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Three Days with the Wizard

07-06-2018 by Chad Kroeker

I now understand the principals with which I can create whatever reality I desire in the mind of my readers.

Wizard Academy is a magical place, 45 minutes south of Austin, Texas. I met the Founder, Roy Williams for the first time at an advertising industry event in 2001; he was the keynote speaker.

I remember that day clearly.

Roy gave me a copy of his best-selling book: “Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads” for a question I had asked during his keynote.

The journey began.

I find books are much more engaging if I’ve met the author in person. I can hear their voice as I read. I can picture their facial expressions and hear the undulations of their tone — like they’re reading to me. His gift soon became a constant resource as I started my advertising business. I subscribed to his Monday Morning Memo and I’ve read his inspirations weekly for years.

I’ve quoted him more times than I can remember. He founded Wizard Academy off the heels of his book success, to bridge the gap between physics and creativity. And to open up the guiding principals of creating “magical worlds” in the minds of consumers, to all of the students. As I read his memo, I became determined to attend the Academy.

Needless to say, I was excited to go.

It was also February in Canada; heading to Texas was a toasty thought. I stepped out of my Uber into warm air and a dark parking lot. Warm air late in the evening has become a pleasant cue that I’m far from Canada and experiencing new. The glow of the “OPEN” sign drew me in to a small store with shelves lined with books published by Wizard Press. I own most of them.

Day One:


A short walk from my on-campus student room in the ‘Engelbrecht House’, I pass ‘Spence Manor’ named after one of Roy’s early client success stories. Roy helped Spence Diamonds achieve 10x growth in 10 years by turning the traditional diamond-buying process on it’s head and whipping Canadian radio stations with a constant barrage of clever and obnoxiously memorable radio ads. The self-proclaimed “annoying Spence Diamonds guy” Sean Jones expressed his gratitude to the Wizard by building a beautiful home for Academy Students. The gourmet kitchens are stocked with food and plenty of wine and whiskey from around the world. I later learn that they receive near weekly shipments of wine and whiskey from grateful Wizard Alumni.

This is truly a magical place.

I arrive at ‘The Tower’ where the classes are held. It’s inherently clear where I’m supposed to go; I simply follow the music that I’ve been hearing as I walk up the curved staircases. ZZ Top ‘La Grange’ is filling the tower through a room that feels more like Harry Potter’s theatre than a classroom. Roy, at the front of the room, typing away to the glow of his Macbook.

After a short introduction to the program, Roy dubs two students from the front row as “sommeliers” for the week. Their job is to ensure that no one sees the bottom of their wine glass.

It’s 9am. Wine? “If you smell wine and hear the distinct pour of the sweet purple coffee guggling into large glasses during the course, the experience is much different than traditional class learning.” You can say that again, I think to myself. There are many classes that are taught at Wizard Academy. Most of the classes are taught by ‘Wizard Partners’ that take a break from their businesses to teach.

But not this one.

This rare three-day course is taught by the Wizard himself. I’m honored to learn from him and it’s quickly clear to me that retaining all of this information is like holding a puck bucket under the Niagra Falls.

I furiously write down a few ‘aha’ moments in the first couple hours:
  • Great writing is made up of four things:
    1. The Big Idea
    2. Nuts & Bolts: Implementing the big idea
    3. Entertainment: People crave this stuff
    4. Hope! The promise that I can make tomorrow better than yesterday.
  • The test of first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind and still retain the ability to function. Duality shows up throughout our lives. Explore opposing ideas equally and your mind will be stretched.
  • Never include anything that the customer can imagine on their own. And please! Never rhyme… it’s predictable. Find the cliché; throw it away.
  • Replace the word failure with experiment.
  • Replace rules with principals. Rules limit you, principals guide you.
  • Traditional Wisdom is often more tradition than wisdom.
  • If you want to bore people, tell them exactly what they expect you to say. People engage with things that are new! surprising! and different!
  • Bad communicators use too many modifiers and adjectives. Great communicators use great verbs and action words.
  • If it’s not worth doing whole-heartedly, it’s not worth doing at all.  
chad_and_the_wizard.jpeg
Chad Kroeker and Roy Williams — and his glitter puppies
Roy sold over 60,000 copies of that book he gave me… because he had 60,000 to sell. He admits another business book that launched at the same time sold more copies than his (in the first day) but there was a problem: That book sold out in the first day. That publisher didn’t print enough copies. That publisher didn’t believe in their product enough. That publisher tested the waters and it took 60 days to print and deliver more copies.

By that time the world had forgotten.

Roy continued, using a variety of research from Steven Pinker, Cognitive Scientist and MIT professor, about how powerful the human mind is at fabricating the perception of reality. And if we use the right principals, we can create whatever reality we desire in the minds of our customers.

But there’s a trick.

Our brain has two sides, further demonstrating the power of duality. Most advertising is written to satisfy the logical left brain. The power is in capturing the imagination of the right. If the ad excites the right brain, it will easily give access to the left. This is where physics and creativity come in; we’re promised that day two will bring clarity to the theory.

Continuing festivities after dinner, Wizard Academy Vice Chancellor, Whiskey aficionado and kick-arse musician Daniel Whittington invites us to his office at the top of the tower for a “Tour of Scotland”. Which is exactly as expected; totally unexpected.

Named the Toad and Ostrich pub, Daniel’s office consists of a humidor with a desk under it, two Kensington leather couches and of coarse, a bar — with a map of Scotland pinned with the whiskey distilleries.

I tasted most of them.

The only valid definition of good whisky is simply the “whisky you like to drink.” — Daniel Whittington

Daniel invites us to enter the hidden cellar where proud bottles of the finest whiskey’s from around the world stand for our enjoyment. The cellar is hidden. Classified. Fellow student and ex-Navy Seal, Mark Devine taught me a shiny lesson this week — some things are better in your head.

That was day one. I need sleep; cue right brain

Day Two:


Do it poorly. Then, do it well.

Life is bliss when I’m unconsciously incompetent. So it seems.
 
wizard-day2-a.jpeg Maslow Four Stages of Learning will help you realize that usually, you have to suck at something before you get better.

Day one of three at the Academy was a fury of mental stimulation. Day two revealed an incompetence that really pissed me off. Considering myself a good writer, I was expecting to move from confidence to mastery.

Incorrectly assessed.
 
History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. There is nothing new under the sun.

If there is nothing new under the sun*, we can look to the past for answers. Roy loves history and has invested a lot of time cross-referencing the great creators of the last 200 years. These insights help us in our writing.

The first exercise of the day: Decide on a product I wish to sell and write two ads. The first ad, written in “Frank” and the second, written in “Monet”.

Photographer Robert Frank became famous for the perspective in which he took his photos. And what he left out.
 
robert-frank.png Robert Frank, known for what he left out, inspired imagination

The perspective causes us to put ourselves in the photo and fill in the gaps with our imagination. Our brains are extremely powerful at creating perceived reality, so this challenges and excites our minds.

Writing in “Frank” is an exercise in choosing a unique perspective and leaving anything that the reader may already know “under water” so that the they can imagine their own perception of reality.

Cool stuff.

Alternatively, Claude Monet the founder of “Impressionist Art” allowed the viewer to create their own story. His paintings are blurry, he left out the details and exaggerated the color — he left out black. Go to Google and type M-O-N-E-T. He’s famous. And super old. He’s dead.

This exercise exposed my incompetence.

There are balls of crumpled Kroeker papers left in an Austin landfill, impersonating themselves as forgettable attempts at Monet. To make matters worse, I had to stand in front of the class. The best way to spread Monet cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

“Well… You seem to have the Frank writing style down.” Chris Maddock, one of the Academy instructors reassures me. I’m waiting for the rest of this tasty feedback sandwich. “If you add a little Monet, you’ll engage more customers and make more money. Thank you Chad.”

I retreat back to my seat.

Ah yes, the wine. I screech my glass over. Glug. Glug. Glug.

Workshops like this always attract at least one or two keeners. You notice them by how quickly they shuffle up to the front of the class, smirky smile. They try to hold back their pride but we see right through it.

8oz of Texas wine country deep down in my belly.

I prefer being naturally talented at things. It’s disturbing to watch people be better than me. 16 oz of Texas wine. I’m ready to start listening again.
 
Bad advertising is about your business and your product. Good advertising is about your customer and their life.
The next lesson is on Pablo Picasso. This dude was messed up. I’m engaged. Picasso paintings surprise you. They’re filled with weird sh*t that doesn’t belong yet somehow fits. Uncommon, but not random.

(like that bad advertising vs. good advertising quote you just read… was that random?)
picasso.jpeg "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can breakthem like an artist." - Pablor Picasso

At Wizard Academy, these phenomenons are called “3rd Gravitating Bodies”. I have often told clients that so much of marketing happens in the sub-conscious. This is the closest concept I’ve heard that explains this completely.

In a world of duality, our minds are surprised—and more importantly—captivated by chaos. 3rd gravitational bodies pull you in. They drive deep into your long term memory. This is the theory behind songs that you can’t get out of your head. Radio ads that drive you crazy.

We camped out on this for a lot of our day; there is no chance that I can explain this in a written blog article. If you’re engaged by this idea, connect with me. Now that I understand 3rd gravitational bodies, I’m haunted by them in every hit song I listen to. Every compelling photo. Every great TV commercial. Every memorable radio ad.

Clearly, it’s perfect for advertising.

Next Exercise: “Write a sentence that if you were in a large crowd, someone would turn, look at you and ask you for more information.”

Day Three

The key to holding the attention of the world.


Most people do what obviously makes sense. This is why most people are boring. Delight cannot exist if there is no element of surprise. Swap out the word people with advertisements.

It’ll be fun, I promise.

Day one, Roy warned us: “At the end of day 3, students often beg for just one more day. Yet if this coarse was any longer, no one would come.”

Humans are finicky.

It would make sense to have a five-day coarse as most business schools. The content would be easier to consume with two more days. Roy knows that flying on Sunday feels wrong; even if I’m heading to toasty Texas from the centre of winter. Understanding decision-making can be threaded through every interaction.

Every interaction.

Tonight, glugging a fantastic glass of Stuhlmuller Cab with old friends meeting new friends, I learn Austin is dubbed as “the most interesting city in North America.” Perhaps I should be drinking Dos Equis.

 

picasso.jpeg A new friend. And also Mike Shields, accomplished composer. His glass is empty :( I believe it.
Home of #SXSW Film & Music Festival and self proclaimed live music capital of the world, Austin is a cool place to visit. Not surprising, music is the focus for learning at the Academy. Canadians love hockey, so my patriotism stood tall when Roy used Gary Glitter’s NHL anthem ‘Hey!’ while drilling the concept of Third Gravitational Bodies. Rock n’ Roll Part 2 was released in 1972 and still generates over $250,000 per year in royalties. Regardless of the controversy over Gary’s convictions, many
 
I believe it. Home of #SXSW Film & Music Festival and self proclaimed live music capital of the world, Austin is a cool place to visit.

Not surprising, music is the focus for learning at the Academy.

Canadians love hockey, so my patriotism stood tall when Roy used Gary Glitter’s NHL anthem ‘Hey!’ while drilling the concept of Third Gravitational Bodies.

Rock n’ Roll Part 2 was released in 1972 and still generates over $250,000 per year in royalties. Regardless of the controversy over Gary’s convictions, many recall this as one of the best sports songs of all time.

We rhyme off songs without ever meaning to learn the words.

Many songs we don’t even want to know the words to. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. MMMbop. Mambo No. 5. Good Vibrations. Hey Jude. Smells Like Teen Spirit. Pretty Woman. I Can’t Get No Satisfaction. I Will Always Love You.

Roy made it his personal mission to find the one common thread in every major hit single. Sounds tedious. The answer?

Deep breath.

They all contain a third gravitating body with a high degree of divergence and an explicit moment of convergence. Third Gravitating Body is a term that astrophysicists have used for years to mathematically describe gravity; or as it’s commonly known as, the ability to attract.

It screwed my mind the first time I heard it.

In layman terms, hit songs all contain two dualities (sounds or instruments) and a third quirky bit that doesn’t belong but somehow fits. They diverge early in the song, and then at an explicit moment, they all come back together. If the convergence is not intense enough, it’s merely random and there will be no surprise when they come together.

Listen to the ‘Hey!’ song. A marching beat and clapping hands. Two dualities. People wouldn’t normally clap with a marching band, let alone scream. They’re all very unique to each other. At :45 into the song, there’s a short divergence—or pivot—before they all explicitly converge. This is where stadiums have erupted with excitement for decades. Notice that the vocal ‘hey’ is screamed by a variety of people and it’s off beat. It doesn’t belong — yet it somehow fits.

Another example: ZZ Top La Grange.

#1 Drum sticks on the edge of the drum. #2 Guitar… two dualities. #3 ZZ Top’s voice is unique on it’s own. At :35 the song diverges and then explicitly converges together, with full drums.

This is very tricky.

Think about it next time you see someone really well dressed. Black & White suit? Boring. Add a colorful pocket square? Money. The next time you have an incredible meal. Something tastes amazing! It’s Maple Syrup.

But random? Irritating.

In neuroscience, Chaos Theory proves that unpredictability is extremely attractive to our minds. In business, attraction is extremely important to selling product and making money. We can all make more money by learning how to be unpredictable.

Our next exercise: Roy gathers the stack of papers containing the one silly sentence that would cause a room full of people to turn around. He hands them back out to the class at random. I read the line given to me and I’m irritated. I’m expected to use this sentence as the first line in my ad?

To sell motorcycle helmets?

I have 15 minutes.

I unfold the paper and reveal the line I’m supposed to use: “Did I tell you about the time I farted in church and the pastor glared at me?”

This isn’t even funny. It’s stupid.

The first line of my ad to sell motorcycle helmets? “Go anywhere you wish in the Tower, write your ad. At the end of 5 songs, we’ll ring the bell.”

I’ve been in this spot before. Panic. Write. Crumple Paper. Return to desk.

My turn. I walk up to the front of the room. Grab the mic. Now let me clear my throat. Cue Larry the Cable Guy southern accent for full affect. I am, after all, farting in church. This has to be believable.

“Did I tell you about the time I farted in church and the pastor glared at me? 

There ain’t a prayer in heaven that could have saved me that morning. I sure as shit wished I was wearing my full-faced Arai Corsair helmet, you know — the one with the tinted visor? That thing repels e’rethang. The glare of the sunrise. Check. The glare of that daggum pastor!

Come to think of it, he should’a been wearing the helmet. At 200mph you can’t hear a crappin’ thang with that lid on. So the next time you’re sitting in church with a case of the rumbles, you’ll remember Arai Helmets.

And You’ll Be Saved.”

The laughs and roaring applause from the students threw me back to growing up searching for approval. Work hard. Fight through. But the best part was once the applause silenced. I had returned to my seat by this time and Roy reached over as if to touch my head with a sword…

“I dub you genius.

You were able to take a ridiculous opening line, transition to a story that surprised us, and then bring it full circle to a closing line that connected us with the reason to go to church and the reason to buy a helmet. Genius.”

Maybe I can do this after all.

 
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