A group of kids is hanging out on a sidewalk in Suburbia, watching a moving van across the street unload boxes for a new arrival in the neighborhood.
“I wonder if they’ve got any kids?” asks one little boy.
“I wonder if they’ll give us that big box to play in?” poses his friend.
Dead-on kid questions, both. Then the camera zooms in for a tight focus on the face of another boy sitting under a tree.
“I wonder if they were savvy enough to capitalize on a favorable mortgage structure, and if so, do you think it was fixed-rate or ARM?” he asks.
It’s a cute spot, as visually arresting and funny as some that have won industry awards. Who’s the client? Maybe you.
The above commercial is a sort of generic advertisement, a rent-a-campaign that could be purchased by anybody in the mortgage lending business. It was made by an untried commercial director who did the job for an extreme discount because she wanted to pump up her reel in order to get better-paying jobs in the future.
Venice-based Streamline Commercials, which owns the mortgage ad, is an advertising syndicator a species of business life that is considered beneath contempt by most ad agency executives.
Commercial syndicators own libraries of pre-made television or radio commercials, and lease the rights to the spots for a given period of time in a given market.
Forget about market research, brand development, or any of those niceties Streamline and companies like it are for clients who can’t afford that kind of thing but still want high-quality commercials.
Streamline can tailor each ad to an individual client by changing the voiceover and inserting the client’s logo at the end of the spot. For example, one Streamline ad looks like an out-take from “A River Runs Through It”: A man is shown fly fishing in a beautiful wilderness stream. The voiceover is a reminder that, let’s face it, we’d all rather fish than work, so viewers had better plan for their retirement now.
Insert the name of your bank at the end or your life insurance company or accounting firm, for that matter.
While a commercial like that might have cost $100,000 or more to produce, customers can rent it from Streamline for one year for a syndication fee of around $9,000. The voiceover, logo and other charges bring the price tag to around $12,000, not counting the media-buying cost which Streamline will also do, for an additional fee.
Thus, for the amount that other regional advertisers are spending for cheesy video footage (“At Crazy Al’s Appliances, our prices are insaaaane”), customers can get a professional spot, produced on actual film. It just happens to be the exact same spot that some other advertiser may be running in another part of the country with a different voiceover.
“You can’t run an ad for a health care company that’s shot on video,” said Streamline co-principal Martin Canellakis, who started the company with partner Brian Aldrich in 1995. “People see video, they think Cal Worthington. For a hospital, which might not have the marketing muscle behind it, this is the perfect opportunity.”
Health care companies and banks are Streamline’s specialties, because you can only do this sort of thing with service industry clients. Packaged goods manufacturers, on the other hand, want to see their product in the commercial. And syndicated ads, by definition, have to sell an image rather than a product because, if you show the product, no one else can use the spot.
Ad agency types aren’t fond of syndicators because the entire concept flies in the face of traditional advertising strategy. The idea that you could simply create a generic commercial and then sell it off to different clients all over the country, without all of the strategic thinking that goes into a full-service campaign well, it’s a downright abhorrent thought to the Madison Avenue crowd.
Most of the animosity is directed toward syndicators such as San Francisco-based AdExchange Inc., one of the industry’s larger players. AdExchange simply recycles old commercials buying spots directly from advertisers that no longer use them and inserting new voiceovers.
“We’re bucking the whole industry,” said AdExchange President Henry Whitfield. “People in the business of making commercials are in it because they want to exercise their creativity, and they don’t see us as doing that. But in the markets we’re in, there’s a growing acceptance of this as a way of extending your advertising budget.”
Streamline exercises a bit more creativity, splicing together spare footage from commercial production companies whether out-takes from a music video, pieces of a commercial that never ran, or even entire commercials that were created by a budding director simply to show as examples of his or her work and turning them into coherent 30-second spots.
And if they can make a deal with a production company, as they did with the mortgage ad above, Canellakis and Aldrich will even write their own scripts for original production.
“We started this company because we recognized that there is a tremendous amount of waste in the industry,” said Aldrich, former associate creative director with Della Femina McNamee. “We’d spend $800,000 on a spot for AT & T; that would run for three weeks, and then it was gone.”
Think of Streamline, then, as a celluloid reclamation.