Agency: We have an idea for an ad film. It opens on a guy falling off a bicycle….
Production Company: Wow! That’s great. The director recommends a foreign set up. Of course, with a very specific bicycle in mind. He wants everything to be very international. After all, the road, the architecture, even the trash can in the background – they all need to look aspirational, right? Can shoot in Bangkok for 1 crore or South Africa for 1.5 crore or LA for 3 crore
George Matthew (copywriter): Wait, wait, wait, the script is not done yet. When he falls we see that his clothes are dirty….
Production Company: Excellent! Totally didn’t see that coming. The fall and dirt have to look authentic. We need the right stunt artist. In fact, we know just the guy. We can fly him down from Hollywood. And the mud! We should create the mud in CG. I think an additional 25 lakhs net?
George Matthew (copywriter): No wait, it’s not that complicated. He just has to fall and the voice over will say, “Buy No-Stain Detergent” and the film will end with a soothing music track in the background.
Production Company: Perfect. Music track rights. India cost Rs 10 lakhs for one year and if you want global perpetuity, it’ll be 35 lakhs. This film has huge potential to stand out on TV. So we should cover all bases and also make one extra two-minute edit that will definitely go viral.
George Matthew (copywriter): Really? But you haven’t told me who’s going to direct it?
Production Company: We can talk to the top five: Sharma, Verma, Dubey, Mishra, Pandey. They will be expensive but I will make it happen. Make sure you convince your client. It will be a 1.5-day shoot on 20th and 21st of August, as they are all busy with feature films for the rest of the month.
George Matthew quits because he wants to be an ad filmmaker.
George Matthew is not the first to do this. Heck, he’s not even the second. Today, every next young creative wants to make ad films. Why? Well there are three broad reasons:
1. They believe it will make them crores of rupees overnight.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money. The purist days of art for art’s sake are long gone. Today’s talented young creatives are also smart about their value in the market. I support their desire to make more money if their talent allows them to command a premium. It’s just sad that agencies can no longer afford them. I hope some clients are listening to this: today, talent goes where the money is. And with production margins soaring and agency remuneration on the decline, it’s not really surprising that George Matthew wants to switch sides.
2. They no longer wish to be at the mercy of clients.
Production equals big money in a brief period of time, with tight terms and conditions and a loose cost break-up sheet. The brilliant offshoot of this model? Increased respect from clients. There is a glaring mismatch when you compare the effort from brief to strategy to ideation to scripting and the respect this process commands vis-a-vis the production. George Matthew went through three months, 38 options and 16 rounds of script presentations before the director could turn his final version into a storyboard. But his agency is meekly accepting reductions in their rate card, while the director is telling the clients that softening the background score will cost them Rs. 3 lakhs because they are already done with the ‘agreed upon’ two rounds of changes.
3. They can truly own their ideas.
Somewhere between the elaborate treatment notes and passionate narrations, the client and agency both seem to forget that the true owner of this idea is George Matthew! Before this idea was approved, he had to ensure that it strongly conveys the product benefit while connecting emotionally with the viewer, targets SEC A and A+ without alienating SEC C, is sharable but no longer than 45 seconds, appeases the sensibilities of all 21 members of the board of the company, and also the housewives of Ratnagiri while being premium and aspirational at the same time; it makes the brand look contemporary but not too edgy, and dignified but not in an uptight way; it is skewed to the male audience but women will like it too. Of course, the planner needs to think it’s on-strategy, the client should think it’s on-brand and the CCO should believe it will win an award (so he can go to Cannes next year).
Phew! George Matthew finally conceived the impossible. But alas, the whole table is telling the director, “This is your film.” Suddenly, George feels like a surrogate mother who carried a baby around for nine months and endured excruciating labour pains, just so that the director can walk away with his child. Tomorrow, when the client wants to use the film for an additional year – everyone in production would make money from royalties, except George Matthew.
And then they will celebrate the success of the film at the director’s 50th floor penthouse. George will hate himself as he walks past the BMW in the garage. Watching the director pour his Blue Label in his cut glass, George will get more and more confident about his decision to quit. After all, if ad filmmaking doesn’t work out, he could follow his second passion – stand up comedy. Or he could launch that app that he and his friend have been discussing the last few months; he could even try his hand at Bollywood.
And if everything fails, he can just come back to the agency as a writer (now commanding a hike given his versatile background).
So why shouldn’t George Matthew quit?
George has done it. He is now walking towards a PPM as a director. He feels some nostalgia for his old days as a copywriter. “The agency model should change...,” he thinks to himself. Just as he enters the room he sees the same client who never gave a damn about him earlier. The client stands up to greet him. And on the agency’s side of the table, the account manager whispers to the half-asleep, overworked and underpaid copywriter, “George Matthew has arrived.”
(The author is founder and CCO, Famous Innovations.)
(This article first appeared as part of a feature in the issue of Campaign India dated 4 September 2015)