Adland Isn’t Buying into ‘The Pitch’

With its retro ad-agency drama hit “Mad Men,” AMC made — of all things — advertising sexy again. It’s trying to carry that success over to its latest addition to its Sunday-night programming: “The Pitch.”

“The Pitch” is AMC’s new ad-agency reality-competition show, pitting agencies McKinney and WDCW against each other for the Subway account. (The mere mention of the Subway account conjures in some the unfortunate memory of the infamous Subway pitch video put out by Agency.com, an effort so horrific that many trace the agency’s demise to it.) It just premiered this past Sunday conveniently, or rather unfortunately for the show, right after “Mad Men.” How can a regular, old agency guy in a cotton tee and thick glasses in a conference room compare to the classically handsome and dapper Don Draper who who drinks during the day as he goes  in and out of important meetings? Seems like it’s an uphill battle for the man in the tee and glasses.

The critics and people in the agency world themselves are not buying it. “‘The Pitch’ mostly serves as a cautionary tale to young people considering a career in advertising,” writes The New York Times’ Neil Gelzinger. “It screams: ‘Don’t do it; kid. It’s a drab, unpleasant line of work in which cheesy slogans and gimmicks pass for creativity.’” Avi Dan, founder of Avidan Strategies, in his contributed piece for Forbes, says, “There is really very little in this show that resembles how a pitch is done in practice.”

Real-life agency folks aren’t impressed with the show either. Here are some responses we received and some we found on Twitter from people in the agency world about “The Pitch”:

From Barbara Lippert, former ad critic at Adweek

A lot of sound, fury, and strutting in expensive suits and designer eyewear on a great stage, signifying what?  No Be Zambie? I guess the word “cringe-making” covers everything. It was unfortunate that this preview of “The Pitch” had to follow the most dramatic, upsetting, violent, and brilliantly written episode of “Mad Men” this season. The dense, fascinating episode focused on a shoe pitch, set against the actual happenings of two days in July,1966, which included  Richard Speck’s mass murder of 8 nurses, the Chicago Riots, a plane strike, the Viet Nam war, and civil rights violence, to name a few. Whereas on “The Pitch,” we get to see some good looking, comfortable, upper middle class people who drive nice cars and work in wonderfully architected places prepare to pitch a Subway breakfast sandwich. The fact that there was no time for real research or strategy made the process seem that much more shallow. Maybe that, and the fact that the winning campaign involved hiring a white rapper from YouTube to come to the Connecticut pitch room, and make a surprise entrance, like a stripper, delighting everybody with his personal stylings, which in itself was a little cringe-making.”

@bogusky, co-founder of Cripsin Porter + Bogusky

@renoun, Cameron Fleming, copywriter and @strictlycircus, Ben Thoma, senior art director, Razorfish

From Mat Zucker, copywriter and former CCO at Ogilvyone

Perhaps some in agency world are cringing at “The Pitch” because, albeit with extra melodrama, posturing and sound design, it feels so real —the pace, the personalities and even awkward internal reviews of work. In the Subway preview, strategy got the shrift, but creative development was authentic right down to the teachable moment when McKinney’s CCO tells juniors one should actually show food. The series of course also reinforces to clients how easy it is to get free ideas from agencies. The only thing unrealistic was the result: McKinney won with, to me, a weaker idea and what looked like an awful presentation.

@rickwebb, co-founder of Barbarian Group

@kmaverick, director of earned media, Barbarian Group

Watch the first episode of “The Pitch” here if you are still interested in it.

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