By Tina Irgang
You might not have heard of Oink Ink Radio, but you’ve definitely heard at least a few of the commercials being churned out by the brains of co-founders (and brothers) Dan and Jim Price. Oink Ink, which specializes exclusively in radio ads, is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017. Over that time, the company has gone from occupying a tiny space at Philly’s legendary Baker Sound Studios to becoming a national player with offices in New York and Los Angeles. Oink Ink’s sizable portfolio includes ad campaigns for national brands such as Google, Pepsi, IKEA, Verizon, Ford, Staples and Microsoft. In the following interview, the Price brothers discuss how their Philadelphia upbringing informed their unique brand of humor, and how they’ve managed to work in close proximity each day for more than two decades.
You guys grew up in the Philadelphia area. How did that influence your work?
Dan Price: Not just our household, but I think the city itself is very hard work-centric. It always left an impression on me how hard the people in Philadelphia work. Our parents were no exception. All of that I think really rubbed off on us. I always thought from the beginning, when we opened, the work that we and our competitors do is often very subjective, but you can never allow any of your competitors to outwork you. So we found a little comfort in the fact that, as we were sitting at our desks at 5.30 a.m., maybe no one else was. But the other thing is just kind of the specific style or genre of humor that Philadelphia seems to have.
Jim Price: Yeah, I think the whole sense-of-humor thing comes to mind for me. That’s what much of our business and work is based on — being interesting and having a different perspective on things. Often, it’s using humor. And I think Philadelphia just is kind of — and much to my delight — a little cynical and sarcastic. I think that certainly has rubbed off on me. That’s kind of the lens I look through. I get a kick out of it.
How did that special Philadelphia humor filter through into a specific campaign you guys have done?
DP: I think one of the semi-irreverent campaigns might be Carquest [Auto Parts]. The auto parts industry is thought of as generating advertising that’s pretty formulaic. It’s the tough guy talking about working in his garage all Saturday. [The commercials] all sort of blend together, and we were approached by Carquest a couple of years ago, and they really wanted to stand out. … So we didn’t go the route of “tough guy in the garage.” We went with a more distinct sort of voice. The spots themselves, for half of it, don’t really even talk about car parts necessarily. They talk about people’s love and care that they have for their car. So we use examples in the beginning to say, if you do this or that, Carquest is for you. It could be, “If you’ve given your wife an impact wrench on her birthday, then Carquest is for you.” It’s sort of self-deprecating, [but] you know instantly who it is we’re speaking to. It was an irreverent and sort of sarcastic way of positioning [the client], and it worked out really well.
JP: It’s just a different way of saying it, rather than some grizzled, blue-collar guy saying, “If you like getting dirt under your fingernails…” It was a different way to look at that same sentiment. … We like to think that it engaged people more, because the second any of these people hear, “If you like rolling up your sleeves…” — they’ve heard that a million times.
Tell me about the early days of Oink Ink, and how your business model has evolved.
DP: I just realized that today is the exact anniversary day – it was Feb. 2, 1992 that we incorporated. … But we were both local, living in the suburbs of Philadelphia at the time. I was married, and Jim had only recently graduated from the University of Delaware and was working at a small ad agency. … We took a tiny little office space on the second floor of Baker Sound [Studios] in Philadelphia, which even at that time had been around for decades, and we were doing a bit of work out of that studio.
We were always using mostly New York-based voice actors, so eventually, the busier we got, the more work we were doing in New York. We were schlepping back and forth constantly, so after the first several years, we officially moved the company up there. … While we were in New York, we got into the recording studio business, and we opened a Los Angeles office and recording studio.
Then, we made sort of a conscious business-model decision. We enjoyed the creative process far more than managing a recording studio, and that’s really where we were making our money, and it’s where we felt best positioned to grow the business. So after some time, we got out of the recording studio business, and altered our model so that we were positioned to solicit and accept work from brands directly — because for the most part in the early days, we were working for advertising agencies and helping them with their radio work. So we set out to become an ad agency ourselves.
That’s the structure under which we operate now, and it allowed us to move out of the New York area and back home, where we always wanted to return to. Basically, I work virtually from my home, and Jim from his home.
Why the name Oink Ink?
DP: When we decided to go out on our own, … we didn’t have two nickels to rub together. So what money we did have was in our materials to support the name Ham Radio, which was going to be the name of our company. We invested money in artwork for a pig face logo — and that pig’s face is in our logo to this day — and we had rubber noses like the fans of the Washington Redskins used to wear. So we’d sit up in the middle of the night, filling envelopes with cassette tapes and pig noses to promote ourselves. We’d been in business for what seemed about 15 minutes when we got a cease and desist because there was another Ham Radio in our same business that was in New York, and I’d never even heard of these people. So literally overnight, we were forced to adopt another name, and since we’d already invested in pig noses, we decided to go with Oink Ink.
Why did you decide to go radio-only?
DP: I don’t know that Jim had decided that at a young age. He went to school for marketing and got into advertising. I always just knew specifically that radio was where I wanted to be, and then I guess I talked him into it. My early years, actually the earliest recollection I have is, I used to caddy for the general manager of WIFI-92, which back in those days was a big Top 40 station. In high school, this fella arranged for me to intern at WIFI-92, and in between doing odd jobs, which included mowing the lawn at the transmitter, I would make a point of hanging out in the production room, and just watching all these guys sit around and make radio commercials. That’s what sort of got me interested in the first place, and then my career just followed those steps where I took a job at a small radio station and went from there.
JP: I remember being really young and listening to the great comedy albums, like Bob Newhart, and obviously that was 100 percent audio. I was always interested by the mental picture that they painted, and just how these big, huge guys in the comedy world could engage you entirely through audio. I always got a kick out of that.
Looking back over the past 25 years, what’s your favorite spot you ever did?
DP: It’s funny that you ask, because we have been publishing a podcast for the last couple of months, and the purpose of it is to reveal our favorite 25 commercials in our 25 years. They made it into the top 25 for various reasons, whether they were our first big client or the most highly awarded or whatever, and the first 20 of them were in no particular order. We just didn’t have time to argue over the order — “Is this your number 11 or 13?” The top five though are in order. … Our favorite all-time spot is a commercial we did for Rainbow Foods. The client ended up liking it so much that they aired this spot, and it went on to win at Cannes [Lions International Festival of Creativity]. It features a kid screaming curse words at his babysitter, and he just goes on for about 25 seconds. You’re sort of listening to this thinking, what the heck is this? And finally the announcer reveals that bars of soap are now two for one at Rainbow Foods. … I think it’s become aligned with us. People talked about that spot, and some people know us because of it.
You guys have worked together in the business for 25 years. What has it been like, being this close to your brother all the time?
JP: On a certain level, it isn’t personal because 99 times out of 100 we’re dealing with work, work, work. … The one thing that it’s kind of allowed us to do — which is good, being in a creative business — is to be able to say to one another, “I don’t like that idea” and not have bruised egos or feelings. I mean, in a creative business, we submit 10 scripts to get one winner, so 90 percent of the time, we’re being rejected on a project. But that’s OK as long as there’s always one winner. So being told that something isn’t funny or could be better just kind of prepares you for dealing with clients who are going to say the same thing, but be even less tactful.
DP: I would say there has definitely been a benefit to having the type of relationship where things are direct. “Here’s a joke I wrote. Is it any good?” “No.” You couldn’t really talk like that to somebody else who wouldn’t quit. Then I guess there’s also — I don’t know if this is attributable to being brothers or working together so long or a combination of the two — but we almost don’t even have to speak or meet, but we know exactly what the other one is going to do. If an email comes through, we know who’s going to answer it. So that’s really what keeps us sort of efficient I think. Things don’t fall through the cracks, and things are dealt with by the proper person.
About The Human Element:
The Human Element is a regular, web-exclusive column that aims to get to know the leaders behind great companies. Rather than talking about business models and growth strategies, CEOs open up about what motivates and guides them in their professional and personal lives. To be considered for The Human Element, email firstname.lastname@example.org.