I often hear from agencies that are faced with a dilemma, that goes like this. Their client wants some video content produced for a website or social media channel. The deadline is tight. And because it's not going to be broadcast there is very little budget.
Ironically, it might be the agency that created the problem in the first place. They have convinced the client that TV is just one of many channels, and all successful campaigns need to include a social media strategy. So having developed social media channels and an enthusiastic online audience, they need to constantly "feed the beast" with fresh, relevant content.
Now most marketers are all too familiar with the traditionally high cost of producing broadcast content. High production costs can however be justified by the size of the audience, the size of the media spend, and ultimately the massive brand exposure. Right?
Well TV audiences can certainly be very large, but they are probably not as targeted as your social media audience, who might consist entirely of customers from whom you are seeking repeat business. They might be loyal customers who will share your content because they identify with your brand. Or they might just want to be first among their friends to share your content, and take some credit for it.
All good reasons why the quality of your social media content needs to reflect your brand and support its values.
So what does this mean for production values? Does it really make sense to spend hundreds of thousands on a TV commercial, but just a few thousand dollars on a social media piece? Of course the answer depends on many factors, including the brand, the target audience, the call to action and so on. But there are plenty of examples of good content produced on lower budgets without sacrificing production values.
I have been involved in successful TV campaigns with production budgets under $40,000, for major brands, and the production values were as good as commercials produced on five times that budget. By taking this approach, the agency has freed up budget to produce more content across more channels.
One campaign that caught my eye recently was for eHarmony – simple testimonials, well produced and very believable. It works because of its content, and it has good production values without being over-produced.
Content destined for social media is produced with careful consideration for the target audience as well as the brand, and this extends to production values too. A start-up skate shoe company can get away with loose handheld and poorly lit shots, as long as the action is good. But a Redbull skate video has to take it to another level, because that's what their audience expects of them.
One thing we can be sure of, is that the TVC and video production industry has gone through massive changes over the last 10 years, and the cost of achieving high production values has come down. Digital SLR cameras and low-cost editing solutions have opened the door to incredibly good content on very reasonable budgets . Now these lower-budget producers will never achieve the results of a full film crew or a broadcast editing or colour grading suite, but the difference is significantly less than it used to be.
Of course a successful campaign is not defined by production values; it's defined by good creative and good strategy. But the audience's perception of your brand is certainly impacted by production values.
So in a world where there are so many channels to consider, do you need to sacrifice quality to achieve quantity of content? Well you may have to sacrifice some things, and that Hollywood Director may no longer be an option. But compared to the options you were faced with a few years ago, the sacrifices are likely to be much smaller than you might think.
With clever creative and the right producer on board, that last-minute client request might not be so unreasonable after all.
Jonathan Packard is managing director of Louder Than Words