Could This Be the Moment for In-House Production?


The documentary film Art & Copy begins by describing the radical step taken by Bill Bernbach in the late '50s of merging the art and copy departments, forming the creative teams that became the basis for advertising creativity for the next 50 years. Could we now be at the beginning of another revolution? Should agencies consider the radical step of adding directors to their creative departments? At least one agency, Mother, New York, thinks so.

We've moved from a world where 30 seconds of content costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce, to a digital space where distribution allows for unlimited amounts of content. The economics of production will no longer work unless the business model lowers costs significantly while retaining sufficient quality. Until now, technical complexity, expense and a dearth of directing talent prevented agencies from offering effective in-house production. Now, with film schools disgorging talented film and video makers by the thousands and with inexpensive hardware and software available off the shelf, those barriers to entry have vanished. 

As many have noted, the TV spot, which for so long had been the central component of most large, national campaigns, is now just one part of a larger, more complex mix of traditional and digital disciplines. Producing video for the digital space does not provide the same level of comfort and predictability as found in the typical 30-second TV production. Agencies begging production companies to work for free or to "develop some young director's reel" was never a sustainable business model, and the strains of the current economy have exacerbated that issue to the breaking point.

As micro budgets become the norm, agencies will come to appreciate how low-cost, in-house production enhances their creative product. The tight feedback loops that the Internet offers will enable creatives to develop and refine these low-cost concepts without the pressures of the meter ticking on a typical six-figure, production company TV shoot.

The constant beta state of the digital world will enable agency creatives to develop ideas, both large and small. It's one thing to have to discard an ineffective $750,000 spot; it's altogether another for an agency and client to develop a series of micro-budgeted spots and videos that may evolve into a precisely targeted, multi-million dollar, traditional campaign.

This is not to suggest that the typical A-list director is doomed to extinction. Neither is the B-list grinder who churns out packaged-goods spots. As long as such DVR-proof events as the Emmys, the Oscars and the National Football League are around, directors working through production companies will continue to turn out traditional broadcast and cable spots.

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