R.A.P. Interview: Roy H. Williams

JV: The Wizard Of Ads has three sections. The first is “Turning Words Into Magic.” What will readers get from this section of the book?
Roy: The single biggest problem in advertising today is that people try to make it more of a science than it really is, and everybody is focused on reaching the right people. Advertising sales reps are out there explaining to the business owner in effect that the secret is to reach the right people, and that they “have the right people.” “Who’s your customer?” “Oh, that’s just who we have listening” or “That’s just who our reader is” or “That’s just who our viewer is.” And in reality, it doesn’t matter so much who you reach as much as it does what you say. And so it’s the copy, it’s the spot itself that is usually falling apart. And everyone in advertising tends to be guilty of this, because when you turn your attention to the importance of the ad itself, the message, then you begin to realize, “Gee, this would work on my station, and the next station. It would work on two-thirds of all the stations in town.”

That’s been our experience. Since we buy media nationwide, currently in thirty-eight states, we find that no matter what product category we’re buying for, there’s at least two-thirds of the media providers in the city that have an appropriate listener profile or viewer profile for who our customer is. So it’s not a function of picking exactly the right demographic or psychographic profile. That’s total crap. That is such a myth it’s unbelievable, and it leads to some pretty incredible disasters. You find that if you turn that energy toward making sure you have the right words, making sure you’re speaking to a felt need instead of simply answering the questions that no one is asking, then you’ll find it does amazing things for the campaign and the client.

199 Wizard Logo2JV: The very first chapter in Part One is “Nine Secret Words.” The nine words are, “The risk of insult is the price of clarity.” Elaborate on this.
Roy: I believe that words are electric and should be judged by the emotional voltage they carry. If a word or a phrase doesn’t shock a little, then it has no emotional voltage. You must have a message strong enough to move people, strong enough to cause them to take an action other than the one they were planning to take. And the risk of such a strong message is that while it will move people, it will not move them all in the same direction.

We have what we actually call the knucklehead factor, and most people don’t realize that a lot of major record companies measure the knucklehead factor in focus groups. It’s simply this: if a song is going to become a hit, at least five to fifteen percent of the people who hear that song have to absolutely hate the song. They have to detest it. They have to be prepared to change the channel any time they hear that song on the radio because if a song doesn’t inspire that kind of passion in at least five to fifteen percent of the people, then it can’t possibly inspire a positive reaction in forty to fifty percent of the people. And that’s the profile of a hit song. Forty or fifty percent of the people absolutely love it. Five to fifteen percent of the people absolutely hate it. And that thirty-five to forty-five percent in the middle, they can take it or leave it. Now a song that never makes the charts is one that gets no complaints. It’s a song that five to ten percent of the people love, eighty or ninety percent of the people can take it or leave it, and nobody hates it. That’s where radio copy is, and that’s where TV copy is. Even newspaper and magazine ads are trying to play it safe; they’re trying to walk that middle path. And because they don’t want to risk alienating anyone, they refuse to move anyone into a new course of action at all. They wind up just being blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Our advice in chapter one of The Wizard Of Ads is: the risk of insult is the price of clarity. You must have a powerful message, and you must say it clearly and let the chips fall where they may.

JV: The whole first section is just loaded with great little tidbits just like that. One that especially caught my attention was the chapter titled “Intellect Versus Emotion.”
Roy: In the seminar that I do, I spend about an hour on this whole issue of intellect versus emotion. It is one of the four tugs of war in the human mind. Let me point out that when a person becomes increasingly emotional, they are proportionally less intellectual. And when a person is highly intellectual, he or she is being very unemotional. They are mutually exclusive. Everyone has intellect, and everyone has emotion. But you cannot be highly intellectual and highly emotional at the same time. Now, good ads will either speak to the intellect, or they will speak to the emotion. However, far too many ads speak to the intellect when they should not because very few decisions are made intellectually. Most decisions are made emotionally. The American public does what they feel to be the right thing. Then they use their intellect to justify what their emotions have already decided. And so, there’s an old saying: “A man convinced against his will is unconvinced still.” You must win the heart, and the mind will surely follow. This is what I try and make ad writers understand. When a person wants that new car, they can find all kinds of logical reasons why it makes perfect sense.

JV: The copywriters at radio stations are usually the production people, the Continuity Directors, or even the salespeople. One thing we often talk about in the pages of RAP is getting the client to understand that perhaps these station personnel  know more about producing and writing commercials than the client does. I think a lot of clients in radio tend to think they know what they need, and they’ll slam a print ad in front of the sales rep and say, “Here. I want to list all these items in my ad.” What can a salesperson or production person do to convince the client that he knows more about advertising?
Roy: Well, number one, I think there a lot of people writing ads who think they know more who really don’t. If a person actually knows what they’re doing, they should be able to explain why they are doing what they’re doing. Anyone who truly knows what they’re doing should be able to explain very convincingly to an advertiser why the thing they are suggesting is wrong. And I’ve never met anybody who was so hardheaded that they weren’t impressed whenever I was able to explain to them specifically and in detail why their methodology would fail. When you can give them examples, when you can give them research data, when you can give them literal case studies that are perfectly analogous to their situation…. In other words, if all these continuity people and salespeople would actually study what it is they pretend to be talking about, they wouldn’t have these problems.

I have never found anybody who actually had any idea what they were doing. And that is one of the reasons we’re beginning a school here in February. I got so sick of hearing people in the advertising profession talk about branding. Every time somebody brings up branding, I want to say, “Well, what is branding exactly?” And I’ve never found one of those empty suits who could explain it to me. They’ll all say, “Well, you know…branding!” And they’ll go off on some bizarre tangent about what they think branding is when, in reality, there is real branding, and I’ll explain it in a moment. But in reality, most people using the term are just throwing around a buzzword to make it sound like they’re big shots and that they know something nobody else knows. And what happens is that the client says, “Well, okay. So what are you talking about? How do I do that? How does it work?” And then he sits there and listens to this drivel that the salesperson or the Continuity Director puts out—blah, blah, blah—and he knows they’re making it up. He knows they’re full of crap. And that’s why I say it’s really not hard to convince advertisers.

We reject dozens and dozens of companies every year. As a matter of fact, it has gotten to the point where whenever a company calls our office, which is usually two or three times a day—they call from all over America—and says they want to hire our firm to do their advertising, we say the first thing you have to do is fly to Austin at our convenience to be interviewed by our staff, to see if we’ll take your account. That scares off a lot of them. So far this year, sixty-five companies have flown to Austin to be interviewed by the staff. Now, of those sixty-five, we’ve only accepted nine as new clients. The point is, we’ve never had problems explaining that we know what we’re talking about. We can prove what we’re talking about, and I’ve never had anybody say, “Oh, well, I disagree.” You know why? Because there are very few people out there in this business who have any idea what they’re talking about. The advertising business is full of professional BS artists, and I for one am simply putting my foot down and saying, “Hey, look guys, if you’re going to be pretending you know what you’re talking about, prove it. Back it up. Where did you learn this stuff? How can you make it make sense?”

Now, let me finish about branding. Do you know what branding really is, Jerry?

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