This week the candidates faced a truly transatlantic advertising task. Summit emerged as deserving winners, leading Lord Sugar to fire Lauren Riley for her lack of positive contribution.
Start spreading the news, we’re leaving today
To New York – to make an ad
Varying from poor to bad
James proclaimed himself the hero
While Lauren contributed zero
The candidates are summoned to the American Embassy, where Lord Sugar appears via TV to tell them that this week’s task will be split between London and New York to produce an advertising campaign launching a new soft drink into the US market.
At the London offices of ad agency McGarryBowen, the tussle to become Tenacity’s project manager begins between Lauren and Mark Wright, both of whom were accused of ducking responsibility by Sugar last week. Mark wins out after misrepresenting himself as an advertising expert, whereas he’s actually a sales manager at a digital marketing firm. Nick Hewer picks up on this immediately, but the rest of the team don’t. Having lived and worked together for several weeks, you’d have thought they would have bothered to find out a bit about each other’s jobs by now, wouldn’t you?
Mark elects to take lawyers Lauren and Felipe Alviar-Baquero with him to New York, leaving behind Katie Bulmer-Cooke and his, ahem, best friend Daniel Lassman. I can’t imagine why he did that.
There’s no dispute in Summit, where Bianca Miller is the only team member yet to have served as PM and so she becomes Queen Bee. She selects James ‘I think Americans would love me’ Hill and Solomon Akhtar for the transatlantic field trip, leaving behind Sanjay Sood-Smith and the creatively minded Roisin Hogan.
Tenacity agree on Lauren’s suggestion of a health-conscious, water-based drink and Mark stresses the need to be bold and exciting. Daniel suggests a ‘rememberable’ name such as … Love Water. Meh. Summit plump for a caffeine-based energy drink which, en route to Heathrow, James christens Big Dawg.
At McGarryBowen’s New York base the following morning, the teams take delivery of their newly created products. Mark backs Daniel 100% to create a bold design for Tenacity’s Aqua Fusion. Bianca is less keen on the taste of Big Dawg, drawing an unnecessarily negative response from Sanjay. However, when they try out their drink with the public in Brooklyn the reception is positive, whereas Aqua Fusion gets a more muted reaction.
With Daniel and Katie working on Aqua Fusion’s packaging design, Lauren suggests almost exactly the same thing so they keep going regardless. A frustrated Roisin and Sanjay seek direction from Bianca, who to this point has omitted to tell them their brand name, and gives then only a woolly brief that doesn’t clarify anything.
Queen Bee, James and Solomon audition actresses for their TV ad. Neither of the lads seems to take this overly seriously. Solomon even asks one for her phone number. Smooth.
Felipe Fellini gets creative, Queen Bee gets boring
The next day the US teams review the packaging and digital billboard designs their UK sub-teams have come up with.
Mark is unhappy with Daniel and Katie’s packaging. The logo is small and difficult to read, it doesn’t communicate the product’s benefits clearly and it’s deemed not serious enough. Other than that, great.
Bianca is much happier with Roisin and Sanjay’s work, but the latter whinges again when Bianca challenges an element of their billboard design as being off-message. She’s right as it happens, and Sanjay doesn’t come across in a good light, but he’s not wrong in saying that Bianca hasn’t communicated well with them.
In New York, the day is focussed mostly on shooting the teams’ ads.
Tenacity’s director Felipe sees it as an opportunity to show his creativity and prove that he isn’t boring. However, he gets overexcited and Mark has to calm him down but eventually gets enough footage in the can. In the edit suite later, while Felipe works on cutting their ad together, Lauren makes basic suggestions to Mark as he works on their website and ends up being fobbed off by her project manager, who says:
If you stood Lauren here right now and asked her what she’s done on the task she’d probably tell you she’s done the whole thing. However, I can’t tell you one thing she’s contributed.
Queen Bee occupies the director’s chair for Summit. She proceeds to shoot a set of three personal testimonials that are about as dull as Dullsville on a dull day. She then makes things worse by deliberately omitting the kind of high-tempo, dynamic background music that you would expect an ad for an energy drink targeting a young, dynamic demographic to have. It is quite possibly the worst Apprentice ad ever made – and that’s saying something when you think back to Pants Man and Octi-Kleen – simply because it is so boring.
A big day in the Big Apple
The fourth and final day dawns with both teams seeing their digital billboards in Times Square and James declaring that “the world is as big as our oyster”. Whatever that means.
With the UK teams watching on in London, it’s up to their colleagues in New York to pitch their campaigns to a panel of industry experts.
Summit’s pitch goes down well for the most part. Bianca, James and Solomon put across a strong case for Big Dawg, backed up by Roisin and Sanjay’s strong design work and a tagline of ‘Its bark is as big as its bite’. However, their ad goes down like the proverbial lead balloon and it’s clear that this is by far the weakest part of their presentation.
Sanjay, who clearly still has a (queen) bee in his bonnet about Bianca’s lack of communication, lays into her advert:
The advert is the most boring thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s not even mediocre, it’s just poor.
Whatever his motivation, he’s not wrong.
When Tenacity take the floor, it’s no surprise that Mark is a strong and engaging presenter. But a nervous Lauren is flat and stumbles through her piece despite reading from notes (in stark contrast to her exemplary performance as a tour guide at Blenheim Palace two tasks ago) and Felipe isn’t much better. Back in London, Daniel is man enough to concede that his nemesis Mark did a good job.
Mark is concerned, and for the first time we see a side of him that isn’t entirely confident:
If we win the task, I’m going to go a long way in the process. If we lose, I’d say I’ll be out of the door.
It’s a statement that shows a more vulnerable aspect behind the alpha male bravado that goes a little way to humanising him for viewers.
After gaining input from the experts in New York (summary: Summit bold and strong with a terrible ad, Tenacity less distinctive but with a less awful ad that at least made some emotional connections), the teams reassemble back in the boardroom.
Sugar takes Tenacity to task for the bland visuals of their packaging design. He says the bottle wouldn’t stand out on shelves. He’s right. Their ad is labelled as dull and unadventurous. He’s right again. Commenting on the final pitch, Daniel backs up Mark but calls Lauren unenthusiastic. Unusually, he’s spot on.
Summit are praised for their branding but Sugar pans their ad, calling it “less Big Dawg, more chihuahua” and “a complete and utter joke”.
On balance he decides that Tenacity committed more errors and therefore it’s Summit who win, leaving Mark visibly crestfallen.
For their treat, Summit are sent to the recently opened City Social restaurant at the top of Tower 42 in the city. (Note for those who like this sort of thing: this and the timing of the next episode places filming of this task at some point during May 2014.)
Tenacity lick their wounds at the Cafe of Broken Dreams which, unlike City Social, is not run by a Michelin starred chef. Mark says their brand wasn’t strong enough but, instead of turning on his obvious target Daniel, he backs the UK team for trying 100% and instead singles out Lauren for her lack of contribution.
Back in the boardroom Mark comes under fire for misrepresenting his advertising expertise. In a tit-for-tat exchange, Felipe attacks their weak product and design – Sugar says “you made the Piers Morgan of drinks” – while Daniel calls his ad “two-bob”. However, Sugar is more interested in what Lauren did. Mark says she did nothing.
Ultimately, Mark has no hesitation in selecting Lauren to face the final reckoning – and, regrettably, Daniel.
Daniel takes it personally and their temporary truce is over as the entire discussion rapidly disintegrates. He states he pulled the entire task along with his creativity. Lauren claims she contributed plenty to the task. She did insofar that she came up with the initial product concept, acted in the ad and was part of the pitch, but in terms of really shaping the end result, she contributed little. There’s a subtle difference between the two.
Sugar suggests to Mark that he made a fatal error in having two lawyers on the pitch team, which is a little unfair given that both Lauren and Felipe are articulate enough and that Daniel has proven to be an awful pitcher on previous tasks. Mark’s in genuine fear of his place, but Sugar directs the Digit of Doom at Lauren instead.
So it’s the Taxi to Obscurity for Lauren, who says:
I’m still really shocked. I shouldn’t have even been in the boardroom let alone been fired. Daniel and Mark obviously tactically turned on me, but there’s nowhere for Mark and Daniel to hide. Their day will come.
Hmm. Lauren is clearly an intelligent, articulate woman, well capable of constructing or dismantling an argument. But we hadn’t seen any commercial decision-making or selling skills from her, and that was shown up on this task as she always seemed to be one step behind the rest of her team. Through seven weeks, I got a sense of someone who rarely got things wrong while at the same time never giving Sugar any compelling reasons to keep her.
Still, she always has an alternative career as a tour guide.
Back at the Apprenti-Mansion, James is bigging himself up about how his Big Dawg idea was responsible for winning the task. It’s hard to tell whether he genuinely believes what he says or is just gently winding everyone else up, but experienced Apprentice viewers will recognise foreshadowing when they see it. What’s the old expression about pride coming before a fall?
There’s much less bravado from Daniel upon his return, the relief on his face obvious as he admits:
They call me the cat, but the problem is I’m really running out of lives.
He really is.
The advertising task has always been one of my favourites. It’s a break from the standard variation on a selling theme that demands a different skill set that drags many of the candidates out of their comfort zone and consequently can be quite revealing. It draws more on creative skills and effective communication of a vision, particularly with the teams split across time zones. The fact that this task took place over four days also made it the most detailed and complex of this season. As a result, both teams made some big errors and there were more opportunities for candidates to shine – or flounder – and alter our perceptions of them.
Creativity and design skills formed the bedrock of this task. Both teams had workable products but Roisin and Sanjay clearly outperformed Daniel and Katie. Roisin came out of this best – she has demonstrated her creative/product skills on three tasks now (this one and the board game and home fragrance tasks) – and offers a skill set that none of the others have yet demonstrated. Sanjay blotted his copy-book with an overtly negative attitude – he did have a point, but he was petulant. He’s gone down in my estimation, and the fact we were shown this side of him repeatedly likely points to an imminent exit.
Both Mark and Daniel showed a different side this week, setting aside their differences at least initially. Whether personally driven or not, Mark’s decision to leave Daniel in London made sense. In allocating his resources, he would have recognised that Lauren and Daniel were his least reliable performers, so it made sense to split them to keep the sub-teams balanced.
Up until the boardroom, Daniel impressed me by the way he openly recognised where Mark had done well, while Mark resisted the urge to place all the blame for defeat at Daniel and Katie’s door, acknowledging that they had done as well as they could in an area where neither had a natural strength. It showed unexpected maturity on both their parts. Unfortunately Daniel then undermined himself in the boardroom by responding emotionally to Mark’s selection – the fact his PM carefully called it “regrettable” was a clear flag that he believed Lauren should be fired – and resorting to his usual self-aggrandising claims.
Despite some errors I thought that Mark’s leadership style was good – as did Nick, who made a similar comment in the boardroom. He was calm, directive without being aggressive, he put effort into working with his London sub-team and it was clear that he’s someone who is accustomed to managing and working with teams in his day job. It was also evident in the boardroom that he was genuinely fearful of being fired, demonstrating that he wasn’t complacent despite having had a strong run to this point.
I’ll gloss over Bianca’s poor ad, even though it was the one thing that put the task most at risk. For me her biggest personal failing was communication. Anyone who has ever worked for a multi-site business will know that clear lines of communication are a big challenge – it’s a different beast to when you’re a sole trader or running a small business. Bianca failed on a basic level, forgetting to communicate their Big Dawg brand name to her UK team in advance and leaving them to work in a vacuum without any clear guidance. I still believe she can be a strong contender, but she’s more flawed than she thinks.
My top five currently? In alphabetical order: Bianca, Katie, Mark, Roisin and Solomon. Despite (or perhaps because of) having had a few quiet weeks recently, my money’s still on Katie.
Next time: Jolly japes as the teams seek to make hay at the Royal Bath and West Country Show. Not literally.