New Zealand productions really are gaining a degree of prestige in the global marketplace. But why? In a recent feature by StopPress, Managing Director of Sweetshop New Zealand Fiona King explains what makes it such a strong and vibrant filmmaking nation.
Big, beautiful branding: Is the high-end TVC a relic of the past?
Ask any industry know-it-all and they’ll tell you: In 2018 marketing is all about activating brands online. With bene ts like pinpoint audience targeting, utterly transparent reporting and real McCoy ROIs, digital is where it’s at and the big, beautiful brand-building productions of yesterday are well and truly becoming a thing of the past. But is that actually the case? Have marketers really turned their backs on the big budget mainstream campaigns of old? Is there still a place in the market for the cinematic TVC? And are brands still willing to play the long-game of identity building?
It’s not quite that simple
Going by the stats, one could argue that the death of big, glamorous brand- building content has been somewhat exaggerated.
According to Standard Media Index, agencies spent a billion dollars on major media across New Zealand last year, and leading the way in that lot was TV – stubbornly holding out against the digital onslaught – with a not insignificant $389.6 million overall haul.
That’s not to say digital is insignificant in the scheme of things of course: to the contrary, digital advertising is hot on the heels of TV, at $338.9 million for 2017 – more than seven percent growth on 2016. (Outdoor is still the outlier, at $136.3 million, but up, nevertheless, a whopping 18.4 percent in 2017).
Simply put, TV still reigns, but only just, and the chaotic figures indicate an industry well and truly in a state of disruption.
That’s a fact not lost on the industry itself. PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2017 – 2021 asked entertainment and media CEOs about such issues: According to the report, 56 percent said they are expecting technology to “reshape the industry” over the next five years.
So let’s call it as we see it: Kiwi advertising dollars will continue to shift online. PwC says as much, predicting that online advertising will grow to $1.4 billion in 2021, overtaking TV as soon as next year.
“What is worrying traditional media is that advertiser spending on the digital side flows disproportionately to a few large platforms like Facebook and Google,” says Greg Doone, PwC director of digital strategy.
The reason for the shift? Those pesky millennials.
“The influence of millennials and younger generations on the consumption of digital media is being widely felt,” says Doone. “They seek free media, to stream music, watch videos on YouTube and consume free news. And as they become the dominant demographic, these habits look set to stay with them.”
“The trends and consumer behaviour we see unfolding in New Zealand are largely in line with global trends, with a slight lag.”
If that global trend is anything to go by, the writing is on the wall. Globally, internet advertising already generates more revenue than TV advertising.
“That lead, thanks to the rapid growth of mobile ad revenues in particular, is set to increase significantly in the next five years,” says PwC.
So that’s the stats. The TVC is dead and we have killed it.
But wait, there’s more
Sure, those stats don’t look good for the long term survival of the TVC, but there’s a world of difference between numbers on the page and the experience of the boots on the ground. In fact
some in the industry say that higher end branding content may, in fact, actually be enjoying something of a renaissance.
“Digital has not killed it dead,” says Declan Cahill, owner and executive producer of Exit Films.
“The market still produces brand work and, in fact, arguably there is a little more now than there was a few years ago. It’s hard to quantify this, but it does feel as though brands are recognising that they still need to market to both an online and broadcast mainstream media audience.”
“But it’s fair to say that the battle to remain competitive has grown.”
There’s still something about the offline format that has prestige and motivates brand-builders to engage with those mediums. After all, each channel has its strengths and weaknesses and mainstream broadcast remains the best way to create and maintain a presence in mass audiences — targeting be damned.
“I see it as we’re now in a kind of middle ground,” says Angela Bird, managing partner at The Workshop.
“The pendulum has indeed swung from big brand TV production through to online content and digital production, and I think we are now somewhere in the middle. Brands see the value in good TV production, as well as the necessity of being on digital channels.”
“Offline campaigns, and in particular, TV, drive reach,” says Patrick McAteer, executive producer at Nimble Productions, “whereas a digital approach allows us to win with a ‘share’ audience.”
Case in point: Nike with ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ and Speights’ two-minute film ‘The Dance’, the latter created by DDB NZ.
“They both had amazing cut-through and showcase great entertaining films,” says McAteer. “When they are on TV, they can only be consumed by whoever is watching it, but when they have a digital aspect too they can be easily ‘liked’ and ‘shared’.”
Fast, cheap and good. Pick two.
As the technical and cost barriers to film have fallen, new suppliers have hit the market, increasing competition and lowering margins. Few would argue that, in 2018, fast and cheap are no longer optional extras, even for high-end productions. Rather, that’s often where negotiations start from.
“It’s fair to say that is a trend, particularly with your bread-and- butter retail commercials,” says Steve Finnigan, managing partner and head of sound at Images & Sound.
“A few years ago when we were doing a lot more TV commercial work we’d be helping clients on the side with a ‘C’mon, it’s only for the web version.”
“Now of course that’s the norm and I think people have initially struggled to monetise that.”
And if it’s not about talking tough on price, it’s at least about getting the maximum bang for the buck – and that option means top-tier content at a lower price point.
“We are expected to do a lot for a production cost,” says Cahill. “That does not seem to have changed much over the last 10 years, but the ideas are more challenging for the budgets available.”
“It has reached the point that schedules are usually at the minimum required to produce the project. There is no fat or time margin for finessing now, generally speaking.”
“This is not desirable for creative, logistical and financial reasons. There is an old saying that of ‘fast, good and cheap’ you can have any two, but you cannot have all three. Not without risk anyway.”
Give the director their due
So what do these new expectations mean for production companies tasked with bringing these campaigns to life? In a world of lowered margins is there still a premium on specialist skills in the YouTube/GoPro age?
“Specialist skills are in demand more than ever, but that doesn’t mean you need to charge a premium for it,” says Michelle Walshe, CEO of Augusto.
“We have a shed full of creative and production specialists here, but that’s how we create efficiencies: By being able to make better unified decisions on each and every brief. This ultimately saves our clients time and money, and creates better work from the collaboration of ideas between thinkers and makers.”
Walshe points to Augusto’s recent work for Tourism New Zealand featuring Rhys Darby and Jacinda Ardern as an example of this unified approach.
“Reacting to a topical issue in market, we were able to pull a team together that turned both the concept and shoot around in a matter of days with no compromise to the quality of storytelling.”
“This wouldn’t have been possible with a traditional approach, or without specialists.”
Now, more than ever, (quality) content is king. With audiences, even the very young, growing ever more sophisticated, it seems there is expectation—and necessity—for tight scripts and slick production values, regardless of budget. Even online projects still strive for the cinematic look and feel of traditional campaigns at times, and that is still well and truly the domain of the specialist.
“We say there are no shortcuts [to engaging audiences] and that means getting the right specialists on board to ensure your ‘film’ will get the best impact,” says McAteer. “Everyone is a ‘prosumer’—both a producer and consumer of content—so it’s still vital to exceed expectations.”
Appetite for consolidation
With cost pressures front-of-mind, there’s an opportunity for in-house studios from media owners to come in and do it cheaper – sometimes with production thrown in during the media sales process. Increasing integration sees places like TVNZ’s Blacksand doing production work for clients while Bauer APN and Stuff have in-house studios.
McAteer, executive producer with “talent aggregator” Nimble says these sorts of in-house scenarios have their benefits – including better creative consistency and fewer personnel required to deliver production.
“The new in-house production teams are constructed with a very nimble approach, assembling the right freelance team for each project, using ‘predators’ (producer/director/editors) through to full-scale production teams.”
That produces a better outcome for clients he says, as a single media/agency combo can manage all of a client’s brand messaging internally, only enlisting external creative resources when actually required.
“It’s also a smart alternative to building your own production teams inside your company, which can be an expensive exercise,” he says. “Over the past five years, the capability, approach and quality of what is produced by in- house production teams has increased.”
“This has been bolstered by the availability of freelance directors, and bolder clients prepared to see the benefits of using this creative service.”
Made in New Zealand
One thing that does need to be mentioned here (as if it’s not mentioned enough everywhere else) is hobbits.
With exports like Peter Jackson and Taika Waititi enjoying success overseas – and even James Cameron getting involved in the local scene – New Zealand productions really are gaining a degree of prestige in the global marketplace, especially in the visual effects milieu. A recent New Zealand Advertising Producers Group survey placed annual advertising industry turnover at about 50 percent from local sources and 50 percent from offshore.
“We’re an incredibly strong and vibrant filmmaking nation and one of the best in terms of talent and crew,” says Fiona King, managing director of The Sweetshop New Zealand.
“Growing up in the industry, nearly all directors have developed and directed a short film or a feature. The stories are unique with no comparison to what anyone else is doing in the world. We do our own thing in New Zealand and don’t compare ourselves.”
And being so far away from the rest of the world might just be one of the keys to our growing success, says King.
“As one of our directors tells me, ‘We still climb trees in New Zealand’, meaning we know how to work from the ground up and be a super strength at the top.”
And hey, we’re the guys that made King Kong. That’s gotta count for something.
“For sure,” says McAteer, “We are known for high-end VFX and amazing locations and crews, and generally being film-friendly.”
“The flip side is that South America and other countries are also offering similar options, so competition for shooting your oversees campaign is growing, [but] we still win outright with our VFX, great crews, and pro-film approach.”
So sure, there are unique pressures facing production houses, but there’s still an appetite for top-tier work, both in terms of cinematic-style and the platform perhaps best suited to it, television.
“Clients still see TV advertising as the crown jewels because TV is still better than the rest at engaging consumers,” says King. “The moving image on a large screen, high-quality video and audio, the ability to stimulate emotion and engagement – it’s hard to beat. Amid a constant barrage of advertising messages, TV still offers a brand a way to stand out; an exclusive spot in the middle of a TV programme that draws millions of relaxed viewers waiting to be entertained.”
“Beautiful brand advertising just works best on a TV platform,” says Bird. “You look at some of the archetypal adverts – the John Lewis Christmas advertising, for example, the ‘Holy Grail’ of advertising in the UK – that would only work as well as it does on a TV platform. Those grand narratives just work really well on television.”
“It’s just that clients have become savvy to the fact that they don’t need to spend extortionate amounts of money to get very good quality TV ads produced.”
And maybe it’s the case that there will always be a place for those big, beautiful brand campaigns to coexist with the new aesthetics, formats and opportunities presented by other platforms – whatever they ultimately end up being.
“We live in an always-on world where our stories must now take many forms and exist on many channels,” says Walshe. “In marketing terms, a big brand TVC would be just one of the things our audience would come across on a customer journey.”
“Marketers gravitate towards video because it’s still the richest and most engaging medium through which to tell a story,” she says, “regardless of whether that story is five minutes or five frames in a GIF. It can take people on an emotive journey.”
“Content marketing and brand marketing are not mutually exclusive, rather they are colliding in beautiful ways that would be impossible to achieve without digital.”
This article was first published by StopPress on 27 August 2018.