From placement to movement

Issue 21 | November 2011

Directory in conversation with Ray Barrett, CEO of Hey Harry Worldwide, Toronto.


So, Ray, like a lot of creative directors, you have been something of a restless soul, never hanging your hat on any peg for particularly long. You were a creative director at WCRS and at Ogilvy before having your own place for a while, Barrett Cernis, and now you’ve taken up residence in Canada. But, finally, you seem to be making sense of what you do.


There are two questions I like to ask every client. What exactly is it you think you do? And, why should anyone be interested?

Of course, in our business it’s easy to ignore your own advice but when we set up Hey Harry, we found that when we did get the chance to talk to marketers about their brands, it was difficult to get traction. We wanted to talk about the power of social media but it all sounded too vague. So we sat down and tried to hammer out what it was we were really trying to do.


Not easy.


For two years we made very little money while we were trying to figure out what it was we believed in. And, funnily enough, it was in asking ourselves what we believed in that we began to realise we should be asking clients the same question. What do you believe in?

When you know what you believe, then you have purpose, you have a mission. You can then set out to share your beliefs with other people and in so doing you can make extraordinary things happen.


Doesn’t sound much like advertising as we know it.


No, I spent 30 years in the business of making clearly articulated messages which we pushed out across different channels and hoped people would respond. The conversations we started, such as they were, were about the advertising. Now the conversations we start pull people in. Through their intricate communications systems, which involve their mobiles, Facebook pages, blogs, websites and emails, people talk about what products and brands mean.


It’s still about ideas, though?


Yes, I’m very much in the business of ideas but no longer ideas about product attributes but ideas about values.

This is pretty much the message Steve Jobs gave the Apple salesforce when he rejoined the company in 1997. You can see it on Youtube at But what he said was:

“Marketing is about values. Our customers want to know who is Apple and what do we stand for? Where do we fit in this world? And what we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well. But Apple’s about something more than that. Its core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better. That’s what we believe.”

Fourteen years later and the rest of the world has caught up with him.


So, you create movements for brands?


We create ideas people can believe in. Then we start conversations and we let people take them on from there. That’s the wonderful thing about marketing today. We can facilitate an idea, marshall it but we can’t control it and in so many ways just knowing that gives you freedom to do such new things.


Can you explain?


Advertising is when you create a message about a product but a movement happens around an idea that benefits the recipient personally and meaningfully. So, let’s look at Groupon. It’s a way of getting money off various things and it went off like a Catherine wheel. It spread by word of mouth. Someone who knew nothing about Groupon yesterday is enthusing about it today and telling all her friends because it will benefit them just as it benefited her.

So, what we try to do at Hey Harry is find an idea in a brand that people can subscribe to. We ask, what is it about your product that makes the world a better place in being here. We’re not interested in what they think about what makes their product special. All that leads to is more factory speak. But what do they believe they are in business to do.


It’s not the sort of conversation you can have with a middle manager, is it?


No, we have to go to the top, the CEOs and the Chairman. The interesting thing is they get it, what we’re on about, they get it almost instantly.

In a world of over-supply and product parity, people now choose their brands by what they stand for, as Jobs noted. It’s so intee=resting. As an ad agency, we were banging on people’s doors asking to be let in, now we have clients banging on ours. But they aren’t your usual clients. We have a political party, a global charity, organisations of that sort, who want people rallying around them but don’t know how to make it happen.

One of the most interesting projects we’re working on right now is for a soft-drinks company. They know they have to be seen to believe in something bigger than just making money from sugary water. The ultimate reasons for why they are in business and how they conduct themselves is becoming more important than what they produce.

They know that if people buy into them they will buy their products.


In Cannes this year, we heard Martin Lindstrom develop the idea he wrote about in his book “Buyology”, that in an increasingly secular society people are turning to brands as something to believe in. Does this sort of analogy with religion make you nervous?


Look, we talk to clients about creating belief systems and what is a religion if not a powerful belief system? Also, the first bit of work we do is to write a mission statement and it’s a bit like a psalm. But perhaps the most important part in creating any movement is you need disciples, people who will take the idea out and spread it.

Jesus would have called himself a Jew. It was the disciples who coined the word Christian and they were the ones who created a movement that ended up spreading round the world.

He started a conversation and they took it on and it’s a conversation which has lasted over 2,000 years, constantly changing as it feeds off itself.


Your background is as a traditional advertising creative, telly and press, so it’s intriguing to hear you talking so passionately about Direct Mail.


I don’t know if it’s Direct Mail itself that I’m interested in. DM is simply a mechanic. What I am interested in, though, are touchpoints. The point at which I hand over something to you is the pivotal moment in creating a movement.

Go back to the Nazi Party. What they did that was so brilliant was to give everyone an armband, which let the newcomer announce “I’m one of you, I am part of this” so that he or she could, literally, start a conversation with total strangers about their shared beliefs.

Steve Jobs was brilliant in opening the Apple Store because what he was doing was rewarding brand fans by allowing and encouraging them to go in and play with the products.

It’s about touch, physical touch.

How do you greet your true friends? With a handshake.

That’s what Steve Jobs gave Apple fans, a handshake and that’s where I think Direct Mail comes in. It gives you a very real touchpoint and if what you send people is engaging enough then they will tell their circle and they will want that thing to touch as well.

Most of the world is distanced from us. You can view it on your laptop and you can even engage with it but with mail, it’s in your hands.

The big question now, if you’re going to start a movement, is what do you want them to do with it?


It sounds like the conversion of Saul.


Amen to that.

Buckler Works

Buckler, a NY-based men’s house, was struggling in the recession.

Hey Harry persuaded the company to use the current economic situation to create a meaningful link with a customer base that was willing to engage in a relationship IF there was a good reason for it.

The idea was Buckler Works, a unique program that engaged customers in the company’s philanthropic effortst, focusing on their core line: jeans. When a customer bought a pair of jeans, five pairs of specially-designed Works jeans were donated for use in charitable works. Through a unique serial number, purchasers could interact with Buckler, choose which charity they wanted to support and then follow what happened to those jeans on their journey.

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