What Are Appropriate Production Values?

Let’s examine “appropriate production values” in more detail, because we’re in the midst of much change and debate about this very subject.

Back when Americans had their choice of only three networks and, at the most, six channels in a major market, the audience for each station was huge. Large production budgets for commercials, or elaborate PR stunts for editorial coverage were justifiable because of this.

Fast forward to today, when the average home receives more than 40 channels of TV, and there are thousands of commercial websites. Welcome to the age of narrowcasting and "1-to-1 marketing" to different target segments – which calls for many different appeals.

There’s a rule of thumb in advertising that no more than 20 percent of the budget should be spent on the creating and producing the message. This leaves 80 percent for the  purchase of the media.

And since the cost of creation and production at the highest quality levels is quite expensive, you can see how that 20 percent can get challenged, considering that it now has to cover more projects, or variations on a theme, to appeal to so many markets.

Similarly for editorial, we have to weigh the investment expended to get coverage. It used to be that if you staged an elaborate event and got one or two of the major TV stations to cover it, it was worth it. Today, the viewership of one or two stations may not be worth it. You may be better off creating a video news release (VNR) that is sent via satellite to hundreds of TV stations for the same or less money.

Simultaneously, the sensitivities of the American public to video vs. film are changing. We now have examples of hit movies originating on cheap video that pull in millions of dollars. The Blair Witch Project established a new benchmark for films originating on video. "Shaky cam" TV commercials have been around for years. Tons of junky looking stuff on the Internet is considered camp by many. High-definition TV will narrow the gap in resolution between film and video. So, many of the old rules don’t apply anymore to production values in advertisements. The same scenario of rapid change applies to print media.