Matt Willifer
Matt Willifer
A view from Matt Willifer, the executive planning director at WCRS

Matt Willifer: Let's start making stuff people will pay to use - not avoid

Before my current job at WCRS, I spent a couple of years working in the world of gaming: battling goblins, buying virtual fertiliser and hanging out with young men whose avatars were improbably large-breasted women wielding axes.

Like most of the entertainment industry - but unlike the advertising industry - the predominant business model is to create content that players pay money for: whether a £50 PlayStation 3 game, a spanking-new costume for your avatar or a monthly subscription to Moshi Monsters. For games developers, the aim is not just to be creative or engaging. The aim is both more concrete and ambitious: it is to create something enough people will pay enough money for to create profit.

The ad agency business is similarly creative in its ambitions but, because we have a very different business model, we have developed a very different output: namely, stuff that people are more likely to pay to avoid than pay to consume. As professional entertainers, we are proud of our output, but, more often than not, we can't even give it away.

We (rightly) spend lots of time making our clients' brands desirable, but precious little time making what we make desirable.

So, what would change if we thought as entertainment businesses, rather than as work-for-hire ad agencies? If we partnered with brands to create and distribute stuff people actually cared about, and that some of them would actually pay for - well, lots would change.

When judging our work, we would stop asking whether it was creative and start asking ourselves the more searching question asked by the creators of games, movies and books: is it creative enough to make money? The creative bar would be set ever-higher: good news for us, our brand partners and our long-suffering public.

We could also, potentially, make more money - lots more money. Suddenly, up for grabs are the huge sums people spend on entertainment, rather than just the money in clients' marketing budgets.

There are also implications for funding. We wouldn't make our profit up front, but at the back end; we would therefore need less money (if any) from our clients up front. Again, good news for them. In fact, the primary role of our clients would be as distributors of our co-owned entertainment products. Our relationship with the brand owner becomes symbiotic, a true partnership.

So who will succeed in knitting these two worlds together, in creating stuff people care about, in forming these new revenue, funding and distribution models? It had better be us, or entertainment companies will form relationships with clients direct. We will wake one morning to find the large-breasted, axe-wielding she-men have eaten our breakfast.

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