Q&A: AICP’s Miller

NEW YORK The Association of Independent Commercial Producers will hold its 16th annual awards show on Tuesday.

Matthew Miller, president and CEO of the AICP, talks about the rise of user-generated content, the changing nature of the relationship between agencies and production houses and what’s different about this year’s show.

Q: What is the biggest difference between recent shows and the AICP Awards in the past?
A: This [show] started as [a tribute to] the art and technique of the American television commercial. The first year, we defined a “commercial” as something on broadcast TV between Super Bowls. A few years later, it was defined as something on broadcast, cable or in theater. As we saw more work cropping up on the Internet and various places, it was decided to throw the doors open. We didn’t ghettoize our nontraditional media. We said, “Everything is open to everything.” What we’re seeing is a true melding of the media being entered across the platforms and across all our categories. Last year, everything in those categories was still mainly television pieces. The second thing that’s different: We decided [to introduce] the Advertising Excellence category, which is the overall category. We decided we would have one overall winner, and that’s a big change for us to even use the word “winner.” But the feeling was that, in those two categories, there needed to be a best in show. It is the best conceived and executed ad or campaign of the year.

What’s the biggest current production trend?
People are looking into every aspect of making sure advertising is engaging and not easily ignored. That’s easily said, and not easily done. You truly do have to engage through entertaining methods.

Can you cite any examples?
Our entire show is full of it. Whether it is the American Express campaign using Ellen DeGeneres and Wes Anderson [or] the Coke campaign that’s gone back to using feel-good animation…[or] the Geico campaign, which is truly about entertainment and engagement—so much so that it is being turned into a TV show. All those things tell you where things are going and where a lot of the breakthrough work is.

What is the biggest challenge production houses face today?
The feeling of an ad being a linear process where the agency comes up with the concept and the production company executes it is over. Every day, it becomes more collaborative. The models are shifting all over the place. There is no one model or direction; it really is about, “Do you get the best idea and execute it in the most effective way?” That’s not a new theory, but the way it is being applied is absolutely new.

If more agencies adopt user-generated content, how will that affect production houses?
User-generated stuff is really cool and part of a cultural phenomenon. But the reality is that it makes the work of the agencies—the brand stewards—even that much more important. In order for user-generated content to make sense, it has to be in the language and framework that the brand represents. It has to relate to the shape of the table the brand has developed for it. This puts pressure on the agency and their creative partners to make a strong identity so that anything said about it, or even poking fun at it, strengthens the brand. And that’s a massive challenge. A lot of people talk about user-generated content taking the place of other brand messages—but in fact, you need to be louder and stronger in order to sway and shape what that user-generated content might be.

Do production companies get enough credit from agencies?
They do from agencies, because agencies know how much they’re involved in creative development. Whether or not they get enough in general is a bigger question. Whether or not the agencies share the level of involvement and creativity brought to the table by the production company is a different story. You look at some successful campaigns, especially things in the nontraditional world, and more production companies are out there involved with—and in some cases leading—the entire creative development of any given project. Directors have always brought a great deal of vision to a project; now the concept of development can come from anywhere. Clients are looking anywhere just for the best ideas.

Why start a new category, Advertising Excellence/Next?
One of the things we found out recently in a membership survey was that 65 percent of our members had done some level of work outside of the commercial area, whether it was a viral or on a cellphone or somewhere else. What occurred to us is that the production company is about producing motion picture imagery. The idea was to not put all of this various stuff in a very defined area, but just to look at work that is outside the scope of what we call a commercial in the rest of the show. This includes things that are interesting from a strategic, creative or results point of view.

What ads inspired debate during the judging, and why?
When you’re talking about best cinematography, or best use of music, you get more into that realm of the Academy Awards where you are dissecting the anatomy of a commercial and your debate becomes about artistry, and that’s very subjective.

After the judges make their decisions, the ads are evaluated to make sure they are appropriate. Has an ad ever been deemed inappropriate?
After we have all the categories judged, we have a curatorial committee [made up of high-level people in the industry]. It’s an eclectic makeup of well-respected people, and they review all of the judging. When you look at the judging, sometimes they’re swayed by a fantastic ad that may not be great in that category. The curatorial committee, by having knowledge of what was voted on and what the scoring was on various ads, can truly act as curators and craft the show. It’s not an awards show. While it is a competition, and it’s a huge thing to be recognized, this is an ongoing project. What we set out to do 16 years ago was create an annual time capsule of the greatest ads of the year and display them in an environment that understands artistic achievement: the Museum of Modern Art. There are more than 1100 commercials that we put into the permanent collection of MoMA.