I’ve never understood why so many people want to work in advertising. An ad agency is, by all accounts, a fearsomely tricky place to get a job, especially as a so-called "creative".
But then, after all that struggle, all those pairs of thick-rimmed spectacles and asymmetrical haircuts, the sum total of your contribution to Western civilisation is an insurance-selling meerkat, or a jingle for a mobile phone network that makes everyone who hears it wish they were deaf.
If advertising does have one heart-warming gift to humanity, however, it is on The Apprentice (BBC One), where it is neck and neck with the interview round as the series’s most consistently entertaining task. And so it proved again last night, as our two teams of bungling business-types – Team Logic, led by Vincent, and Team Venture, led by Glenn – each had to make and market a new brand of pet food.
The fun started, as it so often does, in the eye of a brainstorm. Logic were struggling to find a compelling name for their new dog food (“Fur Play?”) when Vincent had a flash of inspiration.
“What I thought we could do,” he said, his eyes ablaze with the brilliance of his own idea, “is have some sort of advert where you’ve got the old-school labrador that everybody loves, and you’ve got the It-boy pug. When you get them together they don’t like each other too much but at the end they become pals. And that would be the name of the brand: Pals.” Charles and Maurice Saatchi must have been kicking their coffee table in frustration. Why didn’t we think of that?! Until, that is, Ellie spotted a tiny flaw.
“Pal is already a name,” she said.
“It’s the second biggest dog food brand in the world,” chipped in Tom helpfully. And so Vincent returned, crestfallen, to his drawing board where after a string of similarly dismal ideas, ranging from the daft (“Total Dog”) to the meaningless (“Hungry for Better”), they settled on “Everydog”, the dog food for every, erm, dog.
Venture, meanwhile, were having similar difficulties naming cat food. There were just too many terrible ideas to choose from. “A spa day for a cat,” brainstormed one candidate. “A cat with fur so long you can put rollers in it,” said another. “What about cats having their own mortgage?” What indeed.
Thankfully for his befuddled team, Glenn has a background in design engineering, whatever that might be, where he performs spontaneous acts of creativity on “a day-to-day basis”. Sadly this proved to be one of Glenn’s off days. His name and tagline for Venture’s slimming cat food – “Cat-Size, see their light” – was supposedly a pun on the reflective cats’ eyes you find in the road.
But my reaction to it was the same as Nick Hewer’s, who narrowed his eyes into a pained, long-suffering squint and gazed disconsolately into the middle distance, looking for all the world as if he’d just sat on a tin of Everydog.
Now, with their nonsensical pet food names reproduced on similarly ghastly packaging it was time to make the TV commercials. The results were disappointing. Both teams’ ads were predictable and dull, involving standard Pedigree Chum-style shots of cats and dogs wolfing bowls of Cat-Size/Everydog.
However, there was one glorious exchange between Vincent and a proud dog-owner before the cameras rolled. Her dog was sitting obediently on its haunches. Vincent, as self-appointed doggy casting director, wanted something a little different.
“Can we have the dog on all fours?” he asked.
“On all fours?” replied the owner, blankly.
“You know, on all fours,” Vincent explained, “rather than sitting down.”
“Do you mean standing up?”
“Yeah, standing up.”
Conspiracy theorists maintain that some bits of The Apprentice must be scripted, but it would take a comic writer of Glenn’s awesome day-to-day creativity to dream up something that good.
Back in the boardroom it was a tough job to choose between two such magnificently terrible campaigns. Lord Sugar had every right to fire everybody in the room, perhaps even including himself. In the end, he confined himself to two P45s: one for Ellie, for not contributing any ideas to the task, and the other for Vincent, for contributing too many.
It was a stunning coup de grâce. Lord Sugar may have a shaky grasp of anatomy (he says he wants to work with someone with “the balls to smell what is going on in business”), but he’s good at smelling rats. Vincent, preposterously, had failed to bring his pal Jim back into the boardroom, even though the Everydog name was Jim’s idea. Instead, Natasha, who had done a half-decent job of directing their ad, found herself in the final three. An incensed Sugar, however, was having none of it: after Ellie had been sent packing it was Vincent’s turn to be humanely destroyed. Every dog had had its day.