“How do you get people to talk about the colon around the dinner table?”
This was the head scratcher that Jeffrey and Neal Harmon, viral marketing gurus and founders of the advertising company Harmon Brothers, faced. They’d been hired by the startup company Squatty Potty to promote their toilet stool. The device optimizes the sitting position on the toilet, leading to (in the company’s words) “the best poops of your life.”
The brothers already had explosive success with previous campaigns, getting oral cleaning appliance Orabrush onto the shelves of Walmart and doubling the annual revenue run rate of toilet deodorizer PooPourri. But Squatty Potty posed a new kind of problem — one even more potentially gross than PooPourri. “It’s one thing to talk about poo smell, knocking off a bunch of high school boy humor jokes,” Jeffrey Harmon said in a 2015 interview with HuffPost, “but the Squatty Potty is talking about the colon.” Specifically, it talks about the full elimination of fecal matter from the colon.
Ice Cream and Unicorns
As they always do with a big new project, the Harmons barricaded themselves (along with the client) in a cabin and began to brainstorm. By the time they’d thrown out every excrement and excretion joke they could muster and let the dust settle for a few weeks, they’d come up with an inspired plan. Instead of graphically describing poop, they thought, they’d talk about ice cream.
This resulted in the famous SquattyPotty unicorn ad, in which the magical unicorn extols the virtues of the product while pooping out rainbow swirls of soft-serve ice cream. It’s hilarious, goofy, clever, disturbing, gross, and incredibly compelling all at once. “He’s good at pooping,” the princely narrator says as he takes a lick of the freshly made confection, “But you aren’t.”
What Marketing Gold Looks Like
According to Harmon Brothers’ numbers, the campaign garnered a 600 percent increase in online sales. It also generated a 400 percent increase in retail sales and more than a million Facebook shares within the first four months. By now, the video has gotten over 35 million views on YouTube, a figure that only continues to climb. The campaign and other hugely successful ones like it are the reasons Harmon Brothers can demand a minimum of $500,000 to produce a single video today.
But how does Harmon Brothers achieve such consistent success? It comes down to three primary factors.
1. Rock-Solid Sales Fundamentals
The brothers Harmon cut their teeth in the business world selling products door to door in their hometown of rural Burley, Idaho. The oldest brother, Daniel, first started selling potatoes from his uncle’s small farm to raise money for college. Later in life, Daniel sold ADT alarm systems in Minnesota and California. This gave each of them a strong foundation in the basics of converting sales. As Daniel told Forbes, “We learned the psychology of the sell from door-to-door pitches. We reverse-engineered that back into the videos.”
Of course, Harmon Brothers’ ads are eye-catching, innovative, and funny. But behind the scenes, everything is driving the central marketing offer. “We’re building the video for the sale,” Jeffrey Harmon told HuffPost. “Every line of PooPourri and Squatty Potty … is reinforcing the message.”
2. True Originality
The Harmon Brothers know better than anybody the degree to which the modern consumer is bombarded with advertising media. In order to cut through the noise, their message needs to do more than stand out. It has to come entirely out of left field.
The very first frame of the Squatty Potty spot depicts a unicorn literally pooping onto an ice cream cone. Viewers can tell that this particular commercial is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The video piques curiosity from the get-go, leading viewers to absorb the entire minutes-long advertisement without interruption, a luxury most companies can only dream of these days.
3. Actual Humor
Turn on the TV and you’ll see hundreds of advertisements attempting to be funny but completely missing the mark. When the 20th Geico gecko joke whiffs in front of an audience, it turns from an easily ignorable commercial to an active, rage-inducing annoyance.
The Harmon brothers understand this, which is why they take risks with their comedy, avoiding the one-size-fits-all humor of most modern advertising. PooPourri’s public-pooping British woman, Squatty Potty’s defecating unicorn, ClickFunnel’s prospector bragging about painting “nude squirrels” (look it up) — these aren’t jokes you can easily dismiss as derivative or annoying. Sure, they may offend or disturb a few thin-skinned viewers, but they’ll surely garner an animated response.
It’s clear that being genuinely entertaining is nearly impossible for most companies, and as the Harmon brothers will tell you, being funny is really a bonus. But when you navigate the murky realm of Facebook, it’s not soulless infomercials that get shared endlessly around the internet. It’s the funny video with the pooping unicorn.