Thursday, 20 June 2013

Don't Fancy Yours Much - Ad Week on The Apprentice

I don’t mind admitting that I’m excited about tonight’s edition of The Apprentice. The advertising task is now as much of a reality TV staple as Big Band week on X-Factor, or a racial sensitivity debrief on Big Brother. It’s a chance for an agency full of rolled-up Diesels to swivel their magnified eyeballs in horror, as a quartet of pin-striped pricks bumble their way through a mangled pitch.

It’s another early morning, and Leah is looking entirely confused by the sounds emitted by the dildophone. Things don’t get any better when she answers it, inadvertently revealing what we’ve known all along – there’s no-one on the other end. The boys are all preening in the bathroom in matching underwear, like the Primark Chippendales, but they’d better get a wriggle on, since Lord Sugar’s expecting them at Marylebone town hall.

Apparently, this place is home to hundreds of weddings a year, which gets us one step closer to the reveal of tonight’s task. Something about weddings and relationships and dating websites. Honestly, these explanations are getting so convoluted, Ted Rogers would struggle to follow them.  

Lord Sugar rattles through his set-up to make the point that the “onlike dating industry has exploded.” He even throws in a market size statistic to emphasise his point, but no-one takes him to one side to explain that apps are eating into the viability of these creaking platforms. What do you want from The Apprentice? Actual business insight? Anyway, the teams are told they need to come up with a new dating concept and a TV campaign to promote it. Given that dating websites usually get advertised on the channels that have a presenter in a living room thinking of a number and inviting viewers to call in and guess, the anticipated lack of production values may actually stand them in good stead for once.

As the challenges of this week’s task sink in, Maleficent Milquetoast reveals that he first saw his wife online. “But it wasn’t a dating site,” he adds cryptically, prompting his colleagues to wonder whether they hired the other girl as an au pair, and kept the cup as a souvenir.

Over on the other team, Alex is waxing philosophical about life’s rich pageant: “Some people are gay, some people are lesbian, some people are heterosexual. There are so many variants…” Well, that’s three. Sensing his colleagues’ indifference, he adds that he’s "the Christian Grey of The Valleys". Which is bullshit - that's Tom Jones. Alex is the Noseybonk of the Valleys. 

At agency Karmarama, Jason announces that he used to run a dating website, which saw him known as ‘Mr Cupid’. He even does air-quotes to emphasise his point. Meanwhile, Alex and Jason are both pitching for the role of PM. Leah and Maleficent go for Jordan, because at least he doesn’t look like a child’s painting on a balloon. Slipping effortlessly into his leadership role, Jordan tells us he wants another 50,000 foot view. I’m sure this obsession with heights comes from the fact that he buys his suits in Baby Gap. He runs through the allocation of roles, and points out that Alex is going to be strong on “the tech side of things.” Which should come in handy, if building a dating website means they also need to rewire a pleasure-giving Fembot.

The other team has decided to focus on the grey market, despite the fact that they talk about over-50s as if they’re discussing an exhibit at the Natural History Museum. Luisa says she wants to throw a spanner in the works, but that’s behaviour suited to more specialist websites. Across town, Maleficent and Leah are staging a photoshoot in the city and have managed to pick a man so posh that he makes Boris Johnson look like a character on Shameless.

Neil and Francesca decide on some market research, and choose a run-down pub where several pensioners appear to be in hiding, after breaking out of a retirement village. These may not be the ideal consumers to grill, given that four of them seem to be sharing a single mineral water. No such worries for Jordan, who’s entertaining the other team by channelling the spirit of a strong, sexually-liberated independent woman. By this point, Karren’s cringing so hard that she’s accidentally unhooked her own bra.

While Alex is pitching the not entirely terrible CuffLinks (for young professionals), the other team are leaning towards Friendship & Flowers for their over-fifties website. It’s all sounding a little bit ‘open casket’ – a problem that isn’t helped by a logo design that wouldn’t look out of place etched into a headstone. Luisa’s lost her patience with Jason’s chronic indecision, and decides that the best approach is to repeatedly yell ‘Make a decision, make a decision’ into his ear. As they wander out into the street with their argument still in full flow, it looks as though half of the agency have set up comedy Tumblr’s dedicated to the bickering pair. In the end, Jason decides to relinquish his leadership and pass the role onto Luisa. Having dismissed the rest of the team as a “nest of vipers,” Jason now attempts to post-rationalise his defeat as a boldly courageous step. Like hiding under a school desk as an effective defense against nuclear attack.

The CuffLinks website is looking stuffy and corporate, which disappoints Karren who was hoping they’d settle on something that says “Come here, you can have loads of fun.” I’d love to know what dating sites she’s got in mind.

With the website designs settled, it’s time for the teams to start thinking about their TV ads. Maleficent has decided that they should build their concept around the worst date ever, using a comedy character who represents “a proper Herbert.” Still in full flow, the silver fox also proposes casting half-man Jordan as a strapping six-footer, but I’m not sure their production budget can stretch to a stepladder from HSS Hire.  

Having already cast himself as the definitive Herbert, Alex is now trying to come up with some interesting camera angles for the shoot. “I’m quite a visionary person” he intones, as he smears mascara around his eyes. There’s just time for him to squeeze his awkward frame into a wet t-shirt and jorts before the cameras roll.

The oldies are also filming their ad, and without wanting to pre-empt anything, I can’t see this winning the task for them. For all their talk about dynamic and vibrant older people, the ad looks as if it’s going to end with June Whitfield in a bath-chair, flogging funeral insurance. Nick looks profoundly disappointed that he wasn’t asked to star in it. He even moans that “They’ve gone for mumsy, cosy, huggy. This is my age group.” Francesca is doing what she can, begging them to be “a bit more animated,” like Viktor Frankenstein on a fashion shoot.

With the pitch drawing ever closer, Jordan is worrying about what happens when Alex is left to his own devices, and Luisa is trying to keep Neil the terrier at arm’s length. We finally get to glimpse the finished ads, and I’m happy to report that they’re worthy entries in the Apprentice advertising Hall Of Fame. A young business woman shambles towards the camera moaning into her phone “I’m so late for my online date.” Is she in a rush to log on? Is there no Wi-Fi in the park? And we mustn't ignore Leah’s voiceover, which sounds like a pissed-up Jim McDonald trying to sweet-talk Liz through the letterbox. There are concerns that Alex’s character work might be getting silly, but I’m more concerned that I won’t be able to sleep until the middle of next week.

The agency team has assembled to judge the ads through their splayed fingers, and they’ve been joined by some dating industry big-wigs. The CEO of sent her apologies, saying she was stuck on Channel 5 for the moment. Luisa steps up first, having told Neil that although he's a great presenter, she's going to do it anyway. There are chuckles and looks of disbelief when the Friendship & Flowers website is revealed, since it looks like an abandoned Geocities page. CuffLinks don't exactly come out smelling of roses either, when Francesca explains that the nightmarish Herbert "Is the face of what we're trying to achieve." Smeared in shit and leering threateningly. In the end, the agency experts have a tough time trying to determine a winner from the two teams. The best they can hope for, is to help Lord Sugar identify the least awful. 

Over to the boardroom now, where Sugar is trying to get to bottom of the enigma that is Alex, which is as thankless a task as prizing the lid off the Ark of the Covenant. "Why don't people listen to you, Alex?" he asks, plainly ignoring the obvious and curiously spherical answer that's staring him in the face. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he doesn't hate the Herbert ad either, commenting "There's a lot of humorous ads out there, so they must be successful " Don fucking Draper there. Of course, Alan's never truly happy, so he slates the corporate look of the website and the disconnect between the two, and there's a great shot of a humiliated Jordan taking a hate-gulp of water. Nick also lays into Luisa, telling the vacant Furbee that she was ungracious and rude.

In the end, CuffLinks is good but disjointed, and Flowers & Friendship had the right market but wrong delivery. For no particular reason, CuffLinks are the winner, and they dance out of the boardroom on their way to sample caviar. Somewhere in West London, Jordan is observing that it "tastes like fishy pate," which is just what the woman serving £35,000 worth of Beluga wanted to hear.

Back in the boardroom, and Lord Sugar shows his disdain for market research people. Then again, this is the man who, in 2005, confidently predicted that the iPod would be dead and gone by Christmas. He seems surprised that Jason and Luisa can't agree on who to bring back in, having forgotten the fact that their entire failure was based on a lack of agreement between the two of them. As they continue to bicker, Francesca looks like a bored gooseberry content to check her nails and pout at Karren. When the two women both turn on Jason, Lord Sugar gives him the floor. Jason waxes lyrical about teamwork, prompting the crusty 'business icon' to smile like he's listening to his favourite Chas & Dave tape. Ultimately, it's clear that Jason doesn't have the business instinct so he gets his marching orders, along with the first "with very great regret" of the series. In the aftermath, Karren announces she wants to stick close to Luisa to see if she'd be too much for Alan to handle, making next week's episode sound like one of those after-midnight broadcasts that offers a free minute of unscrambled action.

And finally, as Luisa and Francesca return victorious to the house, we see where Alex got his inspiration for Herbert. That, or Jordan's been raiding the Welsh wonder's wardrobe. 

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