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Prototyping goes traditional

The art of prototyping is nothing new but it’s impact and efficacy is now expanding into familiar territories.

Prototyping for advertising purposes gained popularity in the mid 00’s when digital was on the rise. It was the wild west for all of us and, in the world of Production, we often had no idea if what we were selling through was actually going to work (you’d be surprised how this is still often case). I remember having many conversations about this that ended in – “who cares how we make it? If they buy it, we’ll figure it out!” And that was often the case and the decision, even if an irresponsible and dangerous one for an agency.

Then we all grew up (a bit) and got (a bit) smarter. And we started to rally around the notion that if we’re having trouble with clients understanding what it is that we’re trying to make, well, let’s just make an early version of it (often a crude one) that the client can click, touch, hold and interact with. This not only makes the connection between the client and the product much clearer but also informs the production costs, timing and logistics coming out of it. So, while hopefully being a transformative way to sell through an idea, prototyping can be a massive leap forward for production purposes as well.

Cut to today. The digital experiences we used to spend a lot of time and money on creating have given way to the explosion of mobile first ideas, branded content opps and platform experiences that provide consumers real utility. But the need for prototyping has not gone away. It has just shifted.

While we still employ prototyping in digital whenever appropriate, one specific area that we’ve found prototyping to be quite helpful is everyone’s favorite collection of buzz words – branded content.

Recently, I was in a meeting with creative and production teams trying to figure out how we were going to shoot, edit and finish 40 videos along with building a responsive microsite to house it all for under 100k. The production costs were climbing daily as were the CD’s desires with the idea. However, the client had only 100k and was likely to kill the idea if we came back needing double that (which we did at that point). At one point when Production and Creative were at loggerheads about pricing, I said “Guys, we’re talking in circles. Let’s go prototype one of these videos. It will be crude but it will help inform all of these unknowns that are spinning us out.”

So we did. We shot and edited 4 of the videos that day and the CD loved them. We presented them to the client the next day and they bought the whole campaign on the spot. And the production costs actually came in under budget. Easy, right? No, not really but it actually can be given the right environment, talent and trust inside an agency. And it can certainly help to provide a competitive advantage when so many other types of companies are at the same restaurant, and same table, eating our lunch, so to speak.

We’re now in the process of shooting a prototype for a content series for another client. The stakes are a bit higher on this one, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as we’re confident in our ability to use these proof of concept videos to sell ideas through. It also helps when you control the labor costs internally as it takes a fairly minimal investment. Another helpful tip, rather than asking clients for production dollars upfront to create prototypes, you can sometimes get the costs covered in research budgets. Win/win there.

In an industry where production costs and approach are under constant scrutiny, and margins become increasingly razor thin, prototyping even traditional work can be a great tool in our collective arsenals to prove the value of an idea, sell it in faster, reign in overall production costs and approach, create trust amongst client and agency and, hell, maybe even get some good work out the door.