Here are some of the main takeaways from our visit with Benton Crane, CEO of Provo, Utah-based Harmon Brothers
The most effective creative collaboration starts in a vacuum. Benton said that, in every Harmon Brothers project, four writers are tasked with writing four separate initial scripts. No exchanging notes, no bouncing ideas off one another. Then, the client is called in for a reading of each script. Until this moment, no higher-up in the agency has seen or weighed in on any of them. This may seem like a huge risk, but the clients love it because it allows them to get involved in the raw creative process, resulting in a superior final product that is closer to what they want.
Test EVERYTHING. Every Harmon Brothers campaign undergoes an insane amount of testing - for instance, in the conceptualization stage, the initial script is read to 10 semi-disinterested people. During the reading, their facial reactions are captured on video. A scorecard referred to as a "laugh graph" correlates the reactions to each part of the script in order to gauge whether it's a hit or not.
Learn from Pixar and Create a Brain Trust. Harmon Brothers operates a Pixar-style creative brain trust that exists in part to identify weaknesses in the scripts, storyboards, and shoots. Benton said this group never overrides the agency’s quintet of creative directors but do offer constructive feedback for them to ponder and utilize (or not). This concept was borrowed from Pixar who operates similarly. You can learn more by reading Ed Catmull’s pinnacle book, CREATIVITY INC.
Learn REAL Storytelling Structures like Joseph Cambell’s Hero’s Journey. Benton spoke about how humans are hard-wired to pay lasting attention to stories featuring a protagonist on a quest. He said the hero’s journey formula is a solid-gold framework to approach ad-writing with because no other archetypal structure makes as deep of an emotional connection with audiences. However, in Harmon Brothers ads, the viewers are positioned as the hero INSTEAD of the product. Instead, the product is the ‘sword that slays the dragon’ or the bridge stands between them and the prize—typically a happier life.
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