Young Apprentice: How to win the deodorant task

It’s time for Young Apprentice to tackle everyone’s favourite task: advertising. Four weeks into the process Team Atomic have yet to win a single task – and Harry M is the only candidate to have lost in every week so far – so the pressure will be on them to end their nightmare run.

Deciding the winner of the task is always a subjective matter – there are no definitive measures such as sales or profit to separate the teams here – but the series has tackled advertising enough times for there to be some clear dos and don’ts which the eight remaining candidates would be wise to heed. Here is my guide as to how to win the task.

The task

Philip Taylor's Pants Man was, indeed, pants (image courtesy of

Atomic and Kinetic are given the challenge of creating a new brand of deodorant aimed at the youth market. They must then create a TV advert to support their product’s launch, and then pitch the campaign to a group of advertising and branding experts.

There are many reasons why this is most people’s favourite task. Firstly, it is a departure from the standard sell-stuff-to-people challenge which comprises the majority of Apprentice tasks. It is also the one which is most likely to take the candidates right out of their comfort zones, and has consequently provided some of the most memorable disasters in the show’s history. Who could forget eventual winner Simon Ambrose‘s demented break-dancing in season three? Or Philip Taylor‘s infamous Pants Man character from season five, devised to promote children’s breakfast cereal?

And in season six Christopher Farrell directed the advert for Octi-Kleen, which bore an uncomfortable resemblance to a really bad 1970s sitcom of the type which would no longer be shown on TV for its innuendo-laden political un-correctness:

If the Young Apprentice candidates can come up with something even half as disastrous, we will be in for a classic episode.

The task essentially splits into three distinct phases: creating the brand, filming the advert and making the pitch. Teams can (and frequently do) fall down badly in any of the three stages, but generally speaking a team is more likely to lose the task by failing to create and communicate a clear brand concept than because of a poorly executed ad – largely because the ads are always bad.

1. Creating the brand

This phase typically comprises two key steps: brainstorm a product idea, brand name and slogan, and then test it with a focus group of would-be consumers.

Here is my list of key dos and don’ts for this stage:

  • Accept that you’re not going to reinvent the wheel. Businesses spend huge sums of money employing teams of experts to do this sort of thing. The odds of four kids coming up with an earth-shattering new idea in a couple of hours are infinitesimally small. Look at what currently works in the market, and come up with a slight variant on a theme.
  • Listen to what focus groups tell you. Their opinion is generally spot on, and the insight you can gain from them is vital both in honing the brand positioning and in the final pitch.
  • Be clear and specific about who your target consumer is and what their needs are. In this year’s grown-up Apprentice, Vincent Disneur was fired after the pet food task because he wanted to target every dog with his EveryDog brand, even after focus groups told his team that different dogs have different nutritional needs. If you try to cater for everyone, you usually end up appealing to no one.
  • You don’t have to spend hours brainstorming the best brand name ever. Many of the world’s most-loved brands have dull, generic names (e.g. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes), are simple abbreviations (e.g. Tesco is named after its founders T E Stockwell and Jack Cohen, BMW is short for Bayerische Motoren Werke) or are just made-up words (e.g. iPod, Wii). Pick a half-decent name quickly – in reality, all the best ones have already been claimed in the real world – and free up valuable time for thinking about how to communicate the brand’s positioning.
  • Someone will believe they have the best campaign idea ever, even if it is irrelevant to the team’s product. They will bang on about it endlessly until the project manager gives in. That’s how we ended up with Pants Man. Ignore them.

It is easy to underestimate how critical this first stage is. Get the brand positioning wrong, and it doesn’t matter how good your advert and your pitch are – a fundamentally flawed concept is a sure-fire route to defeat.

2. Filming the advert

There are only a few big things which the teams need to get right in this step, so it is surprising how often they get it wrong. A few key pointers:

  • Too many cooks spoil the broth. Everyone will want to have their say, but it is much better if one individual is in control to ensure a clear, consistent vision.
  • Be consistent with the brand’s key messages. What are the key benefits of the product? Ensure that your advert conveys them appropriately, and don’t make the mistake of trying to communicate too many messages. In a TV ad, you only have time to communicate one or two simple ideas before it becomes too confusing.
  • Ensure the actors you employ in the ad are relevant to your target audience. If you are trying to sell a deodorant targeted at teenage girls, you probably don’t want to use Nick Hewer.
  • Someone will believe they are the next Martin Scorsese, prowling around the set doing that stupid rectangular framing thing with their thumbs and forefingers. They really aren’t. Ignore them. Even if it’s budding film-maker Zara Brownless, who runs the risk of showcasing her directorial abilities rather than actually promoting the product.
  • Someone will want to star in the ad, believing they are the next Robert de Niro and asking poncy questions such as “What’s my motivation here?” They really aren’t. Ignore them.
  • The brand message is everything. Showcase the product and its packaging – it helps if potential consumers know what to look for in store! – communicate what it does and why they should buy it. You do not need to produce an Oscar-winning short film with Oscar-winning performances. (I’m thinking of Zara again here.)

3. Making the pitch

Pitching to a room full of industry experts who might ask you any number of awkward questions is a nerve-wracking prospect. However, the advertising task is rarely won or lost solely on the basis of the pitch. A good one only needs to push a handful of hot buttons.

As with any pitch, it is important to get to the point. Be clear, be concise and know what your key messages are. You’re not doing stand-up comedy – it’s a pitch, just like in any other task.

Cover the basics. It’s amazing how often teams forget this. What is the product? What is the brand name (and why)? Who is the target market? What is unique about your product that will appeal to consumers? What insight do you have from the focus groups or your own knowledge of the market to suggest you have a winning concept? How does this translate into the TV ad?

Pretty much everything else is superfluous. The experts are not going to worry about your creative integrity, or how elements of your ad are intended as an homage to Kathryn Bigelow (Zara’s stated idol) or even Deuce Bigalow. It’s all about the product – no more, no less. Save the rest for your Oscar acceptance speech.

And that’s pretty much it for this week’s ‘how to win’ guide. Except to say that, despite starting this post by saying how different the advertising task is to the standard selling ones, in one important respect it is exactly the same. Despite all the glamour of shooting their own TV advert, as with any other task the team which makes the most sensible and coherent business decisions is the one which will triumph. The task may involve advertising, but it is still fundamentally a business challenge. May the best team win.

Young Apprentice continues on BBC1 on Monday at 9pm.

Link: BBC official website

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