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Unilever's roster disaster

As Einstein said, "Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labour in freedom." If only someone would tell Unilever.

Unilever is one of the world's biggest advertisers. So it's also one of the world's biggest users of production companies. But it's about to introduce a new system that some production companies reckon will reduce competition and choice in their sector.

Unilever's plan is to create a roster of preferred production companies, so that every TV commercial will probably be produced by one of the handful of approved suppliers. Three will be asked to quote for each of Unilever's commercial tasks. Two of those three companies will be on Unilever's production roster, so chances are that the roster firms will get most of the jobs. Either way, cost rather than creative resource will be key.

So bang goes the creative freedom previously enjoyed by its agencies to choose the best director and production company to bring the script to life, though Unilever insists that its ad agencies will help select which companies make it onto the roster.

"Creativity, quality, consistency and best-practice," are the drivers, Unilever insists. But the roster route hints at a continued suspicion from the client community that production costs are consistently marked up and that rigorous cost-controls are not applied to every commercial shoot.

Not surprisingly ad agencies fear the roster system could blunt creativity by locking down the freedom to choose from the widest possible selection of directors. And agencies will lose the volume discounts they can currently enjoy from using their own preferred production suppliers.

For production companies themselves, the roster system represents a triumph of price over value. Buying directing talent cannot be costed in the same way clients might cost their paperclip suppliers.

Other big TV advertisers will be watching with interest and there's no doubt others will follow suit with their own production rosters. For the chosen production companies this could mean a degree of security that will allow more confident investment in fresh production talent. But for those that don't make the grade, life could start looking rather more limited. Einstein wouldn't approve.

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign

Posted 18 May 2011 by Claire Beale
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