Did That Tesla Ad Really Cost $1,500?

(This post originally appeared on Ad Age.)

I think outer space is pretty awesome. If you’re like me in this regard, you were probably blown away by Tesla’s “Modern Spaceship” spec ad created by Everdream Pictures—a production company founded by recent college grads—which takes us on a journey to the final frontier. You probably also read the headline-grabbing claim that the commercial cost just $1,500 to make. I’d say that price tag is out there with the space-traveling Tesla, orbiting far away from reality.

So where did that number come from?

According to the article, the $1,500 was spent on hotel rooms, gas and food for the 15-person crew.

What about the cost of developing the concept? Script? Storyboards? Pre-production logistics? Set Design? Visual effects? Day rates for the crew, talent and editor?

And what about all the gear they used to shoot the commercial?

The article states that the Everdream team already had the equipment needed.

And that equipment was free when they first got it?

Obviously, the commercial didn’t cost a mere $1,500. But “That Amazing Tesla Video Was Made by Recent College Grads for More than $1,500 Because Oftentimes Great Creative Requires a Decent Amount of Resources” isn’t a very exciting headline. Yes, boasting that your commercial cost just $1,500 is a great way to attract business. Unfortunately, it’s a terrible way to stay in business.

That’s the real problem here. The $1,500 claim makes it sound as if this team found an incredibly cost-effective way to make beautifully produced video creative. It suggests that the industry could take a lesson from them and become more efficient. If this ad cost only a few bucks, then surely other brands can fetch a similar bang for their buck.

But they can’t, because there isn’t anything cost-effective about a $1,500 price tag that excludes the majority of production costs. This doesn’t lead to industry efficiency; it leads to industry confusion, which does a disservice to all of us.

I’m not trying to single out the Everdream team here (It wasn’t that long ago that we were reading about the Dollar Shave Club viral spot that cost only $4,500 to make). But I am concerned that we have an industry-wide problem on our hands. If we don’t reverse this trend—if we continue to promote misleading figures—we’ll be making it that much harder to communicate the actual value of our creative and debunk the perceived cost myth.

Am I suggesting that there isn’t a great financial story about this Tesla commercial? No, I’m simply saying we should more clearly acknowledge the financial truth of the story. The Everdream team probably didn’t have a huge marketing budget to build up its client base, but it had something else: skills. What they lacked in financial equity, they made up for in sweat equity: good, old-fashioned hard work with no guarantee of compensation, only the promise of a big-time pay off.

They didn’t make a really cheap video. They made a really shrewd investment.

Let’s celebrate the entrepreneurship of the Everdream team. Let’s champion the pursuit of cost-effective creative. Let’s boldly go where no creative has gone before. Let’s just make sure we go there with enough money for gas. Rocket fuel isn’t cheap.

Nick Miede is Associate Creative Director. Follow him on Twitter @nickmiede.


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