Claire Beale on Advertising

After that disaster, the apprentices need a tissue to mop up the tears
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Sir Alan Sugar doesn't like advertising. If you've ever seen any Amstrad ads, you won't be surprised. Sir Alan thinks advertising people are "bullshitters, just like I am". Mostly, he thinks advertising and marketing is "pissing money up a wall". It hasn't done him much harm, this antipathy to the craft of ads.

If you knew how Sir Alan felt about advertising and he revels very publicly in his loathing of the profession the likely winner of last week's task in The Apprentice would have been obvious.

A quick summary for non-Sky+ footie fans who were otherwise engaged last Wednesday evening: The Apprentice hopefuls had to devise a new tissue brand and come up with an ad campaign to sell it. The two teams took radically different approaches. One had a great name for their brand Atishu a pack design so brightly orange that it hurt, and the sort of hammy advert that makes real TV campaigns seem like Hollywood.

The other team, lef by Raef, had a soothing mauve pack design and a sweet little ad that might just have winged it in a real ad break.

But the man who has described himself as "the advertising man's nightmare", the man who thinks ad agencies are more interested in winning awards than in selling stuff, was never going to go for the "arty-farty" ad that buried the product.

No, Sir Alan was clearly going to pick the advert with the lingering pack shots, the relentless iteration of the tissue's antibacterial qualities and the design that would zing off shelves.

"I didn't send you out to make a remake of Ben-Hur," Sir Alan told the surprised losers. "This was a hard-selling television advert. It's all very well being artistic, but the artist has to put bread in his mouth."

I wonder how many brand managers and marketing directors found themselves nodding in agreement. Clients, the ad clich goes, always want bigger logos, more prominent pack shots; creatives see it as their job to argue these down. Sir Alan hit a raw nerve: the ongoing tension between advertising as art and advertising as blunt sales tool. The best ads tread a fine line between the two jobs. But few clients get the best ads; an awful lot of clients get ads for brands none of us can name.

If last week's episode of The Apprentice proved anything it's that this advertising business isn't as easy as it looks.

The contestants' lack of marketing nous was painfully apparent, though their delusional confidence in their mastery of the subject was frightening. Even their hosts at the ad agency Ogilvy not quite a creative powerhouse itself could barely keep a collective straight face.

Perhaps copies of David Ogilvy's book Confessions of an Advertising Man should have been force-fed to all of the contestants before they began. The company's founder is famed for his wisdom about advertising, but also about business and about life. His book is just back in the bestsellers' list 45 years after it was first published, riding high on the crest of a wave of nostalgia for 1960s advertising.

Despite its age, the book has some sound advice for anyone in advertising and marketing today. Here are a few nuggets: "The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Don't insult her intelligence." "Unless your campaign contains a Big Idea it will pass like a ship in the night." "You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them into buying it."

That last one is an Ogilvy-ism that Sir Alan understands very well. He might loathe adland, but he has certainly mastered the art of branded entertainment. He knows that by providing something interesting, compelling even, he's much more likely to sell. Thanks to The Apprentice, the Alan Sugar brand has never been more popular.

A COUPLE of years ago at the Edinburgh Television Festival I took part in a debate about the opportunities for TV production companies to steal some ad agency lunch by working with brands to develop content.

The theory went like this: ad agencies were good at short content (30 seconds), but the impact of the commercial break was diminishing. Multi-channel fragmentation, zapping, personal video recorders, clutter: they were all starting to bite.

So brands would do well to get away from the ad breaks and into the programmes. Product placement was one route, but a crude one. Funding content content that had an empathy with the brand and a resonance with its target consumers could be a much more powerful and engaging alternative.

The TV production industry was excited by the prospect of a big new revenue stream, and concerns about editorial interference from grubby advertisers seemed rather mute.

Anyway, several years on and advertiser-funded content grows apace, but not nearly as quickly as you might have imagined from the enthusiasm in Edinburgh. No doubt advertisers' innate conservatism has played a part.

Now Endemol has launched a specialist division to drive the ad-funded market. New State hopes to build on Endemol's experience with ITV's Orange Playlist and Channel 4's Vodafone TBA music events to create content for advertisers that can run not just on TV but across mobile networks and the web.

Endemol's timing is good. Advertisers are warming to the idea of content, particularly content that is portable across media. And the media owners are keen, too. Broadcast media have become a bottomless pit where content is concerned, and ad-funded content is a neat way of cost-effectively filling all those hours of airtime across hundreds of digital channels.

But viewers' suspicion of content with a covert commercial foundation is growing. The problem is that so much hasn't really been very good, and the brand associations clumsily made. That might not matter so much when the content in question is basic entertainment, but what about more serious subjects?

The Home Office is about to put this to the test. It is co-funding an eight-part documentary series on Sky called Border Police in a bid to persuade us that it has a sound grip on illegal immigration. It's a brave strategy by the Home Office, but will it simply reinforce our swelling cynicism about the advertiser-funded format?

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign