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Published in Point of View magazine

Who needs money? Creativity without cash

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity.” Leo Tolstoy

“With money it’s always possible to camouflage a mediocre idea...”

These are times when new clients shy away from advertising fearing the expense to be prohibitive, and the old hands cut their advertising budgets, albeit unwillingly, and assume they’re also cutting creative. But the “minimalist” financial approach to advertising is, in fact, gaining ground on the big spender school and proving that it’s possible to make beautiful creative with no money.

Tom Monahan, President of Leonard Monahan Lubars & Kelly, of Providence, RI, is so interested in this approach that he started a division of LML&K called “Hothouse” designed specifically to attract low budget clients and to give them the creative on which the agency built its prestigious reputation but at minimal cost. “The resourcefulness of the human brain and not money is the ultimate challenge in advertising,” says Monahan.

“Low budget advertising does require a bigger idea, because you have nothing else.”

Hothouse is not alone in the low budget arena. Talk to Nancy Jordan of Arnold Fortuna Lane & Cabot in Boston, or Eric Haggman of Haggman Krimsky in Ipswich, MA, tie winners in the “Under $20,000" category at NEBA. Their winning entries came in at $15,000 for Jordan’s McDonald’s spot titled “Falling Couch”, and $10,000 for Haggman’s spot for a California radio station, K-LITE, called “Never” designed to promote safe sex. What set these commercials apart, according to Paul McDermott, Producer of the Best of Broadcasting Awards, was that they were “clean, simple and very watchable.”

“Low budget advertising does require a bigger idea, however, because you have nothing else.” Production hours track so an expensive spot tends to cost more hours because there are more things to do. There’s more film to shoot and there’s probably more editorial. Low budget spots are usually made up of either stock footage, very little footage, or no footage at all and no editing. “TV production is a combination of idea and execution,” adds Monahan, “and if you don’t have any money for execution then you have no choice but to have a good idea if you want a good commercial.” With money it’s always possible to camouflage a mediocre idea and make it look good by hiring a flashy director.

“For years the cost of entry to play in the TV game was high from a media standpoint and high from a production standpoint,” adds Monahan. “The production aspect was a moot point if you couldn’t afford the media. Today, with cable, you can target by neighborhood if you want, and fine tune that into parts of a neighborhood. But we still meet people who hitherto thought they couldn’t play the TV game and now that cable has brought it down they’re still told by ad agencies that they need to spend $50,000 in production!” This is clearly no longer the case.