My take on The Apprentice – episode 5: The ‘Pet Food’ task

The task this week was to make, brand and advertise a new pet food and, as I spent 23 years in advertising and marketing, I always cringe and squirm that little bit more on this particular task. The last time I saw something this tortuous involving marketing and animals it involved shampoos and bunnies that couldn’t blink.
Once the teams were in place, Logic and Venture, they headed off to TBWA; one of the biggest and best advertising agencies in the country to receive their video conferencing brief from Lord Sugar-Daddy – couldn’t they have stayed in the house and had an extra hours kip?
Unless you have had to do this sort of assignment as a job in ‘real life’ as I have, I don’t think you can really grasp the depth of thought and research, as well as number of man hours and size of team that goes into responding to such a task. 
In an agency environment you would get at least 3-4 weeks to respond to a brief and we never had to come up with the actual product, nor make a full blown TV commercial in that time.  So this really is a warped view of a very difficult task and perhaps that’s why the winner is always the one that is not quite as rubbish as the other.
This week’s brainstorming brought out the usual kindergarten antics of the two groups: the talking over each other, the shouting, the arguing, the sulking, the selective hearing and forced buy-in to the leader’s ideas – and that’s the important part. You need an IDEA, not a format, not a jingle, an IDEA.
Jim came up with ‘Every-dog’ and so proud of it was he right up until it failed. I’m afraid that in the creative industries that happens frequently. I love the phrase ‘a good idea has many parents but a bad one is an orphan’ – that’s demonstrated a lot on The Apprentice.
Vince tried to keep the group focused in the brainstorm (akin to herding cats oddly enough) and announced they needed to focus on the 4 Ps of product, promotion, price and positioning… and passion….and pitch.
I meet with many businesses to help them with their marketing and I usually point out to every one of them the following: the success of your product or campaign is based 40% on Audience, 40% on Offer and only 20% on the creative (as a ‘creative’ person that irks me a little but as a marketer I know it’s true).
‘Every-dog’ had a solid name and execution of brand (creative) but the offer was generic dog food and its audience was, well, anyone with a dog. Surely that’ll do?  No, it won’t do.  And the travesty is that they had an expert, a vet, tell them just that. Dogs are not generic but sadly poor marketing is. But again, time pressure may have been the reason to disregard this nugget of advice and simply carry on flogging a dead horse…which probably ended up in the tin. 
I think Vince should have listened, especially if he could realise his own limitations as happened during the casting; “oh it’s a Labrador.”  “No, It’s a Golden Retriever.”
And at the photo shoot he uttered the gem: “can we have the dog on all fours?” “Don’t you mean you mean ‘standing’?” was the response, I can’t think where Vince’s mind was at that point.
So Vince and his PAL (or should that be CHUM) Jedi-Jim went walkies, barking up the wrong tree I’m afraid. The problem with aiming to appeal to everyone is that you end up appealing to no one – don’t do it. Relish your differences and use them to your advantage.
Natasha became the Oliver Stone of the Pet Commercial world and directed a good solid piece of work – although the sound track of a dog having a heart attack while eating was an interesting approach. She got a good ad in the can, however, it didn’t sway the final decision – remember creative equals 20% of the overall package for success. But it’s the bit everyone loves to do and has an opinion on.
Meanwhile, Venture whether by accident or design, had focused on their Audience and Offer with their healthy cat food with the dreadful name “Cat-Size” – a “furr-arri” brand as they thought. Or, as most of us thought – simply over-complicated and trying to be too clever. Remember to keep it simple – not dumb, but simple and clear.
Glen, without any hint of a pun, pronounced himself as the CAT-alyst of the group. He became obsessed and bulldozed the idea through. Announcing that he ‘deserved’ respect along the way rather than earning it this did his credibility little good. Top tip for you Glen – if you have to tell people you are the leader and in charge, then you’re probably not.
But all credit to him for driving his bad idea through to produce a winning campaign. Or again, should that be the ‘least worst’ campaign overall?
I always loved the pitches when I owned an agency but as the show demonstrates, they can go either way. Melody was a little ‘intense’ and full on while poor Leon (who earlier had proffered “shall I just become the apprentice”) gave us the response we needed, which was a resounding ‘no’ as he never really bought into the idea of being the show man. He stumbled and bumbled and apologised his way through his 20 minute presentation.
Again, I have some sympathy with the teams as what we saw was an edited 45 second pitch of what was for them, and the audience no doubt, 20 minutes of torture.
Glen and his team rose to a surprise victory in the boardroom and as always, Lord Alan of Sugar had his crack script writers save the best lines for him: the team should have been called ‘tragic not logic’, ‘focus on your task not your ass’ and of course, ‘business is ‘dog eat dog’. Ending the show like a Noah figure, he sent his Apprentices out two by two which was a lovely twist.
So what did we learn?
Listen to your customer and focus groups. Saying ‘Ellie knows dog food; she buys it’, isn’t really doing the research. We know people love playing at creative directors but it’s all about your customers and a great offer – there are many awful brands that are highly successful and many bankrupt ‘great brands’.
Also keep in mind; this series is not a job interview, it’s a business partnership. In my own experience I have employed lots of people but only went into business with two of them. And similarly, I’m now in business with many people I wouldn’t employ – ever!
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