It's time to expel the snake oil merchants from the temple.

Before their false equivalencies kill us all.

The whole ‘production value is a waste of money’ argument is rearing its head again.

“People only want lo-fi content.”

“Why make a big expensive ad, when you could just shoot more things on an iPhone.”

“Organic-looking content performs much better.”

The irony of all this is that these arguments often come from Social Media experts, who then follow up with a massive complaint about how underfunded and underpaid they all are. That bit I actually agree with. Social guns are the future. And clients should invest more into social talent and production. But when the same people are furiously underselling creativity and the value of investing in production, the snake has basically eaten itself.

(Note: This is not a TV vs. social article from some old jaded ad guy. I love social. I have literally made a social campaign for $0 that went so viral it ended up in a museum.)

I’m going to attempt to tackle this with as much grace as I can, but to be perfectly honest, I’m nearly at the end of my rope. The notion that ‘people only want lo-fi/organic/non-glossy content’ is so far from a fact that it’s barely a discussion or debate. It’s a bald-faced lie.

We live in an immediate timeline where Mattel has just made a $120 million dollar commercial for an ‘out of touch’ product that captivated culture for what felt like an eternity, collected a swathe of prestigious awards, and grossed nearly $1.5 billion dollars. It’s the 14th highest grossing film in world history. It’s an ad. And it wasn’t shot on a bloody iPhone.

Following a long period of decline in popularity and brand equity, Formula 1 launched ‘Drive to survive’ in 2019. A massive, high-quality, TV production. An expensive ad campaign, basically. Viewership has tripled in the US, with over 50% of viewers stating the series as being the reason for their interest. Revenue has consistently grown (bar 2020/COVID), team values are up an average of 276% with team revenue multiples on valuations rising by up to 4.9x. There’s nothing ‘lo-fi’ about it.

Bethesda Softworks, makers of iconic video game franchises Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, after avoiding doing so for years, recently partnered with Amazon to turn Fallout into a high-production TV series. Downloads and active users of Fallout 76 immediately hit record numbers. The game was released in 2018. 2018. SIX YEARS AGO. This is a game that was previously labelled ‘doomed’ by the industry. Suddenly, record numbers after a big glossy high-production value piece of commerce. What a strange coincidence.

Yes, these are ‘big’ examples, but I’ll get to scale in a moment.

The fact remains that if the snake oil merchants of the marketing world were right, none of this would be possible. This pervasive argument that production is a sliding scale of wastefulness does not add up. If ‘people only want lo-fi content’, none of this would happen. If ‘Gen Z only want organic content’, none of this would happen. If the ‘TikTok generation’ only wants ‘snackable content’, none of this would happen. But it has all happened, because one of the things marketers are better at than marketing is drawing false equivalencies.

Take a look at that high performing lo-fi/iPhone/organic content. What was the intent of that work? Does it look like an ad? Is it trying to aggressively sell to people? Is it hammering them with logos and features? Or is it simply trying to entertain them first, before the sell?

Go through your brand’s social feed. What’s the highest ‘performing’ thing? Is it something that looks like an obvious ad? Or is it just a weird meme or something fun?

The penny might be wobbling at this point, but still may not have fallen.

Let’s look back at all the big glossy high production TV ads. Which are the ones that do really well? The ones you remember? The ones you laugh at and share with friends? Are they full of logos and CTAs? Or are they just funny and entertaining scenarios that happen to revolve around a brand or product?

The work that performs is not the work that looks ‘cheap and organic’, it’s the work that wraps the pill in some ham. (Or, even better, prosciutto.)

People don’t want to feel like they’re being sold to. They want to be entertained. That’s it. That’s as difficult as any of this needs to be. It has nothing to do with lo-fi, organic production, tight framing, 6 second attention spans, or any of that other stuff. It’s about the intent of the work. The intent of most ‘lo-fi’ work is to entertain people. That’s why it ‘performs’. If you apply the same principal to high production value work, you’ll get the same result, BUT MAGNIFIED BY THE PRODUCTION VALUE. Take a look at Barbie. Take a look at Drive to Survive.

Analysing all of this and saying ‘oh, people only want lo-fi content’ because a meme got lots of likes is drawing the wrong conclusion. People liked the meme because it wasn’t a shit ad. It was fun and entertaining. People liked the lo-fi content because it wasn’t a shit ad. People liked Barbie because it wasn’t a shit ad.

Here’s two ads that Lynx just released on social. (via LOLA MullenLowe)

The production value is as good, if not better, than plenty of TV series and films. It’s brilliantly written, shot, and crafted. 70 second filmic skits that are genuinely hilarious. They’re perfect for social. According to the LinkedIn gurus in my feed, no one will like these ads. But they will work their ass off. Anyone still arguing ‘these would be better if they were 15 seconds and shot on iPhone’ is objectively wrong. It’s just simply not true, and a damaging narrative to be constantly pushing.

Commercial creativity has been, and will continue to be, assaulted from all angles. But what frustrates me the most are the killers inside the house.

We’re bombarding our own livelihood with false narratives that strip quality and expertise and craft from the business, and subsequently budgets and salaries and careers, and it has to stop.

If the idea is great and can be done ‘lo-fi’, then do it lo-fi. If the idea is good but would be great by scaling production, then scale the production.

Make things that people want to watch. Make things that are nice to look at. Make things that add something to people’s lives and respects their attention. Then spend whatever you have on making them great. That’s the recipe.

Join the conversation

or to participate.