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Real Media Riffs
Wednesday December 10, 2003


The Riff agrees with Carat chief David Verklin. It's not media that's being unbundled. It's creative. And just to prove it, the Riff has just received a pitch from a new outfit called Thought Equity that's making a business out of -- get this -- reselling the "unused creative" of ad agencies. Now on first blush, this might seem like a very practical idea. Agencies frequently have a lot of untapped creative overhead -- copywriters, art directors and creative directors -- who occasionally sit idle waiting for the next campaign, account win or new business pitch. So wouldn't it make sense to resell some of those services to non-agency clients and pick up some extra income? Not if you're a major agency looking to avoid being perceived as a commodity. After all, isn't it the unique branding propositions that agencies dole out for their clients that, in the end, are what contribute so mightily to an agency's own brand equity? But the truly ingenious or devious part of Thought Equity's model is that it goes beyond simply utilizing creative department down time. It actually recycles unused creative that was developed as part of advertising pitches, but which were never run as advertising.

"All agencies develop concepts to pitch to clients and prospects," Thought Equity spokesperson Lauri Harrison tells the Riff. "Not all of those concepts are chose and seen publicly. Thought Equity takes the high-quality, unused concepts, strips out the branded material and tags it in the searchable database for small, local and regional business to use. When an ad is purchased out of the database, the creative agency gets a hefty check in the mail." In other words, Thought Equity is franchising unused agency creative. If this seems like a bad idea, the reseller claims to already have more than 350 agencies "sharing their unused content," including a few top ones. "Sawyer, Riley, Compton, a top agency in Atlanta, is one," says Harrison, citing an ad the agency created for the Atlanta Ballet as an example. The ad, which featured two college-aged kids "kung fu fighting" in slow motion in a living room carried the super "Too much time on your hands? Go to the Ballet." The ad proved to be too "racy" for the ballet's marketing team, so Thought Equity resold it to, of all places, a Wyoming-based technical trade school. But instead of enticing viewers to go to the ballet, the pitch was switched to: "Everyone has skills. Some earn money. Enroll at WyoTech." Harrison acknowledges that Thought Equity's business model "could be considered controversial" but adds that "the value to creative firms who have stacks of unused creative in their files is powerful." Even as the Riff can hear the sounds of Messrs. Bernbach and Ogilvy rolling over, we can't help wonder if there isn't some genuine brilliance here and how it might ultimately catch on and reshape the advertising business in bigger and far more unintended ways.



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