Editor's Letter, September 2007

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It seems like a monumental demonstration of superior survival skills (and/or genes) to ring in your 41st year as a still relevant player in the production game (as RSA just did). And it is. But, on the other hand, for a commercials-based production company around now, hitting 12 would be almost equally impressive. It seems as if it would be just as hard to survive as a spot producer in that shorter time frame given that the production side of the business has changed more rapidly in the last decade or so than in the previous three.

Production companies contributed greatly to the world of advertising in the golden age of the TV spot, playing a large part in creating the indelible broadcast moments that add up to nothing less than a big chunk of Western culture—but they also reaped the rewards. Now, the spot's golden age has become its golden years (or at least maybe the years when it looks in the mirror and wonders about having some work done) and being a maker of spots has become a more layered proposition. Every ad entity is certainly keeping a close eye on its relevance, perhaps production players most of all.

While the challenges for production companies have been well documented here and elsewhere (less time per project, fewer dollars for big spots accompanied by a pervasive hey-anyone-can-shoot-a-"viral" ethic, doing more work for integrated campaigns with unintegrated budgets, bottom line-wary big agencies looking at in-house options) a few things have shifted in their favor recently. In the past two years we've seen the beginnings of a real body of interesting non-spot work emerge—talk has turned to action on the multiplatform platform, it seems. We've seen some just plain solid video-driven integrated and online work and some format precedents—like the bona fide brand TV show, Gamekillers.

In some cases, production companies have driven the changes that we're talking about; in others, they've demonstrated their importance in the process and ability to evolve. In any case, the field became way more interesting in the last two years. Companies like @radical.media have taken an active role in early successful TV content like Gamekillers, and more recently had a hand in brand-backed TV shows like Fast Cars and Superstars and online efforts like Ford's Bold Moves (as well as producing an intensely buzzed-about standalone TV show, Mad Men). Others have pioneered new production partnerships—see Smuggler's wide ranging content foray with agency Droga 5 on brand entertainment/commerce hub Honey Shed (about which more later)—while interesting newer-model players—like Mekanism—become recognized with high-profile, critically acclaimed work. Others branched out even further—like Moxie with its A-Political arm, which is aiming at ushering in a new kind of campaign communications, and, if all goes outrageously well, a new president (see a recap of our top 35 production players, p. 29).

Also in the past year or so, emphasis has shifted back, in some measure, to better production values. As this issue goes to press, two ads, from different ends of the spectrum, stick out in terms of production prowess as drivers of an idea. One is the Cadbury "Gorilla" spot from Fallon/London—a TV spot born for viral fame. The ad has many of the hallmarks of a classic viral (a viral, that is, in the sense of a piece of content that really ended up being passed around on a massive scale, not just a video that was posted on YouTube)—it's simple, weird and demands discussion. But the effort has a certain gravity—that bit of cinematic sweep that results from a whole lot of effort put into execution (and that's with the ad's creator at the directorial helm). The Stan Winston creature effects, the skilled primate performance and the overall polish put this over the top as an online hit. The other effort is a straight up Nike stunner—a spot, directed by Michael Mann, in which two players battle across time and the space of a football field. It was an idea that either sounded really great and simple or really scary on paper, and in the end became a simply spellbinding piece of content.

As our editors brought up in our recent roundtable, any piece of ad content disseminated in the last few years had to compete against the mighty eyeball lure of "guy getting kicked in the nuts" on your favorite video site (one editor told of a client asking him to make a finished edit look crappier, like it was done by someone who didn't know how to edit). But perhaps in the next several years, the ad industry will not only kick a guy in the nuts better than anyone but get behind more brilliantly executed content that appeals to an audience's higher instincts. You know, like a gorilla playing the drums.

Teressa Iezzi, Editor, Creativity/creativity-online.com

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