R.A.P. Interview: Glenn Miller

R.A.P.: What about regular spots, ones where you don't have as much freedom to go crazy?
Glenn: I'll quote you a couple of little blurbs from a 16-page magazine that comes out 24 times a year. It's "Boardroom Reports." Its purpose is, quoting now, "to bring executives the most useful and timely advice and ideas from the most knowledgeable experts, business innovators and lawmakers. To open doors to important ideas outside the individual's area of specialization." That's to let you know it doesn't primarily deal with advertising, but I have yet to go through an issue that didn't give me some information or insight that makes me better equipped to succeed in life. That to me is worth $49 a year.

Anyway, this is from July 1st of '86: "Product features need to be translated into product benefits to generate consumer interest. A product feature is something the product has or does -- It belongs to the product. A product benefit is what the feature does for the customer -- It belongs to the user. If a dishwasher's product feature is a 10-minute operating cycle, its product benefit is that it does a complete load of dishes in only 10 minutes. Always keep product benefits, not product features, in the forefront of your sales thinking -- the benefits make the sale."

Here's something else from December 1st of '89: "People buy because the product makes them feel good. It underscores their sense of self. Examples: Wall Street traders wear wide red suspenders because they make them feel like powerful money men. Health-conscious women drink bottled Evian spring water at the gym because it makes them feel better about health and working out. For advertising strategists, the lesson is... concentrate not just on 'features' and price bargains, but at least as much on the people you're selling to. They're flesh and blood humans who buy products for emotional gratification."

You've got to know your product and know your customers. I'll put it another way: You have your product or service. It is the solution. Now, define the problem. That usually provides me with several "slice of life" scenarios to set the stage for selling whatever to whomever.
Here's more from "Boardroom Reports," December 15th of '89: "Never use negatives in ad headlines. Example: An air conditioning company ran two advertisements. One read, 'Don't swelter this summer,' the other, 'Now you can afford summer cooling.' The second outdrew the first three to one. Key: Headlines with a negative like 'don't' in them fail to tell the readers what they should do; and negative thoughts tend to be associated with the party that states them, regardless of advertiser's intent."

Political ads are a case in point. More and more money is being spent on political campaigns, and voter turnout keeps declining. There are other reasons besides the snide, mean-spirited ads that predominated many campaigns, but I think their tone and thrust have to bear a large responsibility for people en masse rejecting the entire political process. Enough of that -- I'm beginning to feel dirty just thinking about it.

One thing I try to do with spots as a final critique is suspend my "voice of judgment," that "NO!" part in all of us that says, "That's the wrong music! That's the wrong inflection! That's not a good enough sound effect," and so on. I try to suspend this judgment and just let the spot flow through me. "How does it make me feel? Am I a little happier? Sadder? Lifted or depressed? What?" It's very subjective. It's difficult to do -- distance yourself from something you've just put a lot of yourself into -- but, if you work at it, you'll begin to get a "feel" for the totality of that spot. Gee, that sounds pompous, "the totality of the spot." At any rate, you'll feel one way or the other, positive or negative. Rarely will you get no "feel"; and, in those cases, more than likely the spot will be cancelled before it airs, shortly after it airs, or there'll be some information that's wrong and it'll have to be redone. In this case, there's really no spot there to "feel." It's spooky, huh?

Another thing I try to include in spots is a "listener payoff." It's like a contract between me and the listener. "Give me 60 seconds or 30 seconds of your time, and I'll make it worth your while." Then I look at whatever it is the spot is about and ask, "How can I make this an experience? How can I engage their imagination? How can I make it memorable, or amusing, or entertaining, or thought-provoking?" The very fact that this "whatever" exists means that it has something worthwhile to somebody. "What is it and how can I dramatize it? How can I bring it to life or make it bigger than life?"

R.A.P.: Is that how you generate ideas, interview the product, so to speak?
Glenn: Only when I have to. For example, a few days ago I had a record spot for the Hooters' ZIG-ZAG album. It was an in-house production and our Production Director provided the copy. It was good copy, too; but, as I was listening to the single release, I got caught up in it. It's got a darkness and a desolation to it; yet, it's acoustically warm and friendly. The Hooters added a verse which they say is about the recent student demonstration in China and the way it was crushed. The more I listened to it, the more I was convinced the copy provided was too frivolous; it was inconsistent with what the music was saying. So I threw that copy out and just "felt" my way through it. I wanted to keep it light, without dismissing the song as superficial, and engage the moody undercurrent the song has. I wanted it to have an edge; I wanted it to make people smile uncomfortably. Whether I accomplished that or not, I don't know; but listening to it still intrigues me. It's a quirky bit of work.

R.A.P.: You have a good deal of faith in the power of the subconscious mind. How do you use it in your work?
Glenn: The way I prefer to work and the results that satisfy me the most are produced by putting my subconscious mind to work. I'll get the copy info, say two days in advance. That's usually plenty of time. Then I pick out the essentials that must be in the spot. For example: "KDF/Miller Lite Hockey Night. Spot must have KDF, Miller Lite, Nashville's Rock & Roll Beer, and the first 500 fans with home-made hockey masks get in free Monday November 6th. It's at Municipal. The mask must include the letters KDF and Miller Lite," and so on. I review it a couple of times and tell my subconscious mind, "Go to work. Give me some ideas by 4 pm this Thursday," or whatever the deadline is, and that's it. I go about my other business without seriously thinking about it.

Then, sometime between that time and the deadline -- could be anytime, day or night; could be anything or nothing, but somewhere along the line an idea or a phrase will demand my attention. I'll consider it in relation to what I need. Most times it'll be perfect. It'll appear complete, all the parts there. I may have to juggle 'em around but it's basically done. I just have to write it down and produce it. Sometimes, I get an idea and say, "Nah, that's too ordinary or too mediocre or too much work. Give me something else," and I get something better. I've learned that if I believe I'll get what I need when I need it, it's always there. If I begin to tense up as the deadline approaches and think, "Oh, this'll never work," it doesn't work.

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