Tabletop should un-plankton itself

Olaf van Gerwen is a seasoned table top director and DOP and the Global Creative Director of Chuck Studios. He’s also had formal training as a Brand Manager and Marketer, and feels the tabletop industry is depriving itself of relevance to the advertising community. 

In my previous life I was a live action director and DOP. Anyone who has worked in this field knows that the pack or product shot is often the capstone of the day. Creatives get bored and wander off to smoke a ciggy and chat up the wardrobe lady. In contrast, brand managers toddle their way on to set. On live action sets, he or she is often the only who really gives a living crap about how the food or product looks.

Creative agencies do not win awards with the work we make. Having been in many of them, award show juries never reward mid or lower funnel stuff (if you have no idea what that means, then this article is for you!). In the work we make for agencies and brands, there’s no eyes tearing up, no surprising plot twists, no brilliant rug pulls and no Brazilian models or celebrities to brag to your friends about. And haven’t you noticed how often we get briefed with images of competing brands? And do you realise how fundamentally silly that is? Have you never rolled your eyes at that same ol’ (but annoyingly good!) Lurpak reference? Creatives can be lazy, uninspired and indifferent about product ads. Honestly, and please don’t tell anyone, I would fire quite a few of the agencies I’ve worked with. But it’s been like this for ages so I guess things are unlikely to change.

The ad industry as a whole has an obvious self esteem problem. We don’t matter in the real world. People do not care about brands or ads a bit.

On the contrary, the ad industry is rated lowest on the Ipsos Veracity Index: we and our clients are trusted less than lawyers. Even less than politicians, go figure. So we resort to giving ourselves of awards. Because nobody else does. And to make matters worse, the table top industry doesn’t even win those. We’re the plankton of the advertising food chain: abundant, exchangeable and tiny.

Tabletop as an industry resort to talking about ourselves. We brag about crazy frame rates, the fastest robots, special effects and 6 million watts wodka cooled lights. And rightfully so: we are outstanding at what we do and we should celebrate it. But many of us forget what we’re here for — the brand. We don’t make art, we make applied art. We’re not artists, we’re craftspeople. Our goal should to help brands achieve their goals though our craft, as much as a shoe maker makes shoes for people to walk on and look schnazzy.

As directors and producers in tabletop, we should know as much about Distinctive Brand Assets as about pneumatics. We should explore the sales funnel in as much detail as we browse the menu of Phantom Flex 4k. We should be curious about our clients’ business objectives, category traditions to steer away from, the competitive field and the brand’s communications strategy.

We painted ourselves in the corner by shoegazing. By introverting. And assuming we matter because we do cool high tech shit. That’s what keeps us instrumental and small.

We should stop copying ourselves and each other. We should get inspiration from outside our industry. We should add value by helping brands become distinctive.

We should watch their backs, so they don’t all end up having their logo emerge from liquid chocolate. The next director to shoot that frame should drink the tank, ok?

We should un-plankton ourselves. We can greatly increase our value by learning the fundamentals of branding and marketing. That starts with being interested in what makes our clients succeed. I promise – it’s fun, and not that complicated. Because if they loose, we loose.


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