Young Apprentice: Tacky Strexy splits hairs with karma Chameleon

And just add a bit more pink, would you? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk) And just add a bit more pink, would you? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Hair we go! Two weeks until the final, and Young Apprentice rolled out the classic advertising task to give the Apprenti-Kids™ a hair-raising experience as they attempted to invent a new hair-styling product and create a TV advert for it. Neither team really gelled and both ended up splitting hairs over their direction, but ultimately it was Navdeep Bual who received the hairdryer treatment and became the sixth casualty of the boardroom, leaving just half of the original 12 still in the running for the winner’s £25,000 investment fund.

And just add a bit more pink, would you? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
And just add a bit more pink, would you? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Blasts from the past

The advertising task is one of the trickier challenges the teams face, requiring the candidates to achieve in a few days what would normally take a team of experts several weeks and a significant budget to achieve. Of course, that is a combination which generally guarantees comedy gold. Who could forget Philip Taylor’s cereal-promoting creation Pants Man? (Pants by name, pant by nature, as it turned out.)

Or Christopher Farrell’s innuendo-laden advert for his Octi-Kleen household cleaner, shot unwittingly in the style of a 1970s porn film?

Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon

A first stint as PM for Maria yielded a welcome win (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
A first stint as PM for Maria yielded a welcome win (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

It’s Ashleigh Porter-Exley‘s turn to receive the inevitable morning phone call, which this week summons the candidates to a London hair salon. Lord Sugar informs them of their task to make a TV advert for a new hair-styling brand of their own creation, which they must then pitch to the obligatory room of suitably stern ad agency professionals.

This week’s Apprenti-Shuffle™ sees Andrew Tindall and Lucy Beauvallet sent over to Odyssey to join Navdeep and Steven Cole. Meanwhile Patrick McDowell and Maria Doran transfer over to Platinum to join Ashleigh. Sugar names Andrew and Maria as project managers.

The teams set up base at ad agency Havas, where we are helpfully informed that a catchy name and a well-defined target market are critical to the launch of a new hair product. (Or, indeed, any new product.) Maria’s Platinum team quickly decide to focus on women, with Ashleigh sagely declaring that “sex sells”. (She had clearly watched the episode of grown-up Apprentice where Natasha Scribbins declared the same thing about her approach to freemium magazines.) They run with the idea of Strexy (an amalgamation of ‘strong’ and ‘sexy’) as their brand name. Meanwhile Odyssey decide to target men, in particular trendy, alternative festival-goers. After Steven sets off down an animal theme, they agree on Chameleon.

Both teams conduct focus group research, Ashleigh tries out their concept with an all-girl roller derby team – whatever next, mud wrestlers? – while Lucy and Navdeep conduct Odyssey’s research with an indie boy band.

The next task for both teams is to design their packaging. Maria and Patrick start out with a leopard print design which she rapidly morphs into pink spots on a bright blue background to produce something which looks unnervingly like an acne-riddled sky. Ashleigh isn’t keen, but Maria stands by her decision, reasoning:

Strexy is a tacky brand … If we’re going to be tacky we’re going to go all out there and be tacky.

Steven was a one-man ideas machine. Not sure about 'Brian', though (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
Steven was a one-man ideas machine. Not sure about ‘Brian’, though (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Karren Brady is unimpressed about any brand owner referring to their own product as tacky. She’s probably thinking about Gerald Ratner, who famously brought down his own jewellery chain by making an off-the-cuff remark about his products being ‘crap’. It’s certainly a courageous decision by Maria, and one which also underlines Ashleigh’s fundamentally conservative nature.

Over at Odyssey, the team realises that they want their product to be about standing out from the background, but have a brand named after an animal known for blending into it. Steven at least suggests Brian (“the only friend you can depend on”) as an alternative name, whereas Navdeep does little more than point out that she disagrees with Andrew, but without offering any other ideas. Eventually, even Nick Hewer – for whom it has clearly been a long day as we see him slumped on a sofa – has had enough, pointing out that “you’ve gone round in circles and it’s getting late” before receding into a deep coma. With time running out, they stick with Chameleon.

Strexy and I know it

Ashleigh - a back-seat director? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
Ashleigh – a back-seat director? (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The following day the teams must create their advert. Platinum set up at an East End boxing club for their shoot, which involves a girl boxer beating up some boys by whipping them with her hair. No, really. The day descends into an incessant exchange of haymakers between Ashleigh, who disagrees with everything Maria says, and Maria, who stands her ground while taking her ‘input’ on board in surprisingly reasonable fashion. It ends up with both of them attempting to direct the shoot. Patrick is well out of it as he tries, with the aid of some considerable digital manipulation, to lay down a strong and sexy voiceover. (Hey, if technology can make Cheryl Cole sound like a half-decent singer …)

Odyssey have based themselves at a swimming pool where Andrew throws in a last-minute attempted funny where one of his male models walks away with some toilet paper attached to his shoe. O-kaaay.

If the song fits

The third and final day sees both teams present to a room full of advertising professionals. Maria pitches Strexy – and does a fine job – while the usually polished Navdeep is more hesitant in her presentation of Chameleon.

A win for Navdeep, despite some dodgy costings (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
Navdeep struggled with her pitch (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

Strexy’s overly aggressive concept is questioned, while it’s evident that the audience needs help understanding Andrew’s toilet paper gag. If you have to explain the joke, it isn’t funny …

The best part of both adverts is the fitting choice of backing track, Strexy’s hair-whipping ad gets – obviously! – Whip My Hair by Willow Smith (yes, that’s Will Smith’s daughter). Genius. There really is a song for every occasion, isn’t there? Chameleon gets the equally appropriate Express Yourself by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – a track which dates back to 1971 but also recently sampled by Labirinth.

To be fair to both teams, although both ads are a bit clunky in some respects, there’s no repeat of the kind of embarrassment that their grown-up predecessors have come up with in the past. Pants Man can rest easy.

Boardroom Brouhaha™

Task completed, the following morning brings the teams back to the boardroom. Sugar has clearly invested in a new joke book as he rattles off a series of not-bad quips about Jedward being responsible for half the sales of hair-styling products in the UK and Didier Drogba on Ice – coming soon to a theatre near you for the holiday season.

In between he quizzes the teams on how they felt the task went. Ashleigh and Maria don’t attempt to hide their clashes, although the former’s attempt to brand her project manager as “indecisive” during their boxing ad shoot are below the belt. To me, it looked less like Maria being indecisive and more like her attempting to be diplomatic in not allowing Ashleigh to run the entire show. Sugar has some fun over their Strexy name, saying that he’s more like Strumpy, as in ‘strong’ and ‘grumpy’. Sounds more like the eighth Dwarf to me.

Sugar’s initially unimpressed at the notion of using Chameleon for a product that is supposed to be about standing out, but he seems to be partially won over when Odyssey explain that they flipped the meaning to be about the gel adapting itself to an individual’s style. They might have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids the fact that their ad didn’t really communicate this clearly and confused people by trying to be too clever. Which means that Platinum, despite the tackiness of their product and their packaging, have done enough to win the task.

And rightly so, in my opinion. One of the keys to winning the advertising task has always been the importance of clear, simple and consistent messaging across all elements of the brand: name, slogan, packaging and advert. Strexy may have been tacky, but it was consistently and unmistakably tacky. Chameleon, as befitted its name, never really had a defined identity. Maria’s clear vision won the day over Andrew’s confused one. The correct team won.

For their treat, Platinum go to visit Labirinth – a coincidence? I don’t think so – at his studio to record their own version of one of his tracks, Let the Sun Shine. There are grey clouds hanging over Odyssey, though, who don’t even have the comfort of the familiar surroundings of the Cafe of Broken Dreams™, instead being despatched to what appears to be the Canteen of Broken Chairs. The entire team lays into Andrew, who doesn’t take the criticism particularly well.

Andrew survived by the skin of his teeth (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
Andrew survived by the skin of his teeth (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

The Andrew-bashing continues back in the boardroom, with Lucy, Steven and Navdeep all agreeing that Andrew was the Worst Project Manager Evah™ and responsible for their failure on the task by not resolving the confusion over their concept. Sugar seems to agree, although he does also wonder whether Navdeep is a one-trick pony good for pitching and nothing else.

Ultimately Andrew elects to bring back Navdeep and Steven, to the latter’s consternation. The project manager tries to explain that Steven did “nothing special”, which is unduly harsh given that he was their primary source of ideas. Andrew then turns on Navdeep, saying she lacked enthusiasm at the pitch, which she refutes by citing her difficulty in dealing with their muddled concept. Sugar doesn’t entirely buy this, picking up on an observation from earlier episodes that she is clearly bright but has yet to demonstrate business nous, before rounding on Andrew again and noting that he has now lost five tasks out of six.

It’s by now clear that Steven is safe, and Sugar confirms this by telling him that he has done “tremendously well in this process” and will be sent back to the house. He reiterates his disappointment in Andrew as a five-time loser, causing the youngster to wipe the gathering sweat off his increasingly furrowed brow – and then directs his Digit of Doom™ at Navdeep. Gotcha!

In the Riches-To-Rags Roller™, Navdeep departs with her head held high:

To get six weeks into it shows that I’ve done something amazing and I’m really proud of myself. I thought I was an amateur when I began and I’ve managed to beat out a lot of other people, so I’m really proud of myself and I do think the future’s going to be incredibly good for me.

As Sugar observed, budding politician Navdeep is an intelligent girl who undoubtedly presents well in front of others, but I would agree with his assessment that she had not shown any obvious business ability during her time in the competition. Some people are simply not suited to the business world, but that does not preclude them from being successful in other walks of life. Good luck to her. I think she can perhaps consider herself to be a little unfortunate to have exited ahead of Andrew, but equally it had become increasingly obvious over the last few tasks that she was not a serious contender.

Winners and losers

Last week I ranked the final seven in the order I expected them to finish. With Navdeep now gone, here’s how I think this task has altered the pecking order:

Lucy remains my tip to win  (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)
Lucy remains my tip to win (image courtesy of bbc.co.uk)

1. Lucy (last week: 1st): On the losing team this week and not her best showing, but another solid contribution reflected in the fact that she was the one team member Andrew chose not to bring back into the boardroom. The only remaining candidate yet to face the final boardroom. For me, she is the most solid all-rounder and therefore still my tip to win.

2. Steven (2nd): This week showcased his ability as an ideas generator – although his knowledge of animals was poor – and a willingness to stand up when he disagreed with something. The inclusion in the broadcast edit of Sugar’s fulsome praise for him in the boardroom suggests he’s a nailed-on certainty for the final.

3. Maria (5th): Has calmed down significantly in recent weeks and handled Ashleigh well in a difficult situation, rebuffing her attempts to take over without being overly aggressive about it. Kept her concept clear and consistent throughout. A good week, a win as PM and she’s well on her way into a redemption arc here. Now a contender.

4. Ashleigh (3rd): Was conservative in her approach to branding and positioning, which is consistent with her sole strategy of cost reduction as seen in previous tasks. Continues to show limited entrepreneurial spirit and her attempts to bulldoze Maria out of the way – a repeat of last week’s insistence on not letting go of her own ideas – will not have gone unnoticed.

5. Andrew (4th): A shining star in the first couple of weeks, he continues to slide backwards. Poor direction and decision-making here condemned his team to defeat, and he was lucky to survive. Looked on the point of tears at times in the boardroom and did not handle criticism well. If he is on the losing side next week, he’s gone. Unless …

6. Patrick (7th): Has been flying under the radar for the past three or four weeks, avoiding high-profile responsibilities and just doing as he’s told. Practically invisible this week, despite wearing possibly the most garish shirt ever (see the image at the top of this post). Unproven business abilities, and decisions he made in the first two weeks were universally poor. Lucky to have survived this far and helped immensely by being on the winning team in the past two weeks and having avoided the boardroom altogether since week one.

In summary, Maria has moved up, leapfrogging Ashleigh and Andrew. Patrick remains a dead man walking. With two candidates being fired next week, watch out for who Sugar moves where at the start of next week. Whoever he rates as his top two are likely to be kept in separate teams to ensure that he can save them in the event of them being on the losing side. My guess is he will choose to split up Lucy and Steven.

Next week: Selling at a festival. Holy Glastonbury, Batman!

Young Apprentice continues on BBC1 on Thursday at 8pm. Full recaps will be posted here after every episode.

Link: BBC Young Apprentice website

Young Apprentice season 3:

Preview

Rags to riches

Cookery book

Theatre props

Afternoon tea

Kids club