THE TV AD-MAKING DILEMMA

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Alarmed by a sudden upward spurt in the average cost of producing a national TV commercial, some in the advertising community are warming to a study that shows less is more. That is, less expensive commercials, on average, are more effective than bigger-budget productions, the study concludes.

Many of the lean, bare-bones commercials no doubt grab the viewer's attention simply because they stand out from the crowd of big production efforts. Same for black & white spots in a sea of color.

But if too many advertisers and their agencies buy into the less is more philosophy, we'll see a profusion of talking heads or type-only commercials. Then, of course, the big production numbers will again stand out.

What often makes the spare ones effective, we suspect, is that the creative platform-the idea-is so good elaborate production would get in the way. A compelling story simply told can make for powerful advertising. Yet one of the most lauded TV commercials of all time was a big production number for Macintosh called "1984." The production cost was about $400,000, pretty big numbers 10 years ago and still well above today's estimated average of $222,000.

One reason cited for the recent jump in average production costs is that agencies are making fewer commercials, and investing more per spot. And that can pay off. The Grand Prix winner at the Cannes ad fest this year-Bozell's "Snow-Covered" commercial for Jeep Grand Cherokee-was a big-budget production.

But what counts is the idea, not the production budget. In most cases, you can't save a poor creative strategy by throwing money at it, and neither does production on the cheap guarantee success.

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