Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

If the TV crews come calling, just tell them straight off: 'You're fired'

Apparently, these days Saatchi & Saatchi styles itself as an ideas company, not an ad agency. But it is not so proud as to turn down Mark Burnett, Talkback Thames and the BBC when they come a-calling, looking for ad agency stooges to take part in an episode of The Apprentice with Sir Alan Sugar (pictured below).

As I wrote recently when the Red Brick Road was approached by a reality-TV crew about filming its founding (weren't they plain and simple "fly on the wall" crews once?) - just say no! There isn't a TV producer in London or New York who goes into a documentary involving an ad agency intending to show its essential worth to society, the good works it does, its caring, sharing DNA and how all its staff strive for world peace and help old ladies across the street.

The Apprentice's multiple producers weren't so different. They could barely stifle their collective sniggers as they told us about the "ideas company" thing, and let their cameras pan over the "nothing is impossible" slogan etched into the front doorstep of 80 Charlotte Street.

To be honest, nor could I when the competing teams walked wide-eyed and nervous into the "blue sky" thinking room, which was decorated as, um, a room with a blue sky and clouds on the ceiling, and what looked like giant Post-it notes. It felt more David Brent than David Abbott.

That's not to be mean to John Wright, the Saatchi managing director, who managed not to humiliate himself too much, although I would love to have seen him do a motivational dance in front of a ghetto blaster. The ever-young creative director, Kate Stanners, also emerged relatively unscathed, although it was a bit scary to see quite how many creatives work in the creative department there. What on earth do they all do?

Was Stanners at St Luke's when that agency allowed itself to be the subject of the most excruciating of all series on ad agencies, back in the 1990s? Memory fails me on names, but I can somehow recall a huge, intense agency "stakeholder" dispute about sending a female executive flowers to say thank you for a job well done. I still blush now - and I've never worked in advertising, let alone St Luke's.

I digress. Of course, both teams' ideas for Sir Alan's AMSAir chartered private jet credit-card were terrible. One group totally misinterpreted the brief to focus on a so-called concierge service, dressing the actor as a hotel concierge. The other team shot a film in which a man who looked like a ham actor playing a second-rate businessman appeared to be playing with himself as he lolled back in the seat of his executive jet.

One group went off casting actors and scouting locations without actually having chosen an idea first - or, to be honest, coming close to having one. Among the other group, there was wonderful infighting, particularly involving Manni, the management consultant who presented himself without shame as "a world-class presenter".

Clearly, something went wrong in the making of this film. The same happened in the original American version I saw last year in New York, where Donald Trump appeared distinctly underwhelmed by ad man Donny Deutsch's protégés. In the British episode, which I saw last week, the producers chose not even to reveal to us what Kate and John's choice was.

Was that because Sir Alan described even the winning ad as "mediocre" (to put it politely) and asked the losers patronisingly: "Was I talking Russian?" in an attempt to understand how they could misunderstand him so badly. He described one commercial as like a "Debbie Does Dallas Seventies porno video," which probably says more about him than it does about its horrible, aspiring creators.

Unlike Trump, Sir Alan did actually allow one group to go home as winners: the "magic card" team. Their idea was... oh, what does it matter? To be blunt, what's Sir Alan Sugar doing judging advertising anyway? What was the last memorable Amstrad or Viglen ad you can remember?

Saatchis got off relatively lightly, and - if anything - the whole exercise proved just how difficult it is to actually create advertising. Wright and Stanners can still hold their heads high in the Carpenter's Arms, but what was the point of it all? Or was it just harmless fun, and I'm becoming increasingly curmudgeonly? That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

GRUMPY OR not, I find myself understanding less, not more. Two weeks ago, the Government announced a new £500,000 ad campaign warning men against date rape and not getting a "yes" before sex. It got quite a lot of publicity, not least because of the image in the ad of a woman wearing knickers with a "no entry" sign on them.

Let's leave aside for a moment the obvious point that you'd never go near a woman who had such bad taste in skanky knickers, and look at what happened last week. The Sentencing Guidelines Council made two astonishing suggestions. First, it recommended that the average sentence for rapists be reduced by 15 per cent (12 months off a seven-year sentence) because prisons are overcrowded and too "demanding" - a curious euphemism if ever I saw one. The second genius idea was that wife- and girlfriend-batterers no longer be sent to jail, but to community education courses to "help change their behaviour". As ever, what can advertising possibly achieve in the face of such widespread misguided nonsense?

CONGRATULATIONS TO Barry Cook and his gang over at Krow on winning the Fiat account from Leo Burnett, his former agency. Krow has started slowly since launching last year. Fiat may not at first sight seem like a mouthwatering account, but it has enough media spend for the agency to get noticed if the client lets it do some decent work. It's also extremely difficult to wrestle this type of business out of the hands of multinational agencies. What are they there for otherwise? Next, the team may even get round to rethinking their terrible name ("work" backwards, apparently). The talents there deserve better.

THIS NEXT story was a bit buried in Marketing Week magazine when I read it. I am not sure how "real" it is because, if it were, surely it would have been higher up the magazine? Here's what it said: "The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising is recommending that advertising agencies abolish dedicated account teams altogether to avoid problems over new European employment laws which come into effect in two weeks' time."

It suggested that the proposed Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 could see winning agencies being forced to hire the entire staff on the account that worked at the losing agency. The example Marketing Week gave was Fallon, which would have to hire all of Orange's account team at Mother.

Is this really what the proposals mean? It seems entirely nonsensical, which of course is not at all to say it's not true; this is EU legislation, after all. But if the story is true, this is potentially catastrophic for the ad industry as we know it. How on earth could the differing salary structures be accommodated, etc etc? So many questions. Can anyone enlighten me?

E-mail stefanohat1@aol.com if you've ever presented creative work to Sir Alan Sugar

HATFIELD'S BEST IN SHOW: VAUXHALL ZAFIRA

I've been meaning to pick this ad for ages. It is probably the commercial I've seen the most in the six months or so I have been back in the UK, and it leaves me smiling every time. It's not just that the child performances are wonderful and the parents' expressions priceless, or that the dialogue is witty and the set-up original. All this is true; but it is also filmed with the delightfully light touch typical of Paul Weiland behind the camera, and it is unmistakably branded Zafira. It's proof that Lowe can still do first-rate work on Vauxhall, and that General Motors' brands can have great advertising if they try hard enough.

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