Gerry Graf Explains Why Getting Paid by the Hour Is Nuts

How do you bill marketers for a moment of inspiration?

Midway through his anecdotal talk today on the value of big ideas, Gerry Graf reflected on the creation of a monkey ad for E-Trade—the one that Goodby, Silverstein & Partners broke on the 2000 Super Bowl.

The ad depicted a chimpanzee in an E-Trade T-shirt dancing to “La Cucaracha” before cutting to screen copy that said, “Well, we just wasted $2 million. What are you doing with your money?”

The ad was memorable, but it didn’t take long to hatch the creative concept, according to Graf, founder of Barton F. Graf 9000 and a former associate creative director at Goodby. As such, the value of the concept far exceeded the time Graf and fellow acd Dave Gray spent on it. In fact, it came to Graf and Gray in just a few minutes, as they drove back to the office after a day of playing hooky.

"How do you charge when your partner and you blow off work and play golf at the Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco when you’re supposed to be working on E-Trade at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners?” asked Graf, pointedly but also matter-of-factly.

“What do you charge when you’re driving back and you’re in traffic on Market Street and you go, ‘You know what we should do? We should do something like, we just wasted $2 million.' And your buddy goes, ‘Yeah, we should do something stupid. What would that be?’ And one of you says, ‘I don’t know, I would like a monkey dancing, you know, and like clapping?’ And then [the other says], ‘Yeah, that’s kind of funny.’

“Then you tell your boss and you go and you make it,” Graf added. “That became a Super Bowl commercial and it’s listed in a top 10 somewhere. Where do you put that on your timesheets?”

In the end, Graf didn’t offer an easy solution to the schism between the value of ideas and how marketers pay for them (by the hour, just like lawyers). Still, in his own anecdotal way, he illustrated the day-to-day frustration that agency leaders feel, knowing that advertising continues to build significant brand value on the cheap.