Wednesday, April 11, 2012

AMC's "The Pitch" Is A Poor Reflection of Advertising

          WDCW                                          McKinney

On Monday, April 30, AMC network will be airing “The Pitch”.  In case you are unfamiliar with it, each episode will show two agencies doing a real pitch for a real account. This week they have been showing the pilot episode as a preview.  Much has been written about it and much more will be written.  

After seeing it, I understand why many of the major agencies turned the producers down.  In some cases it was because they did not want their proprietary processes to become public, but in most cases the agencies who said no did so because they were not interested in anyone seeing how they work.  Based on what I saw, that was very smart.

Frankly, I can’t imagine that anyone outside our business would be interested in this program.  At least in the pilot, and at least for me, there was no tension, no drama or build up. The truth is that creativity doesn’t lend itself to being shown.  In this program, after minimal discussion, each agency all of a sudden had an idea.  The editing was done in a way that there was very little evolution of the work.  Bing, bang, each agency had a campaign to produce.  The show was, for me, flat all the way.  And the worst part was that it showed the advertising business in a very poor light.

In the pilot, McKinney was pitching against WDCW (formerly Wong Doody, now Wong Doody Crandall Weiner) for the Subway breakfast business.  Both agencies are respected mid-size shops, WDCW in Los Angeles, McKinney in Durham.  In an hour program, the client “briefing” was probably two minutes long. The process of development and production was about 50 minutes and the pitch and awarding the account the balance.  While there was attention paid to the development of the work, there was no sense of strategy or even thinking. As mentioned, there was no sense of real development or evolution. 

While both agencies had creative people attend the briefing, there were no others – no account people, no planners, certainly no media. During development, there was no strategic input – just creative people throwing out ideas.  The program does a pretty good job showing brainstorming and ideation.  But there was absolutely no discussion about the client, the client’s business, the competition, the target audience.  It reminded me of when a bunch of amateurs get together to create advertising – we have seen this often on, say, “The Apprentice”.  It seemed to me to be ideas for the sake of the execution with no sense of any of the other elements which are part of good advertising.  As a result, the creative people came across as undisciplined, almost hucksters. There was no process for the development and approval of the creative.  There was certainly no research or testing.  I know that neither of these good agencies work that way, even with short deadlines (in the program, the timing from the briefing to the pitch was four weeks).

In fairness to both agencies, we have no idea how this segment was edited and what may have been cut out.  But, clearly, the program is in need of an advertising professional to advise them.  

Both McKinney and Wong Doody Crandall Weiner are smart agencies. Unfortunately, they came across poorly.  The format of the program seems designed to do that.  Neither campaign presented was particularly original, memorable or exciting. The winning campaign was nothing new and not particularly memorable. (Interestingly, there was a Subway commercial in one of the breaks and it had nothing to do with what either agency presented.)  

And, on second viewing, the outcome may have been rigged from the beginning.  I had a sense, although not really confirmed by the content, that the producers rigged the whole thing by picking the agencies and picking the client.  Based on the content of the program, they may have also picked the winning agency.
My bottom line is that this was not a particularly positive portrayal of either agency or of Subway, for that matter.  The ad agencies that turned down participation in this series were right to do so.

I would love to hear your opinions before the show starts airing and the real reviews start coming in.


  1. Alas...on every level. All my fears about this show and then some...and, I haven't even seen it, yet. The industry too often does a poor job of elevating the hard, smart work we do!

    1. Ditto, Paul. It could have been so much more.

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    1. Edge: Don't know why you removed your comment because it is spot on.

  3. Paul, it's funny you mentioned that the concept is like The Apprentice because I found the show to be formatted, cut, and musically scored EXACTLY like The Apprentice. Anyone tuning in unknowingly would think that's what was on.

    I've also come to believe that these reality shows are 90% scripted. Like Curb Your Enthusiasm, the particpants can ad lib the dialog but they all know the storyline and where the scene has to go.

  4. It was "The Apprentice" without the back bickering. I agree with you. It felt scripted, even if not. I can't figure out what the producers were trying to communicate.

  5. I just found out about this show, watching the pilot episode right now. Somehow, I feel very disappointed. Maybe it's because I was expecting too much? I saw no major climax and felt pretty much scripted (same as other comments). It's a big let down :(

  6. Not sure I believe the CD for McKinney is that poor of a presenter. Or that much of a douche for that matter. To paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, He's not bad. He was just edited that way...

  7. I am a 17 year old in New York, and while i agree the composition of the show may have been lacking in suspense and drama, i thought that it was a nice way to endear the Advertising Industry to a more mainstream audience. I actually want to be in the business, but as of now know very little, and from that perspective I can tell you that while it may be heavily edited, it still allows the viewer to have a taste of what it's like to be a part of a campaign designing process. Maybe what I'm trying to say is that the dampened nature of this show may have been intentional. You cite The Apprentice, which I too find strikingly similar, yet the Apprentice is made in a way that doesn't bog you down with terminology and strategics. Not that it's what I would like to see, but I feel most people would prefer the creative process over the accounting and analytical process.

    1. Dear Mattk: You make a really good point. Sometimes us insiders may be too close to the business. Perhaps we miss what others like you see. Thanks for the perceptive comment.

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  9. This show will obviously attract agencies who believe they have more to gain than lose by being on it. So, while it probably won't attract any large agencies many smaller agencies who seek more national exposure -- and/or believe they have something to prove -- will see it as a real opportunity. They also may have no choice if it's an account they really want and the show is part of the deal.

    That said, it reminded me how insane pitches are. It's like watching two starving rats in a giant maze trying to be the first to get the cheese. Perfect Reality TV.

    The only party with nothing to lose is the client. Didn't catch the Subway episode yet, but even if the Subway president's a douche he still gets his 47 minutes of airtime to showcase his new line of sandwiches (or whatever) to a national audience, for FREE... and do it while two agencies kiss his ass and act like Subway sandwiches are mana from friggin God. So, he gets that great free, national exposure regardless of what he does with the winning agency after the show. He could get that great exposure, use the agency's ideas, and then drop them like friggin a hot potato.

    So, I watched DIGO vs WomanKind pitch a trendy woman's boutique called C. Wonder. WomanKind, as you may guess, is an all woman agency, mostly in their 40's, who claim to own the female market. They know women because they ARE women. DIGO, on the otherhand, is all men, mostly in their 20's and 30's except for one cranky woman in a senior position.

    The Pitch is a good move for DIGO simply because they don't seem like they stand a chance in hell to win. The WomanKind women are battle-hardened vets who act like they eat DIGO's for lunch. And it's a totally girly account. So, who wins? DIGO. WomanKind is left in tears (literally) while DIGO is hi-five-ing. Was it a good move for Womankind to go on the show? Maybe not.

    So, back to the victor, DIGO.

    Go to the DIGO website and you'll see a list of their clients. Is C. Wonder listed as one of them? Nope. And they won the account 6 months ago.


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