The Paradigm Shifted as I was Drinking Coffee

December 12, 2018
Mark Meily

About five years ago, because of a well written treatment and an affordable budget, I was a awarded a TVC project. We went through the briefing and feasibility and before meeting the client, I was asked for my birthday and exact birth hour. I even had to go back to my birth certificate and see when exactly is my birth hour. The preproduction meeting was postponed several times until a week later, the ad agency informed me that they are not awarding the project to me anymore because my birth sign apparently, …is not “aligned” with the client’s, feng shui wise.

Somewhere in 2010s, I’ve been noticing that it was getting more and more difficult to get TV commercial projects. I realized that that the problem isn’t the lack of demand but even to this day, we are still stuck with the same business model we’ve been using since the ‘70s. The ad agency has a concept/storyboard approved, invites three to five production companies to bid and the production company with the best package of director and cost gets the project. And life was very good…then.

When business got tough, we stepped back and reflected, how can we make better TV commercials? How can we shoot more scenes in one day so our cost is cheaper? How much lower can we cut our fees?

We looked at the latest Cannes Lions winners and Superbowl ads and as a TVC director, see how “de-saturated”, contrasty, hand-held our shots can be to give that edgy look. It doesn’t matter whether the brand is a detergent or diarrhea pills, the look of the TVC has to be edgy to stand out, we thought. Unfortunately, we realize later that practically ALL TV commercials airing have that same edgy look.

Even the way production companies market themselves has not changed. We call our agency-producer/friend if we can visit the agency and present our showreel. The agency creatives gather at the conference room for some pizza and pancit while watching our reel. After the presentation, we leave our business cards and a DVD of the reel and hope to God, that they invite us to the next bid.

A week later, the agency did invite us to a bid… along with seven other production companies to submit proposals to produce a 3-part webisode series na pang-viral (in verbatim) for six hundred thousand pesos. Which makes us ask, if your budget is six hundred thousand pesos, why do you still need to bid this out? They want to see if the other production companies can still make it lower. We, on the other hand, believed that, first, there is no way we can produce it for that amount and, second, if they like us naman (really), they will negotiate.  Of course, none of that are true. There will always be one house that is willing to sell their mother’s soul just to get their foot on the door of the agency and the client doesn’t like you enough to ask for tawad (discount).

 And it’s funny looking at it now, I used to make tampo with my so- called agency-friends who I hoped would be instrumental in giving us TVC projects but never gave us any project. I mean, hindi pa ba sapat na lahat ng ninang at ninong ng anak ko, creative director or producer (isn't it enough that my kids' godparents are agency creative directors)? How can we get more TV Commercial projects?

 Two years ago, I had super long discussions (as in, weeks) with a college-friend who became a creative director, a strategist and eventually the CEO of the Manila office of one of the world’s biggest ad agencies, and the result of these conversations is a mind-blowing discovery. 

All these years we have been focusing on the noise instead of the signal. Instead of finding ways to perfect a shot or a scene, we simply must learn how to tell stories, because the person with best story to tell…always wins.

Like it or not, Trump, Duterte, Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Hitler, Lenin, Obama or Gandhi have the best stories to tell. Right or wrong, their stories are so compelling that people believed in them.

The greatest story ever told, as we know, is religion. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha were great storytellers.

And as in any religion story, my journey begins with an epiphany.

To be continued.