Episode 194 | Posted on

The Secret Sauce to Viral Ads with Daniel Harmon

What’s the difference between a viral video campaign that gets millions of views, shares, and likes and an equally valuable one that languages in the backwaters of YouTube? Daniel Harmon is the co-founder and the creative visionary of the Harmon Brothers. You may not have heard of the Harmon Brothers but they’re a big deal. The agency has delivered over 1.4 billion video views—that’s B, billion—with over $350 million in consequent sales to their client lists which includes brands like Squatty Potty, Purple, Chatbooks, FiberFix, and Poo-Pourri.

On this episode number 194, Daniel will reveal the Harmon Brothers’ unique approach to a viral video, which has been so successful that they’ve launched online courses teaching their techniques at the Harmon Brothers University, and published a book explaining their methods, From Poop To Gold. If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a proven formula for creating a viral ad, stick around because you’re about to learn from someone who’s basically unlocked the secret to success with a viral video and bottled it.

Transcript

Daniel, it’s so great to have you on the show.

Thanks for having me on.

I saw you speak at Traffic & Conversion Summit and I was really blown away with what you shared about the secret of success for virality, something that’s really hard to engineer, it’s hard to replicate. What is it about viral videos that make it so hard to reproduce this predictably?

I think the biggest thing that makes it hard is the people going after the wrong thing; meaning they’re expecting to make a great video, upload it, and then magically, starting with their own network that people are just going to crazily share all over the place. That’s just not the case anymore, especially when it comes to advertisers and I’m not sure what portion of your audience is in marketing and advertising but essentially, that’s the game that we’re playing at Harmon Brothers.

You just have to ask yourself, how does the business model work for YouTube? How does it work for Facebook? How does it work for Instagram? They’re all advertising-based platforms. For them to make money, they need advertisers. People like us to spend money to get the video seen. If they allow that just to spread virally all over the place, as an advertiser, they don’t get to pay as much.

Basically, the algorithms are not really in favor of allowing things to go viral. We always say internally, “Let’s make it good enough that it doesn’t have to be viral.” So much of that means you want to create something that is sustainable. What I mean by that is if you’re going to spend a dollar on advertising on one of these giant social media platforms and you want to know that predictably, you’re going to have a return on that. Hopefully a dollar, two dollars, three dollars, whatever it might be in that space. Then, the views will come over time. The shares will come as well, just because enough people are going to fall in love with it and want to share it with their friends. Then, you’ll get millions of views. Those will come and it will look viral, which we often do look viral, and oftentimes, it’s not. It is just a very successful campaign that has a predictable return on investments and we like that style of advertising much more than just firing it out there and hoping a whole bunch of people shares one to the next, to the next.

Right. That makes a lot of sense. My understanding of the Facebook algorithm these days is that the share-to-reaction ratio is important. If you get a lot more shares, then you get reactions—likes, and loves, and wows, and that sort of thing. You got something that is very shareable and deserves to get spread by the Facebook algorithm.

It’s a great indicator. Like you said, if you have something where the shares actually are more cumulative than the reactions, that’s a fantastic place to be in. The bigger the discrepancy, the more shares that you have than reactions is even better. But even when you’re looking at a video that is just performing well and people liked it and stuff, the closer those two numbers are together. For example, you got 10,000 reactions and 5,000 shares. Do you know what’s better? If you get 10,000 reactions and 7,000 shares. Yes, you want to push those as close as possible. That share button is the ultimate algorithmic trigger for Facebook.

Content is king. Distribution is queen and the queen wears the pants. Click To Tweet

Ultimately, they’re looking for content that keeps people on their platform as well. That’s another reason why it’s a pay-to-play game for advertisers. You can’t just have it go out there to work as an advertiser, ultimately looking for people to get off of Facebook and go interact with their brand. That’s why Facebook’s like, “Yeah, we’re going to allow you to do that, then you’re going to pay for that privilege.” It’s fine. It makes sense as far as the way their business is set up.

One thing that used to work well and doesn’t anymore with Facebook is goading the viewer or reader to comment. “If you want this cool thing, write the word whatever in the comments below.” Now, the algorithms are scanning for that and doing the opposite of rewarding you; slapping you for trying to game the algorithm.

Yeah. It’s just the constant game of trying to figure out what they’re doing next. That’s why I think it’s so important that any of the campaigns that you do, need to have a really solid sell. They have real persuasion and stuff so that you can predictably spend behind them and get money back.

Let’s talk about some of these campaigns. I’m a big fan of you guys and what you created. One of my favorite campaigns is actually the Purple Mattress cover. I always point that one out to clients when I’m talking to them what is an amazing viral video. I don’t know if it was hugely viral, I don’t remember the stats on that.

It was not viral at all. It had shares and stuff over time. It’s great that you love the campaign; we love it and everything. Obviously, it has somewhere in the neighborhood like 400 million views or something like that across all the different versions and the different platforms. We launched the Purple brand with this video. Had we just uploaded it and then like, “Okay, go for it. Go out with the wind. Go make us money.” Had we done that, we probably never would have crossed probably 200,000 views. That’s my best guess right now. It just would have been a flop, an absolute flop. I’m not saying that 200,000 views is a flop, but for the purpose of what they’re trying to build, it would have been.

Because instead, we knew that we could turn viewers into mattress customers—sight unseen—with this demonstration of the raw egg test. Then, they just started spending into that thing and the beds started flying out the door. Now, they built a $300 million business. With the success of that campaign, they have done a lot of things since then. None of the videos, even that they have done since then, has been able to replicate quite the success of that first.

You really put that company on the map from my understanding.

They didn’t exist. I designed the Purple logo, which is kind of an interesting thing, which ended up in a Disney movie. I always wanted to work on a Disney movie. Instead, I had to get in the back way, which is in the new Wreck-It Ralph video – Ralph Breaks the Internet. There’s a little moment where the Purple logos turned the background, I was like, “Oh. That’s how it ended up in a Disney movie.”

That’s awesome. I love that. Did you also do all the other Purple videos for their other products?

No. We were the ones that came up with the Goldilocks campaign. All the stuff that revolved around Goldilocks, we’re choosing to do the voice over for it, had the bears do different things like that, or the raw egg drop test, that was all the steps we did. They’ve done the other ones, just in-house different things.

People ditch videos because it’s boring more than they ditch it out because it’s long.

The one with the bigfoot family?

No. That one wasn’t us. They’re trying to follow that same kind of style. They’re basically going through and implementing a lot of the same principles for that one.

Got it. Let’s talk about Squatty Potty because that one is just way out there. Unicorn pooping, unicorn multi-colored ice cream is pretty unusual. I can’t find anything similar online. How did that idea come about?

Squatty Potty had a lot of success with Shark Tank when they went on. They got an investment from Lori, and they had got a big sales spike. They’ve been wanting to maintain some more success over time. They had distribution in Bed Bath & Beyond and basically, we’re looking for a way to get their name out there through other channels.

I can’t remember if it was the Home Shopping Network or QVC, but they went to one of these traditional, infomercial kind of channels. And they basically said, “No. This is just too gross to talk about. You can’t do a product demonstration for Squatty Potty.” For those of you that don’t know, we’re talking about the colon. So, it’s a really gross area of the body. No, you can’t go down that road on TV.

So, they saw the Poo-Pourri video that we’ve done. Bobby, their co-founder, had seen that and he was like, “Man, that should have been my brand,” at least that’s what he said kind of after the fact, “I love that for that to be my brand.” But they needed a way to be able to talk about the Squatty Potty that made it safe and they need it to be able to show a real product demonstration that didn’t just gross people out.

They wanted people to just get to be a conversation piece as well. That’s where they first started approaching us. They called up my brother Jeffrey, who was a co-founder of Harmon Brothers as well. Bobby started and going in talks with him, and Jeffrey came up with this concept that’s like, “Man, if we’re going to talk about poop, we got to do it in a really interesting way that doesn’t gross people out.” He’s like, “What’s like poop but isn’t like the consistency of poop? Like soft-serve ice cream, right? That’s kind of like it, but it’s this wonderful delicious thing.”

So, he comes to me with this. He’s like, “Man, do you think we could do like an ice cream machine or something with the metaphor for the colon and the poop and stuff?” I’m like, “Yeah. I think that could work.” We started tossing around different ideas, like “Okay, do we have a man inside an ice cream machine or not a man inside but an ice cream machine inside of a man?” Hell, these awful ideas to start.

It’s a really dirty process to begin with, but they were like, “What if that came out to be an animal? What kind of animal would that be?” “Okay, it’s probably going to be a unicorn, if it’s going to be something like that.” Then, we started playing with the idea of what is it going to have like M&Ms and different cakes inside of it, just make it colorful and not go down this road of stereotypical poop. Let’s take it as far away from that as possible.

We even threw around the idea of pudding. We’re like, “No. That’s even worse.” So, we land on this thing like, “Okay. It needs to be a unicorn and it’s going to be ice cream. That’s how we’re going to tell the story where the unicorn is going to essentially act as our person and the ice cream is going to act as our poop.” We came back to that and he was like, “Huh. I don’t really know.” He was like, “Man, that’s either brilliant or this is just crazy.”

He went back to his parents with the idea and I don’t think they were really sold on it. They’re also co-founders of it. Then, he also had one of his investors which is just like, “This is not a good idea at all.” For a time, they were just like, “We’ll just go figure out a different way.” They went and tried, and hired either a production company or marketing company that did some video for them. They put it out there and it was awful. It just didn’t work at all. The performance was terrible. They didn’t accomplish any other goals.

Nothing sells better than the truth. Click To Tweet

Finally, Bobby comes back to us and says, “Alright. I think I just want to go for it. Let’s just do this. Let’s do this unicorn-pooping thing. I trust you guys. You did it with Orabrush back in the day. You did it with Poo-Pourri. I’m going to trust you with this.” Then, when we get to the writing retreat with them, with them on the same room. We’ve got Bobby and Bill and Judy – his parents. They’re all the co-founders of Squatty Potty. Then, we had my script and Jeffrey’s script. We had Dave. He was the lead writer on it.

He brought in this element of the prince, putting it in a fantasy world, and in this medieval time. All of a sudden, the unicorn makes sense because before that we have come with ideas of having this giant Clydesdale unicorn pulled on the back of a truck, and it was a food cart. It would be in an urban kind of environment and it would be giving ice cream cone to kids. It’s just super weird.

They had never been able to fully wrap their heads around it but as soon as the prints came into the picture, and that he was the spokesperson for it as opposed to some sort of a food truck salesman or something along those lines. All of a sudden we’re like, “Oh. This is how it makes sense.” Then, we modified it a lot. We’re like, “We don’t need this unicorn to be huge. Let’s make it a super cutesy and small, almost like a little pet animal kind of thing, almost like a little dog.” So, we brought it down to that size. We even had inspiration from My Little Pony as far as color schemes and all this stuff.

Then the world came together and they were completely bought off on it. When it came time to release the video, we showed to the cut—this is a learning experience for us as an agency, we were very new as an agency—we showed them a cut too early. What I mean by that, it wasn’t finished enough, there’s so many in the graphics that hadn’t been done yet, the sound design wasn’t done, there is still green screen and stuff all over there, and it freaked them out. They were scared to death of the way this thing looked.

Rightfully so, to be honest, in hindsight. It takes a very particular kind of client, which is a minority, but for them to go on an imagination journey with you like, “Oh yeah. It’s exactly where this is going,” they have to see it put it together before they’re like, “Oh. I get it,” right?

That’s why state houses sell for so much more than empty houses.

Very much so. It’s the exact same principle. No different at all. You go detail your car before you sell it and you will get a higher price tag. Because of that sparkle and shine, a lot of people get in and be like, “Well, I’m seeing like this empty root beer cans in here, candy bar wrappers or whatever it is.” That just not going to sell for the same price. It’s not going to move as quickly as when they get inside and they smell it, they can feel it and like, “Oh, all I have to do is pay for this thing, and we’re good to go, right?”

Essentially, that was kind of a hard lesson on that one. I mean, this is three days before launch, three or four days before launch that we’re showing in this. We had a couple of all-nighters in front of us. We knew we did anyway, of putting all the pieces together. I think Bobby, he basically walked away saying, “Well, maybe at least they’ll break even. Maybe something will come up or maybe I’ll lose some product,” kind of a thing, but he was like, “What have I done? I’ve just turned my brand over to this crazy whacko-doodle unicorn.” But when we put all those finishing touches on it and they finally saw it and they started seeing reactions from people, they’re like, “Okay. Maybe this can work.”

Some internal people in the team that has never heard the script, they hadn’t been on set, and all these different things, they first saw the video. I remember the first time their social media manager watched it and she was just dying laughing. It was like, “This is brilliant.” She was like, “Okay. Maybe there’s something here.” Then we put it up on YouTube and it started to get a little bit of traction, started to see some positive stuff, or started to see a few sales come in. And they put it up on Facebook—and this is at the time when Facebook had just barely started getting into video—all of a sudden, the shares just started coming.

You sell your best when you believe in the product.

This is in the early algorithm days. Share after share and all of a sudden, it turns into a 100,000 views, and 200,000, 1 million, and 2 million, and so on. All of a sudden, within the first week, by the time we started running the ads behind it, and all the shares that we had with that—it was close to 25 million views within the first week—it just blew up. They were running their factories 24/7 just to keep up with the demands. Retailers were coming in and ordering more. They were just flying off the shelves online and on Amazon. They had a 400% spiking sales on Bed Bath & Beyond. It was over 600% on squattypotty.com. They did such a good job of running their factories round the clock and even having an inventory ready to go, sort of backlog ready to go, that they were able to keep up with shipments all the way up just before Christmas when they finally sold out. I think they were able to take advantage of like 95% of it, which is awesome on their part.

We’ve had these other clients that just hadn’t been able to do that, they just hadn’t been able to keep up. With the Purple Mattress, we would sell a whole bunch of mattresses, and then they would be completely run out and we would have to put them on backorder for months. We developed a whole system of allowing people to come in and order the product, like get on a waiting list, and then be like, “Okay. Our next batch of purples is ready,” and then everyone would get on, they would sell out in hours kind of thing. We had to this whole thing where we’re basically, regulating the supply because there’s just way too much demand to keep up with it. Anyway, I guess that’s what you want to hear on the Squatty Potty side.

What a great story. Yes. I love that. Thank you for all that inside baseball. Now, I have recently interviewed Derral Eves, and he had mentioned that he was the executive producer.

He’s the executive producer on it. Absolutely. He was at the writing retreat with us – myself, Jeffrey, the Squatty Potty founders and Dave, the other writer. He was there. He made breakfast for us and he was there on set with us, and through launch and everything. Derral was great.

Awesome. Now, what would somebody expect to spend in production and advertising with Facebook, YouTube, with other channels? What would be the breakdown and cost here?

Are you saying kind of percentage-wise?

I’m assuming that it’s a seven-figure investment to get the kind of quality of one of your hit campaigns. 

That’s very typical. If the campaign is really successful over time, you are going to be spending more in the ads than you will on developing the creative. That’s just something I plan on. We say, for example, I don’t think we even do deals with clients anymore where they’re not committing to budgeting for ad spend. You’ve got to do that. Content is king. Distribution is queen and the queen wears the pants. So, if you’re not planning for distribution, you are planning to fail. You’ve got to have your ad-buying budget set aside for that. For most of them, we say, “Just to get good testing out the door with a big campaign like this, even just to see where you’re landing and kind of prove it out, you’re usually looking at between a minimum $50,000 and more like a $100,000 to spend to do that. Some of that, you could find out sooner and stuff, but that’s kind of what you want to plan on. Is that kind of spend be able to go for a big scaling campaign like that?”

Once you’ve got that 50K or 100K test budget spent on, let’s say, the first month or two then…

They need to know your numbers, right? “Okay, for every dollar I spent, I’m predictably getting back $2,” or whatever the number is. For some people, they’re not looking to do it all just online, they’re also looking for retail, and so they would look at those numbers, as well as the aggregate because they might be spending it a break-even or even less online. But knowing it’s going to pick up in retail and they’re fine, right? It all depends on what the goals are, but ultimately, yeah. Then you can kind of make your decision like, “How much elasticity do we have? How far can we push this ad out there and still maintain a positive ROI?” It becomes less about like, “What’s my quarterly marketing budget?” It becomes much more about things like, “How much is the most I can spend and still get the return I need?” That’s really what you want to push to if you’re trying to win market share and really get your brand out there.

Start with your gut and confirm with data. Click To Tweet

Yeah, because, eventually, there’s a point where you spent so much that the ROI percentage goes down.

Yeah, just because of inventory for your demographic on the platforms. There’s always so much time that people that are health conscious that want to use a Squatty Potty. There’s only so much time they’re spending on the platform, and there’s only so much of that ad inventory that they see that can be allocated to you. Then there’s only so many people that are in the market for a new bed, like if they just bought it two years ago. They’re fine, they’re not going to be worried unless it’s really giving them problems. They’re not going to be really worried about buying a new bed for maybe the next 5 years, 3 years, 10 years, or whatever. Depending on how much you want to sink it to that thing.

I know before I got my Purple, I was on like a spring mattress that we’ve bought just freshly when we got married. I think it’s kind of whatever silly brand mattress and we were on that thing for almost 10 years or more. So we were due for sure for replacement.

Are you sleeping on a Purple Mattress now?

Yes. It’s great. That’s one of the hardest things about traveling. Even when these hotels have really nice mattresses and stuff, it’s always nice to come home to a Purple.

That’s cool. It’s always great when you’re working with a client that you loved their product so much, you actually use it.

That’s our most fundamental is, at the end of the day, we start everything with a great product. If we don’t believe in it, and if it’s not going to be something that we use and stuff, we simply don’t sell it. When people come in the door, that’s the first thing we say is, “Does it pass the ‘Do we love it’ test?” If we don’t, then it’s not a good fit for us. We’re just, “You guys can go somewhere else, find something.” That’s what we feel like. We feel like we sell our best when we believe in the product and that nothing sells better than the truth. If we’re speaking from a place of truth then we’re going to be pretty effective to do it.

Makes sense. Back to the cost question, what’s the production cost of a campaign? Are we talking like half a million dollars or?

Yeah. It starts over a half a million dollars and then we have several campaign packages that could easily go upwards a million and a quarter, that kind of thing. Those are kind of work campaigns run overtime, in the course of a year, developing several different pieces of content. It just depends on what the client needs and what they’re looking for. But if you’re looking to put together all the package of different pieces to put out there, and a whole campaign built around the world, the character, and all that stuff, it’s definitely kind of in the big boy territory.

That’s one of the reasons we’re so selective about bringing in some products and stuff that we believe in because we want to make sure that when clients come to us, that they’re going to make it in their investment, right? That we’re not just collecting a paycheck and, “We’re fine but sorry guys.” We don’t want to be that kind of company. We very much want to help them build their brand and build their bottom line.

Great. When you create multiple videos around a character or an idea, are these behind the scenes videos, are they sidekick videos?

Yeah. They take a lot of different forms. We use to call the main video the key role video and then we have the sidekick ones that we call on the side or they might be smaller ones. Under the case of Squatty Potty, the prince and the unicorn, in one form or another, have now been in three major videos where we did some world building there. We’ve done one that had the unicorn farting or passing gas, you might say, to create a toilet spray to cover up the odor when you go to the bathroom. There’s another one where there’s a dragon that’s pooping gold bricks like that one up as well. It’s got 40 million views on it. That’s just building out more into the character of the prince and stuff and the unicorn kind of makes a little cameo there.

The share button is the ultimate algorithmic trigger for Facebook.

There’s a lot of different ways to do it. Chatbooks is also a good example where we had several different videos we put together. The mom and her crazy life that she goes through with her kids and stuff and trying to capture all those fun, crazy, memories. There’s got to be, I think six or seven videos out there I’m using that character in that world. It’s kind of a fun thing to do.

How would you define a sidekick video?

Usually, it’s just a video that isn’t requiring as much innovation as the original world building and character building of the first one, where it can be a little bit more of one-offs, a lot of times are shorter in length. We’re able to repurpose a lot of the work put in the initial research and the campaign build-out of concept development with the client and then put it into maybe a smaller video. Sometimes, they focus on a single feature as opposed to trying to accomplish more of a holistic sale, it all depends on the goals of the client. Usually yes, it’s not quite as long, it’s able to repurpose a lot of the work we put into building that element of the brand.

Right. So, these are not behind the scenes videos where you are kind of showing like, “Here’s what Seth looked like,” or anything like that. It’s just companion videos.

Yeah. They’re more of companion videos to the main concept.

Do you ever do behind the scenes where you shoot?

I’m glad you asked me. We do a lot of behind the scenes, those can also be very effective. One of the things that we’ve learned to do overtime is to actually turn the behind the scenes video into a sale in and of itself where we could tell a little bit more of the back story. If you go and watch the behind the scenes of the Lord of the Rings, for example, if you get the extended edition or whatever, Peter Jackson and the art department and stuff will go into all these different details about what they’re doing to create these worlds, culture, and stuff, and that’s all really awesome. For filmmakers, that’s great. For creative people, that’s really fun to watch.

Our behind the scenes includes elements that are more based around the kind of reselling the product like, “We’ve arrived at these conclusions that we did because the product does XYZ so well.” For example, if you watch the Purple behind the scenes, it tells a lot about the egg drop test. That Raw Egg Test plays so much into the benefit of the bed, of it being able to give way in the cushion in areas where it needs to and being able to support also where it needs to.

There was a time when that video was performing so well, they were doing it as a remarketing video. So, they’ve hit him with the main ad and then come back with a remarketing video on behind the scenes, the Purple one. Man, they were getting customers for, I want to say $1000-bed, right? People paying for $1000-bed, and it was costing them, somewhere between like $20 and $40 to acquire a customer. That wasn’t scalable overtime and everything, but this can be very effective sales tools when you get a really good testimonial from people, from the founders and stuff that have worked on it. We add our own testimonials because we start with the products that we believe in like we did with Purple and tell about our own experience in sleeping on it.

For the brand and stuff, it’s really kind of fun to have that kind of forward facing element of Goldilocks and these different beds and to live in that world. But there’s something of value when people are just talking to you face to face like, “This is the problem I was dealing with.” It brings in a little bit of the element of the power of just customer reviews in that sense. We usually approach behind the scenes videos as just another video to add to the overall campaign, and to help leverage the power of the branding that’s been created for that main hero video or those sidekicks. That’s our approach.

Do you include blooper reels in these behind the scenes?

Yeah. There’s a lot of ways that we kind of keep the rhythm of the video and the pacing feeling good. A lot of times, we’ll either put in jokes that we have to cut out because they were working so well, or because we didn’t feel they’re as relevant as they needed to be or just blooper moments where the actor’s just messing up. I think people really like to see that kind of relatability that not everything is perfect in real life, that we’re clearly editing down to the best stuff. That’s kind of the fun portion of it.

What were these some of the more powerful techniques that you employ in these videos whether the sidekick videos or the main videos in terms of persuasion? Are you, for example, preempting objections by working in the objections into some testimonials or something? Are you building rapport and comfort in certain ways? What are your secrets to success with persuading?

A lot of persuasions come down to addressing beforehand the objections that we know are the most common. Usually, the way you can figure that out is as long as you already have some traction in the market with your product, then you can usually go and find just in the customer reviews, what are the more common themes coming up? The company should be able to tell you from customer service calls and things like that, what are the things that are stopping people from buying.

Then if there are major ones that are just coming up all the time then you can address those in the video, as long as there’s a sincere way to do it. That’s one of the things that we do on our videos. We just preemptively say, “Okay. Maybe you’re not ready to buy now, but did you consider this?” That’s one of the big ones. Another one is I think it’s really important that you demonstrate visually, as well as possible, what problem the product is solving for people or how it’s differentiated.

Like the egg drop test?

That was a really good example of a kind of breakthrough that we had. Ultimately, we felt we had to include the egg drop test because when the Purple founders came to us with the product originally. They had a base layer of this Purple that they put on a chair, so it wasn’t the whole mattress, it was just this —I forgot the language that they used for it—but it’s basically, that grid matrix kind of thing. They put that up on top of a chair and then they took an egg and put it inside of a ziplock bag and then they had to sit on it and it wouldn’t break. We were like, “Woah!” That was the first thing that sold us, and not only did it not break, but you also couldn’t even feel it well when you sat down. It cushioned it so much.

People like to see relatability that everything is not perfect in real life. Click To Tweet

I remember even taking a pair of scissors afterward and be like, “Really? Come on now.” They took a big pair of scissors, set it on it, and then sat on that, I was like, “Wow. That almost disappears as well. I can hardly feel that’s underneath me.” I mean, you could feel it, but I just couldn’t believe how much it was cushioning that. We were like, “Men, this is selling us. Why wouldn’t it sell it to other people? We just got to find out a way to put this in a video form.” 

Visually, you have to approach the problem of, “Okay. How can you do this so that the people know you’re not faking it?” There are a few different elements that we included to do that. When I would sit on that egg, I’d get up, and then the guys from Purple would take the egg and crushed it inside the ziplock bag and be like, “See, it wasn’t hard boiled.” That was the first thing I thought, like “Yeah, you hard-boiled egg.” If I’m going to think that other people are going to think that, and that’s what we’re all thinking. It’s really cool that you can sit on it, or lay on it and then, up comes there’s the egg, but then there’s movie magic of, “What did you in between the time?” That’s kind of where this concept came up of like, “We need to show it under a glass so that people can visually see that.”

That became a matter of finding the right adhesive and stuff to stick the egg on the glass, and if you put the wrong adhesive on it, it gets too much of a glog and it creates a pressure point on the egg that wouldn’t have been there otherwise, and it can actually aid in cracking the egg, so we kind of go to that problem, solving process a little bit. Then they visually show it not just sitting on it and putting on a thing, but then like, “That’s not very interesting to just put a piece of glass down but when you start dropping it from a height in order to show that. That becomes a lot more interesting.” All these different ways to visually show the differentiation of the product we had to work through.

Then, the element that we included is at the end of the video, there’s a little bit of behind the scenes, kind of a window in a window where we showed the clip while you’re seeing the product shot there, nice and everything. There’s also this kind of call out within the video of the behind the scenes where we just do a continuous shot of the glass dropping, everybody pulling it up, and our actor, Mallory, goes in and just pops the eggs and shows it were real. There is no plastic. They’re not wooden. They’re not hard-boiled or any of that stuff. We just kept the cameras rolling for the whole way because we just thought people are just going to call foul. Like, “Oh, you guys have done some trickery here.” Even still, people would do that but no, there’s nothing fake about it. The more that you can do to visually show the distinction of your product and what it could do, I think, the better off you are.

Through this process, did any of the eggs break when things didn’t go quite right with the way the glass was placed or anything like that?

Well, for sure in the development of the test because we had to get something that could just be replicated on film over and over again, that we wouldn’t be doing second-guessing and stuff. We brought plenty of eggs in that process on all the different beds, but the ones we found, our tests of like, “Oh, if you drop it from a foot, you used this glue here and you have this kind of egg and everything, and you put it out there, we do it on all the beds, it’s predictable, it’s time.” We need to get something that would work for the camera.

Even in the filming, we did have one egg break. What had happened is, and it broke on the Purple, but what had happened is it dropped on the bed like six times. So, it’d just been there over, and over, and over, again. The bed was sitting on top of a warehouse board that was concrete, and it was 330 pounds dropping down on to it and when it landed it would bounce. When it bounced, it would actually shift the bed. When it shifted the bed, it put pressure on those eggs. After enough times of that happening, we did see like an egg or two breaks. Full disclosure, but if the bed had been stationary and it just falls straight down, not having that shift, I don’t think we would have that problem at all. Again, that was only like a couple of eggs that broke after dropping this thing, I don’t know how many times for different shots, to try to get Mallory’s performance just right, to try to get the timing of everything just right, and to get the different camera angles that we had to because we have different setups. Now, it was the real thing.

Very cool. You have to worry about people watching these videos on Facebook with the sound turned off and getting them enticed enough that they actually want to turn on the sound or they want to keep watching. Then, you also have this issue where view counts, I think they’re inflated on Facebook because it’s just a few seconds of them pausing in the newsfeed without scrolling and now that’s counted as a view and so you can get people who are not really engaged counting as views. Do you want to address that for our listeners?

Yeah. There’s a couple of ways to really help yourself along on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, where people generally are not going to turn on the sound. One of them is to actually just put up a graphic that says, “Turn the sound on,” somewhere towards the beginning especially that’s very essential to the sale. We always bake in subtitles to our videos, what I mean by bake in is we include them in part of the edit. Well, the whole way throughout. The reason we do that is because then we can brand them. We can use the brand fonts, we can use brand colors, and all those types of things, rather than just Facebook’s default. We can control the size if we want to go bigger with them. And we can control the timing. For us, that’s really important because so much of our shop is just based on the topic.

A punchline, if it’s not timed correctly, ruins the joke. With humor, everything is about timing. Jerry Seinfield once likened it to jumping on a train with an open boxcar. If you jump too soon, you’re dead and you smack into the car in front of it. If you jump too late, you miss the car completely and you’re dead as well. But if you land right, you’re off on the train, you’re alive and everybody loves it.

It’s essentially the same thing with comedic timing with jokes. You identify where your punchline is landing and then as the subtitles come in, you can basically make those words under the punch line reveal at the right time, rather than just all at once and then people read ahead and so baking into subtitles is a really good way. We’ve tested it. We’ve tested videos that have subtitles baked into those and those that don’t and the ones with subtitles baked in they do perform better. There’s also just data evidence for that aside for the artistic element of like making it branded and all those types of things. 

And then I’d say the other element is you want to visually grab people’s interest within the first 3-5 seconds on Facebook because they’re strolling through. You’re going to need something right up front that’s going to pull their attention, either is that like a big graphic that asked a question that’s going to pick their curiosity and something that they’re interested in, or that’s going to be a visual of some kind like a pooping unicorn.

In the case of Purple, we used a question, “What is the super easy way to tell your bed is awful?” That was kind of an interest grabber. On Squatty Potty, we used the visual of the rainbow ice cream being pooped on to the cone, that was very interesting like, “Oh, I got to stop them off of this.” On FiberFix, we used a question as well, “What happens when you jump a car off a cliff in a roll cage held together by duct tape?” Something along those lines. Then people have to stick around, the usual set up like, “Oh, here’s what coming. This car is going to run off this cliff.” That’s the idea of pulling them in visually as quickly as you can.

For us, we tried to test through different types of intros. We call it the hook of our ad, meaning we feel it’s what draws the viewer in. But you want to have different visual ways that you can kind of start your ad off with a bang and pull people in and then AB test those against each other to see which is getting and then watch the retention curves on your audience, you can do it on YouTube, you can do it on Facebook, and watch where your audiences are falling off and you can make a very data-driven decision. You start with your gut, and then you confirm with data or you undo your gut with data which happens quite often.

Right. So, conventional wisdom, I’ve heard before, 10 seconds is all you have for…

No.

But it’s more like 3-5 seconds.

Yeah. I mean, three gets more people than even five does. I mean, I would say at a very maximum, you’d say five, but three gets even more than five. If you watch the numbers, there are people that are falling off. It doesn’t take people long to scroll through. If they’re bored with your video, if they don’t feel like it’s relevant, they can move on from that thing. I mean, count on your mind as you go through Facebook – 1, 1,000, 2, 1,000, 3, 1,000. It doesn’t take long for people to feel like, “Oh, okay. I’m on to the next thing.”

Very true. Now, Facebook has been a bigger engine for your clients than YouTube, right? Squatty Potty made it big because of Facebook more than YouTube.

Yes. Facebook, particularly, because they just own more demographic information than YouTube does. Meaning, you can target the right people more usually. A lot of our products start with very specific demographics because we’re trying to target people, we’re introducing a new concept or a new product for the first time, and that has to deliver an ROI for the client, and your kind of able to test your way into what works for that.

Most clients will come to us and they already know who they sell with. That’s what we start with is, “Is there a look-alike audience that they’ve already been marketing to?” Or the demographics that say, “This is kind of our sweet spot.” That’s always where we start. Now, the cool things about the campaign that Squatty Potty showed, basically, all the campaigns that we’ve done have shown is that our campaigns pushed the demographic down. They pushed it younger. Meaning, it doesn’t actually leave behind who already loves it at all. In fact, it converts better for them too, then it also broadens the demographic, more people that can be sold by it, and it also pushes it down younger.

That was one of the main things for Squatty Potty. A lot of Squatty Pottys were being used by older women. Then, all of a sudden, college students were starting to buy Squatty Pottys. You had nine-year-old girls asking their parents for a Purple for Christmas. These are real stories. It blows my mind. I did not care what kind of mattress I slept on when I was a kid, but for someone that’s falling in love with this Goldilocks character that had seen, “Woah. Look at that. Look what that egg does on there. I don’t know if my bed does that.” It starts to make people think along those lines.

Facebook, mainly the effectiveness that we found were it’s superior to us is being able to reach specific niche demographics. If you get a much broader type of targeting, there are all sorts of benefits from all sorts of platforms, but obviously, the big ones are Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. Obviously, Google Search is going to be helpful to that.

Facebook is first, would then Instagram be number two or would YouTube be number two?

For us, it trades back and forth just depending on the product and the campaign. We’ve had ones where Instagram is performing better. We’ve had ones where YouTube is performing better. It just depends.

What’s the sweet spot for a length of a video for Instagram?

Instagram for ads does not allow for over a minute. A lot of our videos, as you might know, they clock in at three, four, or five minutes in some cases, right? So emerge those levels too but we’re very much going for a complete sell. I always say with videos; you are limited by the platform so it got to be a minute or under. But I would say, make it as long as it needs to be and not a second longer. It’s just as long as a concept needs and as long as the product needs. From there, just don’t overstay your welcome at all. As long as you’re pacing, your rhythm feels good, the people are going to stick around as long as you are relevant and emotional. I’m a big believer that people ditch out on their video because it’s boring more than they ditch out on it because it’s long.

Now, the process for creating the video, could you walk us through the brainstorming and storyboarding process? How many people are involved? How long does it take? What are the stages?

Just to clarify, you’re saying from scripting onward or even before scripting?

Even before scripting.

Okay. Before scripting, when we have a client come on we first try to find out if we’re in love with the product, right? That’s stage one. Send us some product, let’s try it out and see how we like it, whether our wives like it, all that kind of stuff. Then from there, we go into a deep dive in research and that’s basically, the client giving us a brain dunk where they’re going to give us all the information that they have on things like, what are the common objections that people have? Why they wouldn’t buy. What are the main things that they love about the product? And what are the demographics it resonates with? All that kind of stuff.

If a punchline is not timed correctly, it ruins the joke. Everything is about timing with humor. Click To Tweet

Then just using the products ourselves and really becoming familiar with it and then looking out in the marketplace. What are the competitors doing? What’s their messaging? And really honing in on that. Just really spending some time to live in that world for a bit so that we can start to gain insights. Then generally, we are going to put together a team of about three or four writers to approach it from different angles. Meaning, they’re not going to get together in the same space with their concepts until later because we want them to approach it from very different viewpoints and then we come together with a writing retreat.

For the client, where we work collaboratively with the client to single on which is the concept we feel like is the one that’s going to be most strong to go with and then what jokes can we integrate from other scripts and what sales pieces can we integrate to where it ends up being a little bit of a Frankenstein when we put that all together. Once we’ve got our script nailed down, we’ll go off into production and then it’s all about nailing down the producer and the director to head up the project and then knowing your cast. Got to be able to find the right person and that’s going to be a long, laborious process. A lot of our casting calls go all over the country trying to find the right fit for it. Sometimes we can find people here locally, we’re in Provo, Utah, it’s about an hour of south in Salt Lake City. There’s a lot of good talent to tap into here, but we don’t try to limit ourselves to it at all. We very much cast out of LA, Chicago, New York, wherever they are going to come from, right?

Was it a long process to find Mallory to be Goldilocks?

Mallory we knew. That was an interesting one. It was a long process, but Mallory, we did know and they kind of had her in mind when we were writing the Goldilocks character but we thought to ourselves, “Let’s really check our guts on this. Let’s not just cast her because we already know she’s great. She was in this sketch comedy group called Studio C. If you look it up on YouTube, it has gazillions of views. We knew her comedic chops were really good and that was our first and foremost thing for casting is that we want to make sure that the person has good comedic timing and can bring their own X-factor of thinking, has some improv ability, that’s great. Because sometimes our jokes, once you put them in front of the camera, they don’t work out as well as we thought they would, but then they bring something else. That’s a lot of what Mallory did for the Purple script.

Admittedly, Mallory did not have the greatest audition but we were betting on her work. We auditioned over 200 women for that part and that was all over the country. Some submitted online and some came in person. I think we must have done 50 or 60 in person and the rest of them were online. Just calling one after the other, we started with Mallory and we basically ended with Mallory. Like, “You know what? I don’t think we’re going to get better than what she’s delivering. Let’s just make a bet on her.” It was a great bet, turned out to be the perfect bet, actually.

She was great.

From there, it all about putting together any kind of sets or getting any kind of locations that we’re going to need to shoot in. If there’s an outdoor scene or there’s a house we have to shoot in or a place of business of some kind. Getting together wardrobe designers and figuring all that out. I’d say so much of the process is you want to meet with people beforehand and do check-in so that you are all on the same page and you’re not showing up on the day of shooting just like, “Oh, this is what you’ve got to have fun with that.” If it’s not what you wanted, you want to make sure that all are on site. In building up the unicorn, for example, I was working with our puppeteer, Chris Hanson, I was up there seeing for like a while. I was up there twice a week and I must have done at least have to be close to a dozen check-ins with him at different stages of the development because I wanted to make sure that it turned out a certain way, right?

From there, on the day of filming, you just want to make sure you have a really fun environment. Really fun and kind of loose collaborative environment where people can do their best work. We were a big believer that good ideas come from anywhere. Through all the process, I’m very much tapping into the best ideas of whoever I’ve hired to do wardrobe, whoever I’ve hired to do the art direction or the set buildout, whoever we’ve hired for any area. You work with them collaboratively and then you go into editing and that’s where, as Ron Howard says, that’s where the film is really made is in the edit.

It’s so true because that’s where a lot of people fell out, where I don’t think they should. You got to edit and re-edit. What I mean by that is, you get a nice cut of it that you feel like is pretty good and you show it to people that haven’t seen it all or not familiar with it at all and see their reactions, see what they’re actually lacking at. If they are not lacking, cut the jokes out, if you can’t cut around them. Show it to several different people, show it to people within the demographic. If your selling to women ages 35-44 whatever it is, go find women in that age group, and show them the edit, and see if they’re asking buyer-related questions. What I mean by that is to say things like, “Where is this sold?” They say something like that, that is a really good sign. If they say things like, “How much does this cost?”

Right, so buyer intent?

You want to look for those buyer intent questions. Or, “Is this out yet?” All that kind of stuff is really good. Then edit and re-edit, and re-edit some more. We add motion graphics, sound design, all that stuff, and then like I said, you want to make sure you have your distribution strategy and your budget in place to be able to stand behind the thing and make sure it can bring in the money that it needs to. Super easy. I don’t know why anyone doesn’t just do this themselves. Why they ever hire us, I don’t know. It’s so simple.

Speaking of which, how would somebody connect with you to hire you if they have a budget, let’s say, $750,000 or a $1.5 million to work with you?

From Poop To Gold by Chris Jones

They would reach out to us at harmonbrothers.com. For people that don’t fit into that, not every brand fits into that stage, we do have certain packages and things that we found ways to work with people that are underneath that given particular circumstances. There are times where we’ve done deals where we do a little bit of an ownership interest in the company, they are open to things like that if it’s the right thing. I wouldn’t just have people be like, “Well, I don’t have a half a million dollars. I’m not going to be able to give them a call. I wouldn’t necessarily jump into that category.” We also have harmonbrothersuniversity.com where we teach a lot about this kind of stuff where we basically have a training course that people can invest in. This is actually the training that we give our internal writers. That’s an awesome resource for people and the other one is if they want to learn a little bit more about our backstory, about our creative processes, our creative culture, and creative partnerships there’s the book From Poop to Gold, which has the unicorn in the cover but that’s also at harmonbrothersbook.com. You can check that on there.

All the links to these wonderful resources will be included in the show notes. It’s marketingspeak.com. Yup, I signed up for the book. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m sure it’s awesome. I’m very excited to dig into it. The university program sounds amazing.

Yeah, we put a lot of work into it. We’ve invested tremendous time and resources and that’s where I normally work in on client work. That’s where a lot of my attention has been. It’s in developing that course, so I’m teaching it. For better or worse, you’ll see me there telling mini jokes, some of them are my own, some are not. But that’s one of the things we try to do with the course is we try to make it almost as entertaining as our ads, so to speak. It’s been a lot of fun to do, but very informative and very good at guiding people to being able to write a script for an ad that will sell.

I love it. Edutainment. Alright. Well, thank you so much, Daniel.

Thank you so much.

Thank you, listeners. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak.

Important Links

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ Believe in the product that I am selling. I should be my own customer in order to sell something.
☑ Create a campaign that’s not only viral but also sustainable. My ad’s message should be compelling enough that it’s timeless.
☑ Make my ads relatable so that viewers share them on social media. This organic type of marketing is a great way to increase awareness and visibility.
☑ Keep strategizing for my brand. Continuity and relevance are key to long term success.
☑ Be willing to allocate marketing funds to advertising. It may be costly, but it’s an investment that pays off in revenue.
☑ Focus on high-quality, well-curated content that is humorous, smart, and relatable. Hire an ad agency or production company to help me create different types of media for my brand.
☑ Test my ads on a smaller scale to see what works. Don’t put all my eggs in one basket and try different strategies instead. Figure out where my product or brand does best.
☑ Repurpose video campaigns by creating full-length, in-depth, and holistic content that I can turn into shorter stand-alone snippets.
☑ Check out Harmon Brothers University for courses on creating videos and writing ads that sell.
☑ Grab a copy of the book From Poop to Gold by Chris Jones to discover more about the marketing magic produced by the Harmon Brothers.

About Daniel Harmon

Daniel is co-founder and chief creative officer of Harmon Brothers. He creative directed and helped write hit campaigns for Squatty Potty, Purple, Chatbooks, FiberFix, and Poo~Pourri. Harmon Brothers’ campaigns have 1.4 billion views and have helped drive 350 million in sales. Daniel is married and has six kids—his greatest accomplishments.

 

 

 

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