Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Time to pitch The Pitch? Season one review

Have you seen that advertising show on AMC?

No, the other one. 

AMC, the network that gives us the awesome Mad Men, recently gave us a brand extension of sorts in season one of The Pitch - a reality show that pits two ad agencies against one another to see which will come up with a winning campaign. 

But where Mad Men is a classy, subtle, big-budget period piece, The Pitch is a cheap knock-off riding on its coattails. 

The Big Idea is actually a good one: a reality show about advertising. Crazy characters? Check. Opportunity for conflict? Check. Subject matter that complements its Mad Men lead-in and makes viewers interested in the ads that run during the show? Check.

Exciting TV? No cheque.

Real men of genius

The first episode is typical of the series. Our agencies, McKinney and WDCW, take on the SUBWAY breakfast sandwich. SUBWAY is a big (and dumb) client that doesn't want "creative," despite assurances that both agencies do ground-breaking creative work.

As SUBWAY's marketing VP Jeff Larson (here's where I point out that I'm Larsen with an "e") helpfully points out, SUBWAY sells food, so creatives: try showing some pictures of food.

It's a promising setup, which would normally be the cue for our heroes at the agency to:

1. Make fun of the client behind his back.
2. Have a few drinks and/or talk about movies for a week.
3. Scramble to get something done to deadline.
4. Knock the client's socks off and make him admit the errors of his initial thinking.

But with the creatives too concerned about how they're going to look on TV and the client assured that no one will say anything bad about his or her brand (also known as the show's "product placement"), we have no conflict, other than the one-second "We won/we lost" dynamic at the end of the show.

First idea = worst idea 

What we do get is fashionable eyewear, expensive haircuts, and monologues about how hard it is to work in advertising. The cliche that gets repeated most often: "there are no rules in advertising."

Since when does "no rules" mean "lame ideas?" In the SUBWAY episode, one team simply calls a rapper and gets him to do the ad (watch the ad). It's fun, but...what did you do, Mr. and Mrs. Creative, that SUBWAY could not have done on its own?

The competing group's thinking goes like this: in the a.m. you're a zombie. Therefore, you should eat at SUBWAY for breakfast, so you "No be zAMbie." Ba-boom!

On another episode, we see a creative team come up with the idea to create "the longest viral video of all time." This team wins, even though it should know that a video isn't viral until it "goes viral" and for that it needs people who will actually watch a five-hour video.

Because the agencies change every week, we see no character development. Because the agencies are mid-sized players from different cities, we see few antagonisms or rivalries. The few fun glimpses into the business that we do get are undermined by the "game" aspect of the show, which really makes The Pitch play like a series version of the advertising challenges on The Apprentice ("toilets are a billion-dollar industry!"). 

This could've been a chance to show how much the ad industry has changed since the Mad Men era, perhaps by following a modern-day Don or Dawn Draper and the frustrations of figuring out how to reach an audience that has more opportunities than ever to avoid ad messages.

The Pitch didn't get great ratings in season one, but I'm betting it'll be back, thanks to a low budget and thematic fit with Mad Men. I just hope they're working on a new-and-improved formula. 

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