Will Explosion of Ad-Carrying Media Force Advertisers to Replace People with Synthespians?
A friend of mine who is a brand manager just returned from Miami for a 3-day commercial shoot. Like me, his background is doing low-budget productions. So he was shocked by the expenses: hotel and travel, catered cajun Mahi Mahi, 3 babies on the set in case two got ornery, and $900 wrap dinners. When he returned he sent me an April 17 Wall Street Journal article titled "More Venues Spur Higher Ad Costs." The point of the piece is that the explosion of high-tech media is making the actors in commercials cost too much. The advertisers say the circa-1950 system for compensating actors has to be overhauled. Says the WSJ: "The explosion of new ad-carrying media -- from cellphones to iPods -- is likely to make the process even more complicated and expensive.... For example, an actor appearing in a network-TV ad gets paid a fee every time the ad airs. Actors receive separate residual payments for ads that run on cable, spot TV, syndication and the Internet." In my day job I had to recently remove a photo of a model from our website because the agency couldn't arrive at acceptable terms with the model's agent.
So this gets me thinking about synthespians. We're very close to reproducing fairly authentic-looking people using computer generated effects- grant it needs another year or two to get over the creepy feeling of "The Polar Express." But what if advertisers start generating Synthespians to replace actors in television spots? Advertising used to be three networks and massive reach. Now advertisers need to create exponentially more forms of creative to address emerging channels and segmented demographics.
A recent animation movie (which was quite good) undermined the typical $100 million Pixar productions by creating a film produced mostly in Asia, using over-the-counter animation software. Hoodwinked cost $15 million, and I'll be the first in line to buy the DVD when it's released in 14 days. Spy Kids is a another example- it cost $35 millionto make and made well over $100 million domestically alone. Apply this model to advertising- what did it cost FireFox to create a sleuth of viral ads? Creators of "Citizen Created Commercials" (CCC) can't afford to negotiate with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
This transition will take time, and there's no mistaking that the average consumer will identify subconciously with Gene Hackman's voiceover on Lowes ads or Queen Latifah doing Pizza Hut spots. But the "3-network 60-second spot era" is as passe has the 3-martini lunches. And that will put inarguable pressure on costs and actor royalties.