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

JV: No. I would just guess that it is imprinting the name of the company or their slogan in the person’s mind.
Roy: Well, that’s actually the best answer I’ve  heard so far. Branding was discovered in 1904, and the man who discovered it was awarded a Nobel Prize for it. Ivan Pavlov. Remember Pavlov’s dogs? Branding. When he rubbed the meat paste on the tongue of dog, he rang a little bell. The bell is known as the reticular activator. Branding only works if the dog already loves the taste of meat. Branding, if you want a definition, is simply the implementation of an associative memory. Now, here’s what’s crazy. Psychologists have been studying the functions of the human mind for a hundred years. Why do advertising people not have a consulting psychologist? Our firm does, a consulting psychologist in Dr. Nick Grant and a consulting neurologist in Dr. Pierce Howard. If the medical profession has been studying the functioning of the human mind and the functions of the physical human brain for a hundred years, why have advertising people never bothered to check into that?

So, whenever you start studying this stuff, you find out, “Hey, this is really simple. This is easy as hell. This is amazingly easy.” You find that Ivan Pavlov can explain in detail that to associate the sound of the bell with something that’s not already in the heart of the dog, so to speak, the public, is futile, and it won’t work. It’s pointless. The love of the taste of the meat was already in the heart of the dog. Pavlov simply had to associate the ad, or the sound of the bell, with something that was already in the dog’s heart.

Let’s take the Taco Bell campaign. That’s a branding campaign. The Taco Bell Chihuahua is the reticular activator. The bell, if you will, is the Chihuahua. Now, what is it that we’re speaking to in the heart of the American public? What is it that we’re actually selling with that Chihuahua? If you’ll stop and think about it, we’re selling an identity, a lifestyle. It’s the little, powerless underdog with attitude. It’s the same thing with the two guys in the little Volkswagen going, “dah, dah, dah.” What happens is, in this generation of younger people, there’s this sense of impotence that they can’t make a difference. But they have style. They have attitude, and they identify so strongly with that Chihuahua because he’s not a big dog. He’s not a powerful dog. But he’s a hip little dog. He’s a cool little dog. He does his own thing and has his own style. So that self-image is already in the heart of the Taco Bell prospective customer, and that little Chihuahua is the symbol for something that’s already in the heart of the customer. They’re relating their ridiculous junk food to that sense of self-image in the American public.

That campaign will work. However, the Nissan campaign failed miserably. Why? Because it was extremely entertaining, but not persuasive. It did not anchor to anything in the heart of the American public. One of their spots was where GI Joe would drop out of the mouth of the tyrannosaurus rex, hop down into a little red plastic sports car, and go zooming down the hallway into Barbie’s summer dream house. Barbie looks down from the balcony and sees GI Joe. Then Ken comes out on the balcony after they’re driving off and says, “Oh, no!” Well, Nissan’s sales declined steadily throughout that entire campaign. It wasn’t because we didn’t like the ad. We adored the ad. We loved the ad. But the ad was not anchored to anything in the heart of the American public.

Too many ads today and too many copywriters are entertaining or informative rather than persuasive. An ad can be informative without being persuasive. It can also be entertaining without being persuasive. And those writers very often think they are good writers, when in reality, if it ain’t persuasive, it ain’t persuasive. As a matter of fact, the Monday Morning Memo that will go out this weekend is about the psychological concepts of primacy and recency. These things are not subject to debate. These things have been thoroughly researched for decades, and are things that are known by psychologists world-wide.

When we began discussing with Dr. Grant what we were planning to do, using psychological concepts, he said, “Well certainly ad firms do this already. Certainly all the TV and radio stations have psychologists on staff, don’t they?” And I said, “No,” He was dumbfounded. He was absolutely speechless. So I began doing some research. You know what I found? This will blow your mind. We were talking about Ivan Pavlov a moment ago. Well, Ivan Pavlov in 1904 had a student named John B. Watson. The student was hired by a man who owned an advertising firm. The ad firm became the largest in the world. The man’s name was J. Walter Thompson. Now, why do all the radio people in America think they know so damn much about advertising when not one of them has ever spent ten minutes studying it?

JV: That’s very interesting, and I really like what you said about spots that entertain. We hear so much about how spots and promos should entertain the audience if they’re going to work, but you’re saying it’s not about that.
Roy: No. Entertaining the listener is entertaining the listener, and if you want to spend a fortune to entertain the listener, then go after that. Let me tell you how this little company works. The reason we’re so fussy about who we accept as clients is because, rather than charge as an advertising agency would normally charge, we get a healthy retainer for what is called the “uncovery.” The uncovery is a process where we isolate the client’s unique selling proposition. We define who they are and what they’re about. We find the story that is uniquely and wonderfully their own. The client doesn’t get to tell us what they want. We tell them what they need to do. The second thing we do is take the budget, and we choose how to deliver that message in the most convincing possible fashion. The client doesn’t have a thing to say about it. Now, we take a rather small salary every month for twelve months, and whatever has to be done in the way of TV and radio production—copywriting, analysis, market research, all those things—no charge. We just take a small salary. At the end of one year, however, the client must adjust our salary by the same percentage that we have adjusted his gross income. If we double his business, he has to double our salary or fire us. And if we double it again the following year, he has to double it again or fire us.

Now here’s what happens. When you know what you’re doing, and you know how to make people rich, you can make thousands of dollars an hour. Last month was an extremely good month for me. We deposited just over eight hundred thousand dollars, best month we’ve ever had. And that’s not media dollars either. That’s dollars we get to keep. None of that is agency commissions. None of that is creative fees. All of that is just the result of partnership. Whenever you’re able to deliver what it is that all ad people promise, you’ll find that the world beats a path to your door. You’ll go crazy when you know how to make advertising work. I’m actually flying to Hawaii on Saturday to do a seminar for seven radio stations out there, the Capstar stations. I’ll be spending a day literally teaching their staff how to make it work. Then I’ll be spending another day talking to local advertisers about how to make it work.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Your post will be moderated. Your email address will not be shown or linked. (If you have an account, log in for real time posting and other options.)
0 Characters
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location