R.A.P. Interview: Doug Harris

JV: How does one know if his or her crazy idea is going to work or not? I mean, we can all come up with off-the-wall ideas, and in a lot of cases, they should be thrown out the window. What makes a crazy, off-the-wall idea worth exploring further?
Doug: I think it’s important to acknowledge that there’s an element of risk associated with creativity, and if you’re not willing to take that risk and fail on occasion, then you’re in the wrong business, because if you just play it safe over and over again, you’ll find yourself doing the same ideas, and you’ll become formulaic. That’s getting in a rut, and the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the hole. You don’t want to get in a creative rut.

I have found that most creative people have a creative partner, at least a sounding board or a mentor. When I go back to a client, for example, I never go with ideas that I haven’t bounced off of my creative partners. I have a couple in the office that I talk to and I say, “What would you think about this?” and “How does this sound to you? Does this sound too over the top, too outrageous?” And I try to go to the client with at least three ideas: one that I think is safe and manageable, one that has a little more impact, and one that is just completely off the wall and out there. Now, I realize you don’t have the time to do that with scripts, but from the standpoint of creative elements, always give the client a chance to reject something, and if he wants to throw my crazy idea out, fine. But if he buys into it, then he shares the risk in whether or not it’s going to work.

JV: You also have a fairly new ad agency, Noisemaker Communications. Tell us about it.
Doug: I started Noisemaker Communications two years ago. We specialize in clients who use radio, although we do some TV work and some print work. Our belief is that radio is the superior means of communication, and that a well-crafted 60-second spot can move mountains. We have worked for the Houston Arrows, which is an AHL hockey team, where we hired Larry Hagman – J.R. Ewing – to be the voice of the Houston Arrows and talk about comparing hockey to football, since Texas is a big football state. We just bought the rights to “Happy Birthday” and re-orchestrated that for a Toyota dealership as their jingle. That’s the kind of off-the-wall stuff that we like to do. And we realize that most of those opportunities may be cost-prohibitive for local radio stations, but you’d be surprised what you can do with a good CD and some good voice talent. A lot of our clients are in retail business, and they’re looking for retail traffic on weekends. So we’ve found a way to perfect the call-to-action in a 60-second spot that makes people come out and come to a furniture store, or come to a car dealership in the space of an 8- to 10-day period.

JV: What’s the trick?
Doug: Well, the secret to effective advertising is very simple: a compelling message from a credible source in a dramatic fashion. That’s what all advertising should strive for – a compelling message from a credible source in a dramatic fashion. In the case of a car dealership, we just did a promotion called, “Building the Million Dollar Toyota Tundra,” which was an opportunity for listeners to come down and get a list of eight options on a Toyota Tundra and arrange them in any order that they like. It was an insured risk promotion. If anyone arranged the eight Tundra options in the correct order of the secret envelope, they won $1 million paid by an insurance policy.

Well it’s pretty remarkable when the promo starts out, “Don McGill Toyota has your chance to build the million dollar Toyota Truck. Register all month long,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That has the kind of drama you’re looking for. That’s helping somebody decide between the Toyota dealer on one part of town, and the Toyota dealer on the other part of town. One Toyota dealer has a chance for me to win $1 million and has Toyota Tundras, and the other one just has Toyota Tundras. That’s the kind of drama that we’re looking for, something that makes sense.

We use a lot of radio station personalities for personal endorsement, because we think that their connection with the listener is a little more intimate than the voice of the General Manager or somebody like that, although the voice of the General Manager can be very effective as well. But the big secret is just doing something that’s compelling, and price/item advertising by itself is not compelling. It has little or no drama. That’s why we like to use jingles. That’s why we like to use station voices, personalities with their names. That’s why we like to use big promotions.

We just did a promotion for the hardest working truck in Texas. We offered a $5,000 cash prize to the truck with the highest odometer reading that could be brought into the dealership. Well, we had over 100 people bring their trucks in. That’s 100 qualified people who definitely need new trucks. They came in with hopes of winning the $5,000 cash. That’s the kind of stuff that we do – big, bold, different, out of the ordinary.

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