Opinion: 50k syndrome

Dean Hunt
By Dean Hunt | 15 April 2014
Dean Hunt

I was in a café. Talking to a friend. This friend works in advertising and so of course our conversation about Game of Thrones Season 4 quickly came back around to advertising.

Our mutual admiration of all things HBO is ultimately about the high standards of production. Good old-fashioned craft, brought about by a talented team armed with a huge budget.

When discussing our own recent production budgets, our enthusiasm came crashing down. On this subject, my friend had an observation. He called it 50k Syndrome.

Over the last year almost every brief across his desk was for, wait for it, $50k. I pointed out that you could buy a five-year-old BMW X5 for that, but had to admit that you would struggle to make an HBO standard TV ad for that.

Back at the agency his theory stuck and so to satiate my mental itch, I went all True Detective and did a bit of poking around. A quick scan of my own briefs revealed an ample amount of $50k briefs.

Interesting but hardly conclusive. I rang some friends who happen to work for other agencies around town and they confirmed that, amongst their $1 million dollar jobs, were a surprising amount of $50k briefs.

So why $50k?

Today’s budgets are spread across a wide range of mediums and that means multiple partners too. With many clients sporting three or more agencies the monies have to be divvied up. Like piglets on mother’s teat, the more bullish the piglet, the more milk it gets. Take a million-dollar budget, split it between three agencies, spread that across five or six briefs and you’re left with around $50k. The magic number.

So what’s the problem? We have to work smarter with less, right? And we do. As do our production partners. However one area suffers: craft.

It’s an old-fashioned word, but with tighter budgets, it’s difficult to justify hiring that amazing director, photographer, typographer… and more importantly give them the time they need to do their thing. When we think of craft, we think of experts slowly creating perfection. And that sounds costly.

I’m lucky enough to work on a very successful campaign involving a Russian meerkat. The craft associated with this campaign is mind blowing. It’s also time consuming and it doesn’t come cheap. Commercially however, it’s a phenomenal success. Paying it’s way tenfold.

Could the same idea have been done for $50k? Yes, of course. The character could have been a sock puppet, the set made of card and production times two weeks instead of 12. The client may well have given the agency a pat on the back. But would that campaign still be running today? I doubt it.

As budgets continue to be slashed and shared, craft pays the price and commercial results suffer, as does brand building. Does it really make sense to make sugar-rush campaigns, quickly consumed and easily forgotten? Or should we be creating low-GI advertising with more long-term appeal?

In marketing’s Game of Thrones it’s wise to count the pennies, wiser still to make the pennies count.

Right, is that little shit Joffrey dead yet?

Dean Hunt
Founding creative director
VCCP

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