I Have Seen the Future, and It Is Snuggie

Be Prepared to Defend the Need for Quality Creative

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Eric Webber Eric Webber
I'm a creative snob. Never mind that I don't actually work in the Creative Department at an agency (and never have). I've been around enough great creative work to feel like I know what is and what isn't.

And I've always worked at agencies that place a premium on work that wins, or is at least capable of winning, the most coveted awards. Coveted by agencies, at least, and by many clients too, albeit to a lesser degree.

But I'm worried. I sat at a Super Bowl party with a bunch of non-ad-industry friends and watched what is supposed to be the ne plus ultra of our craft. And what ad was the most talked about?

It wasn't even a Super Bowl ad. The Snuggie commercial got the most buzz. You know, the Snuggie -- "The Blanket with Sleeves!"

That led to a spirited discussion of some other current favorite campaigns, notably the ShamWow and that Amish electric fireplace thing. (Wait a sec; an Amish electrical appliance? Oh Brethren, has it really come to this?)

As the "industry expert" in the room, I had to begrudgingly acknowledge that ads don't necessarily have to be pretty to be beautiful. Some are beautiful in their simplicity and lowbrow-ness and ability to generate yak (and sales) in spite of being so God-awful. OK, maybe because they are so God-awful.

And that got me a-ponderin'. Are clients thinking the same thing?

I know these aren't new ideas; infomercials have been around a long time. I grew up with Ron Popeil and actually owned a Pocket Fisherman. Even the products aren't really new -- my grandfather was wearing his robe backwards long before the Snuggie came around. Granted, he didn't do it intentionally, but the end result was the same.

Perfect breeding ground
It does seem though that tough economic times are a perfect breeding ground for low-budget advertising. And I'm concerned that clients might find it an easy out in the short-term.

Agencies, especially those dealing with clients with modest budgets, need to be ready when that thought comes up.

At the very least, if we think that luxurious production values, special effects, extensive post work, top photographers, etc. are necessary, then we need to be prepared to justify how those things add value to the work. Not creative value; I mean actual dollars-and-cents value to the client.

And it can't be just because you need those things to win Lions and Pencils and the like. The tougher times get for our clients, the less significance those awards hold.

We also need to be willing to compromise. If a client asks, "Why do we have to use a high-dollar director and production company? Can't we just shoot it on video in my living room using my family as cast?" we need to be prepared to defend our creative vision -- what we know is right for the future of the brand. But we also have to at least consider that the answer might just be "Yes."

Innovation comes in handy here too. Seeking out up-and-coming (read: inexpensive) talent helps. And don't overlook what you already have -- one of our production staff, it turns out, is a very good product-shot photographer. So we shot a client's catalog in-house, delivering a great end-product and saving a good deal of cash.

It's not an either-or proposition, of course. There will always be products or services that don't need any more than a video camera and a concept cooked up by the client's nephew. You know, the one everyone says is so clever.

I don't really believe that our future lies only in infomercials or advertorials of questionable quality or taste. But I do believe that it's fair for our clients to challenge us to continue exploring ways to make the best use of their money, even if it means sometimes checking our creative egos.

And it's certainly reasonable -- incumbent, maybe -- for us to continue to challenge ourselves to create work that can wow both consumers and awards show judges without busting the client's marketing budget.

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