Sunday, February 26, 2012

High-end advertising, film, video production on a budget

Whether you’re in advertising, marketing or indie film-making chances are you’ve been faced with a less than desirable budget. Over the next few weeks I’ll be giving a broad outline on what you can do to stretch that budget.

It’s been my aim for the past several years to be able to produce high-end commercial and film work on a shoestring budget. Why? Because I never had the cash to invest in or even hire a high-end 35mm film camera or a Silicon Graphics Flame System for finishing work, so you might say that I’ve become something of an expert when it comes to doing this kind of work on a low budget. That aside I’ve actually done some pretty high end work on TV commercials for big name brands such as BMW, Lexus and KFC to name a few and I’ve even operated a Flame system. I’ve also done some seriously low-budget work and I produced and directed a short film for …..wait for it… R700 (ZAR), that’s less than $100 so I’ve seen the ins and outs of all sides of the industry. The good news is that it’s becoming quite possible to marry a low budget with high-end film-making mostly due to technological advancements. More important however is the creative aspect and good creative people usually cost money but there are ways and means to work with that….more on that later.

While this series of articles are aimed largely at businesses and agencies looking to get the most bang for their buck, If you’re a film-maker or TV producer then for the most part the same principles apply. If I talk about creative concept as it applies to advertising then in the film-making world that is essentially the same as your storyline or script. In film-making your brand or product IS your story. It’s like selling a novel except you’re doing it with moving pictures. Advertising “Creatives” or copywriters are like script writers.

Motivating spend during tough times

Many financial gurus advocate spending on advertising and marketing during financially challenging times. The idea is that during good times there really is no need to advertise as your product is clearly selling whereas during times of reduced spending you really need to heighten product and brand awareness. Chances are your competitors are cutting their marketing budgets and that too is an opportunity to gain an edge in a tough marketplace.

However, the challenge is how to do that without damaging your brand. I’ll explain that in a minute. Above the line (TV) advertising is apparently still the most effective form of advertising (or so the advertising and marketing gurus tell me) but when it comes to motion picture there are obviously a host of other options available from viral videos to localized closed TV networks. I’ve even seen ads for local hardware stores (not the large chain varieties) advertised while waiting in the local doctor’s rooms, so whether you’re a big brand or a small business you’re probably looking at how you to get the best bang for your buck when it comes to advertising and video is a great medium whether it’s going to flight on TV, stream over YouTube or your website or be delivered to potential clients on a promotional DVD.

I believe that the key to good advertising or film-making is creative concept as well as overall production value. Neither of these can really be compromised, except for in reality TV shows where creative concept is entirely ad hoc and happens to a large extent in the edit suite. A good friend of mine that works in print design once told me that one of his clients, a very large producer of meat products went from a loss to a profit by simply changing their packaging and there's a valuable lesson that an translate into motion picture how essentially good production value makes a brand or a film look good. However, most important without question is the creative concept. You can watch a movie with great production value but if there's no story line the movie is doomed at the box office and so it is with advertising.

If you’re a small to medium sized business and you’re considering a video production or TV commercial tread carefully. Instead of a low budget video of your CEO or an actor in a studio telling or demonstrating how good your products are consider something more creative. Ask yourself whether you want to build a high-end brand awareness the likes of Mercedes Benz or the likes of a home shopping channel. Of course there is a place for the latter but there are ways of getting the former without breaking the bank.

Don’t Break your brand, rather spend more

I’m going to contradict myself here but for good reason. I've seen a lot of budget TV commercials coming out these days that are so poorly produced people actually talk about how bad they are. That’s still ok if the only thing your brand or product has got going for it is price point, but it’s a serious problem if your brand relies on image, lifestyle choices etc. I'm not going to mention any names but a couple of friends have actually changed their short term insurance from a popular broker because the ads are so "irritating" even though their original decision to go with that insurance was based on price point.

So the first thing to consider is whether you really do need to save costs. If you’re a reasonably big brand with a semi-decent budget I would suggest you don’t try and save money on the production or post side. I noticed a money-saving trend about 7 years ago when I ran a visual effects shop in the hub of Johannesburg’s Post Production district doing TV commercials where I worked on big brands Ads and clients were trying to save on production and post production costs. It’s not worth the damage it can cost a brand. I can’t really mention any brand names here but I’ve seen some horrific ads that were the result of a combination of tight budgets and risky creative concepts. Some of the ads actually had to be pulled from TV. Let’s just say that Cadavar-like skin tones and animatronic looking animation on CGI babies do don’t brands any favours.

I’m giving away a little post-production secret here, but in the post world you never tell a client that it can’t be done even if you know the result is going to look shoddy. It’s probably one of the reasons I didn’t fit in so well in post-production because I have a bit of an honesty policy. So, if you can’t afford The Mill or one of the better post facilities for your post production then don’t try and get too fancy.

If you’re spending millions on TV airtime then consider dropping a few slots and adding that budget to your production or post budget. Consider choosing less exposure of something really well produced over more exposure of something really bad. The exception here again might be if your sales message is about price point, but that’s also something that has to be carefully considered. Compromising brand image for target market exposure is probably quite damaging in the long run and should probably only be considered for real bread and butter retail type work, in which case you may as well hire a good product photographer and a decent motion graphics freelancer and Bob’s your uncle.

So with the above considerations let’s get down to business in the next article...

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