Eric Webber’s excellent recent post on the triumph of cheesy commercials like the Snuggie and ShamWow spots and the Cash4Gold Super Bowl ad highlight the difficulty of justifying huge production budgets, especially in these cash-strapped times. As Eric and his commentators pointed out, insanely expensive but crappy commercials like the new Bank of America campaign, financed on the taxpayer’s dime, don’t help.
But for all the talk about budget woes and ROI as the reason clients push back on pricey top-drawer production, there’s another factor that never gets discussed. Insurance-peddling primates aside, it’s the real 800 lb. gorilla in the room whenever clients and agency people talk craft and production value.
I’m talking about taste.
Or more properly, the lack of it on the part of many clients.
No one talks about taste because it gets uncomfortably into class issues and reeks of snobbery. It’s undemocratic and toally non-PC. There’s no “your taste” and “my taste.” There’s only good taste and bad taste, and neither correlates in any way whatsoever to people’s intelligence, character or ability. Some of the biggest jerks I know have impeccably curated and art-directed lives, and some of the finest people live in houses decorated by Wal-mart.
But nontheless, taste is real. Agency folk, and especially creatives–tend to have strong aesthetic sensibilities. They can be poor as church mice living in a 400 sq. ft. rathole, but it’ll be the best-looking rathole you’ve ever seen. If they own or wear anything tacky, it will be purely in an ironic way–the irony, of course, being lost on their clients.
Aesthetics is not a driving force in the lives of most American middle-class businesspeople. Work, family, community, church, sports, hobbies…these things come first. And because there is far more tasteless, tacky or just plain uninspiring stuff in this world than there is stylish, authentic and beautiful, the odds are overwhelming that the icky stuff will find its way into these people’s homes and wardrobes.
Nor is it about money. Check out this double-height shrine to bad taste:
Why does this matter? Because part of what you’re buying with a 1st tier director, music house, editor or photographer is his or her taste. Even if you’re lucky to work with a client with good taste (there are some), someone who understands what a Nadev Kandar or Noam Murro brings to the work, you’d be hard pressed to translate it into incremental business results. Now take a client who doesn’t even see the difference.
We all throw up our hands (or have Bob Garfield do it for us) when we look at Cash4Gold and see cheap sets, bad lighting, stilted dialogue and heinous graphics. A lot of clients (not to mention customers) looking at it say, “I’m sorry. What’s the problem?”
That’s the 800 pound gorilla talking. Good luck enlisting his help for your next production.