Monday, September 22, 2008

Who’s Accountable for A Commercial's Viewership?

If you haven’t yet, take a look at the column written by Alan Schulman in today’s MediaPost.

Mr. Schulman raises the question that I’ve been talking about right here for some time now. Who’s accountable for a commercial’s viewership? Or, to put it another way, who’s accountable for the engagement value of a commercial?

Perhaps it’s because Mr. Schulman is an executive creative director that he takes such umbrage at the fact that the networks should be held accountable for the engagement level of a commercial. Let’s face it; once a viewer starts watching a commercial, the network really has little impact in regards to how long that viewer continues to watch the commercial for.

Networks are responsible for bringing people to the message. They are not responsible for engaging people in the message. The job of the creative person is to intrigue, involve, entertain and persuade. The job of a media person is to put the most relevant commercials in front of the most appropriate people so the former can better take place.

Networks are about how many.

The creative itself, is about how long.

The most interesting point about the argument put forth in Mr. Schulman’s article is that time-spent with a commercial can now be accurately measured on most digital platforms. And, if the creative agency is indeed accountable for creating that time-spent, you would think that some of the more forward-looking advertisers would like to pay their agencies based on how well they actually do create this time-spent.

The more time-spent they create, the more the agency makes. The opposite would also hold true.

You would also think that some of the more creative agencies would welcome this new way of being paid. After all, instead of being compensated based solely on how long their agency worked on the commercial – hourly fee + mark-up — they can now be partially compensated based on how long viewers watched the commercial for.

Instead of paying for inputs, advertisers can now pay for outcome.

The long-standing gripe among the more creative agencies has always been why they can't be paid based on how good they are? In other words, why can’t good work be worth more than bad work?

If length of involvement in a commercial is a proxy for good work, then, it seems as if this indeed now possible.

Granted, it won’t suit every agency. In fact, my guess is that most would initially refuse to be paid this way. But there are a handful of creative agencies, based in cities like San Francisco, Boulder, Venice and Portland, who might think otherwise.

And, truth be told, if they lead the way, the other agencies really have no choice but to follow.

Consider Wieden, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Proctor and Gamble. Wieden has some P&G business, as does Saatchi and Saatchi. Now let’s say that Wieden says that they’re willing to be paid based on how good their work is. In other words, based on how long it engages people for. Does Saatchi then really have an option but to agree to be paid the same way?

If Saatchi says “no,” than what does that say about their confidence in their own creative?

Also in today’s rags, an interesting article in Ad Age regarding “Putting A Price On Digital Production.” It raises the question regarding how the industry can continue to justify the high cost of production as the size of the viewing audience continues to shrink through fragmentation.

Again, it comes down to the digital data now available. If creative agencies are willing to be paid based on involvement, then shouldn’t production companies take on some of that responsibility as well?

Many of you might say, “Yeah, fat chance.” The fact is, those were my thoughts exactly until I went down to talk to some production companies in L.A. They actually grasped the whole idea of being paid on a return on involvement model faster than most.

“You know what this does?” they asked, when I proposed the idea to them. “It allows – put director’s name here – to be paid based on how good he is, rather than how large the job is.” There’s not an “A” director in Hollywood who wouldn’t take that challenge.”

I reminded them that if the viewer involvement were low, the director would be paid very little. Didn’t faze a one of them.

So, it’s in your hand’s advertisers. If you want accountability on the creative side, you can have it. And, you can pay accordingly.

The question is, do you want it?

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