and it was amazing. She didn't tell us until the end. I'm a huge Mad Men fan. She was Peggy.

I've never seen it, by the way. I know it because Mary Wells is my spirit animal. She created some of the most amazing campaigns this industry has ever seen.

The insight I got from her at that thing is she did a lot of car advertising and branding work. She said, “If you have one product benefit in a spot, it's 90%-something more effective. If you go to two, it drops in half. If you go to three, it drops in half again. If you have three product benefits in a spot then it's 10% likely to even resonate at all.” She had the research behind it and I was like, “That makes total sense.” She had this whole presentation on it and I was like, “This is awesome.” I can't wait to shove this down to some client's throat like, “I talked to this.” That's why when you see a car ad, they talk about one thing. It could be some stupid thing like showing the moonroof. I’m like, “How many horsepower is this?” It doesn't matter. You get one thing.

Empathy In Advertising: Great brands don’t necessarily create a physical logical need. They create an emotional need.

When it comes down to it, it doesn't matter for real because of the price of entry. The automobile industry has got great gas mileage, it’s safe and it’s got everything you need. You're not going to sell a car anyway. I keep on using this and I've used this with you before. It's like milk. You never go to the store and you wonder if it's fresh because that's the price of entry. If that's your talking point for your brand, something that's so basic that no one cares about it, you won't have an effective spot.

It's like the old adage of, “You can either show how great life is with the brand or more importantly, you can show what life would be like without it,” like water or milk. Got Milk? This takes me back to City Slickers. What did Curly say? Your secret to life is one thing.

What is it? I don't know. You got to find out for yourself. Mary Wells was amazing because when she took over Braniff airlines a long time ago, she just didn't do the advertising but she re-imagined the flight attendants’ uniforms.

This sounds like Herb Kelleher before Herb Kelleher. She was like Southwest before Southwest.

She redesigned their planes.

Every consumer touchpoint, she had this in the ‘60s.

Their whole advertising campaign was not necessarily air flight. It was showing off the uniforms and how modern it was and showing off how modern the airplane was. That was their insight. I don't have first-hand knowledge of the insight but that's one of her famous campaigns. That's what I do with everyone in the agency. I have these books that have been written about and have these masters in them. I'm like, “Read that.”

You're a big reader. You're like me. You were a student of the advertising game. That's what I love. The history of our business is so important. There are a lot of people that don't study it and don't talk to people that have been in this business in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Consumers buy things emotionally the way they have for 100 years. We have caveman brains and the emotional triggers still exist. Whether the media platform is different, fine but those emotional triggers are the same.

I tell them, “You can learn so much from those old campaigns because they still mirror the insight of emotion.” Those are the most impactful ones then and now. You take the Bill Bernbach and Doyle Dane campaign with lemon. The way this print ad is, there's this little VW tiny Bug. Bernbach had this thing and I believe this, too. He’s like, “You get one or the other. You either have a crazy visual and a simple headline or you have an intricate headline and a simple visual.” There’s this tiny Volkswagen Bug on the top of this ad with this huge headline that said lemon. The copy was saying that this one car was a lemon and it's never going to be sold to you. That's the impetus behind that.

That campaign was so bold. People in the ‘60s saw that and were jealous of what great work that was.

They leaned into it too. The advertising agency leaned into the fact that this thing was ugly.

VW Buses are the biggest craze again.

They made a mistake by redesigning the bug and then they doubled back and they tried to make it look like it again. If they would have stayed with the old Bug, they would have had a more successful launch.

Especially now, the true to your roots movement. More people are more aware now than they've ever been. They're more knowledgeable about brands and about how authentic brands have been. They sniff that stuff out even faster nowadays.

They're seeing 5,000 ad impressions a day. How are you going to get somebody's attention if you're not bold and if you're not sticking to one story? Stick to one story. That's all I'm asking you. If you as a brand is going all over the place and you keep on changing your story, your consumer doesn't know who you are.

We don’t know what we want until we know it.

In the Digital Age of testing and optimizing, it’s destroying the serendipitous nature of brands. The best form of advertising is word-of-mouth advertising because relevant people are talking about you. In this test and optimizing digital conversion world, on paper, you can make some great data-driven decisions. Yet, your brand doesn't necessarily stand for anything.

That's the responsibility of the agency. Have the conviction to pick one because with the A/B testing, you're just confusing the consumer because they don't know what they're looking at.

A lot of times, as human beings, we don't know what we want until we know it. Look at even industries that have popped out of nowhere that aren't logical. Airbnb is not logical. That's a dumb idea. Uber is a dumb idea. That's dangerous. Until it was out there in a way, people are like, “I need that.” You didn't know you needed smartphones until you know you need them. Great campaigns are like that in a way, too.

Great brands mirror that. They don't necessarily create a physical logical need. They create an emotional need. I used to have a Galaxy phone and I saw everyone love their iPhones so much more than I love my phone. I didn't have that attachment. It was a phone. This is creating an emotional need. Going back to peers and outsiderness, when I was on a group text on the Galaxy, I was green. Did you know that? I was like, “I don't love that.” They got me. I love this phone now. That's what we're talking about. They probably never ever thought about that. Where’s that emotional need? Why do you want this so badly? It's not literal at all.

Apple is so good at this, aren't they?

They are.

I was thinking about it. I do love my phone.

You don't have to use the camera.

We saw that. Don't sell me out. I went to the Masters one time, which is a crazy experience and you can't bring your phone in. People were going through withdrawals. People were scratching themselves. Me too. I definitely was but I didn't feel alone because I saw other people like, “I don't have my phone.” I could see an Apple commercial of me tucking my phone into bed and the way my daughter does it with her dolls. This is funny. This is awesome. You and I could talk about this stuff forever.

What else do you want to talk about?

This show just accidentally happened. I don't believe there are a lot of people and I've even looked at podcasts that are talking about doing great work, what brands stand for, what great marketing people all have in common and how do great campaigns happen. There's a formula, psychology and method and there's a philosophy that great marketers have and great agencies have. When you get that synergy that lines up, this amazing work happens. We go to these conferences. We've been in college and we're seeing this logical formulaic stuff that is bullshit. I'm going to have to talk about it and bring great people on here doing great work to talk about it and the stories behind it so people can understand what this business is all about again.

Sometimes, when people say formulaic, it's a bad thing. Truly, how great campaigns and ads get created, it's a formula. One of the things that we do at our agency is that we make sure we have that, “What's that campaignable line? What's the hook that's going to launch every piece of communication that we're going to create?” If you don't have that, it's not a concept. It's an execution.

Do you have to evolve into that or is it like, “That's it? You do you.” Does it evolve into like, “That's no longer a headline? That's the brand promise or that's the slogan.”

Sometimes it does. It's like You Do You for the Gila River. It's always going to remain a headline. Importantly, you have to help the consumer on that emotional journey. If you don't have that emotional line, you're just writing headlines at somebody. I would rather not shout at somebody. I would rather just invite somebody and lean in to our communication and say, “That's interesting.” They lean into a commercial or a social media post. You want to intrigue them and you want to invite them in rather than have to beat them over the head every single day.

Empathy In Advertising: If you don’t have that emotional line, you’re just writing headlines at somebody. 

It's like the Apple commercial. I love it. You think it's a spot about National Geographic like Animal Planet, an amazing cinematography show. All of a sudden, this was shot on an iPhone and you’re like, “That's awesome.”

They baited and switched us. You're going like, “This cinematography is amazing. Holy shit. I could do that on my phone?” That was the insight. That's why that spot is so good. It resonates.

They're still with Chiat, right?

Yeah, TBWA. What spots are you liking these days?

Eighteen percent of the television audience was lost in 2020. We've all looked at it through the lens of spots for a long time. I look at other things in terms of all touchpoints. This is me personally so this is my bias. I love brands that tap into a place I was at in life that felt free and fun. For me and this is a weird one, I love Vans shoes. Vans shoes to me are more than just a shoe. It's me in middle school living in California. It was one of the most favorite times of my life. I haven't seen a Vans 30-second spot but I feel like Vans get me, other people that wear Vans get me and I get them. It's like this own thing.

It can be someone who's 50 years old and someone who's 10 years old. For me, it's all this consumer touchpoints stuff that's more than a spot. Southwest Airlines gets me. I sit on the Southwest Airlines flight and I love Southwest. The flight attendants are funny. They're like me. In this world of people feeling alone and maybe at times I feel alone. When I feel a connection with something as silly as a shoe or an airline, it makes me feel less alone.

They're doing it right then. Isn't that what it is? It's like emotion. It’s like, “Stop with the four-wheel drive, this and that and all the things that make the thing. Tell me how I'm going to feel when I hold my iPhone. Tell me how am I going to feel when I wear this piece of clothing or these eyeglasses.” That's what a lot of agencies miss. They miss it by a long shot.

You said it best. It's that empathy like, “They get me.”

We got a book in our hands. You're going to use that.

I'm definitely going to use empathy. Vans has empathy for its customers and they understand me. I know this from relationships. When someone feels understood, you've won. That's awesome. We should do some. This is good stuff. Thank you, Frank. I knew this would be great. We’d get off on some tangent and it’ll be good     .

I'm glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

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Scott Harkey

Entrepreneur & Podcaster

Scott leads a stable of marketing agencies and services offering the world's biggest brands speed, value and results. OH is an independent agency built to serve today's brands through consumer-centric marketing and strategy.