I’ve long since given up watching The Apprentice. It has gone from being a mildly amusing TV show to a serious blight on the cultural and business landscape. The idea that Lord Shoogha (an upgrade from the basic Siralun version) is representative of modern business is laughable. Doesn’t he know you can’t fire anyone these days for anything short of murder?
But Lord Sugar’s 19th-century mill-owner antics are only slightly less laughable than the ludicrous notion that he might actually want to employ any of the show-offs and airheads who cavort in front of him each week. Quite how any of these people have merited full-time employment contracts in the past is beyond belief. It says something about corporate Britain that makes my blood congeal.
It’s time this ghastly piece of sham nonsense was pensioned off. It’s not much better than that section of the 1970s game show The Generation Game, where contestants were invited to try pottery, juggling or circus tricks with the sole intention of failing miserably and causing mirth in the homes of pre-Thatcher Britain. Younger readers should check You Tube to see what I mean.
But, when I noticed that the customary episode devoted to launching, marketing and advertising a product had aired, I couldn’t resist watching it on iPlayer. At least with iPlayer there is a fast-forward button. In this episode, two teams of wannabe apprentices were invited to ’brand and advertise’ a cleaning product. The fact that they made a pig’s ear of it is hardly worth mentioning. What really rankled though was the session in a ’top advertising agency’ (sorry, too bored to go back and check which one – but they had lots of nice glass partitions).The contestants were invited to make their pitches to a panel of agency people and a solitary client from an fmcg company. The agency people smirked, rolled their eyes and shook their heads as if they were witnessing a drunken vicar conducting a wedding service.
After watching the awful TV commercials made by the Apprentices, the agency bigwigs made sententious pronouncements. I think they thought they were the panel of the Man Booker Prize. The client approached the task with all the seriousness and solemnity of a high court judge adjudicating on a case of national importance. These people should look at the state of current TV advertising before turning their noses up at the efforts of amateurs. I could name dozens of woeful ads, but to pick one at random: can anyone tell me how the current Sony ’VAT back’ TV ad – production values aside – is one jot less clichéd or predictable than the cack-handed efforts of the Apprentices?
Supermarkets, big retailers, insurance companies and banks have dragged advertising back to a sort of 1950s Brutalism. But it’s an odd time to be producing duff advertising: consumers are voting with their fingers and clicking off into new digital zones where they can’t be easily reached or dictated to. Technology means we can escape into a new space where ads can be avoided. If agencies and clients want to reach us they are going to have to be much smarter and more engaging with their advertising.
Yet what is adland’s response to this new challenge? Advertising that is deprived of wit and style; advertising that seems to assume that consumers are all morons; in fact, advertising that looks as if it has been produced by people from The Apprentice. Agencies in glass-partitioned offices should not be throwing stones.
Adrian Shaughnessy is an independent designer, writer and broadcaster, and co-founder of publishing company Unit Editions