"The Pitch" Subway episode

April 10, 2012

zAMbies?! My Quick Take on “The Pitch”

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Sucker for Shows about Advertising…

Just saw AMC’s “The Pitch,” a reality show about ad agencies going head-to-head to land an account. Although it contained the usual heavy-editing and over-dramatization of most reality shows, it was fun to second-guess real agencies in action.

This episode featured two agencies, WDCW and McKinney going after the Subway breakfast account. My thoughts?

  • WDCW had the better talent. Their writing was clever, and even their stock-photo selection was funny. And that goes to show that creativity alone doesn’t always win accounts.
  • Even if it wins accounts and awards, creativity alone doesn’t always work as marketing. The Subway executives knew that — the “zAMbie” concept was entertaining, but it evoked Crispin-Porter-Bogusky’s freaky ads for Burger King, which generated buzz but not sales. Plus, “zAMbie” is not clear at first glance — and wouldn’t that be a requirement for people who are morning zombies?
  • McKinney nailed the target market with the rapper — and the rapper should get nearly all of the credit. McKinney does deserve some credit for researching and finding a relevant influencer for the target market. Although rap-based commercials to target young people have been done by everyone, they still work. To round out the concept, McKinney should have also pitched a “Breakfast Wrap” to go with the ad.
  • Neither agency talked about the actual product! I kept wondering, when are they going to say what makes Subway sandwiches better and different than the competition? Sure enough, that’s what the Subway execs complained about. Right off the bat, both agencies focused on creating a wild concept that could have been used for ANY restaurant. Hide the Subway logo, and the concepts could have worked for Wienerschnitzel.
  • When were the creatives going to eat at Subway? The episode contained an odd segment about the McKinney creative director trying to make breakfast for her kid. I was waiting for her to take him to Subway. Did that scene land on the cutting-room floor? If so, why include this bit at all?
  • The agencies needed to think beyond themselves. All their concepts targeted themselves as young professionals or hipsters, who think that zombies are a cool way to sell breakfast. I grew up in a working-class town, where young men are wide-awake and heading off to work before 8 am. They’re hitting up fast food because it’s quick, cheap, easy, and tastes good, not because they’re morning zombies.
  • It was a lose-lose situation for WDCW. The bigger agency in L.A. is expected to slaughter a mid-size agency in North Carolina. As the underdog, McKinney stood to gain even if they had lost the competition.
  • With “Mad Men” and now “The Pitch,” AMC has hit on a smart self-promotional formula. Who cares how many people overall watch these shows as long as the agencies watch them? After all, the ad people will sit and watch all the commercials, and they’ll see ads for other AMC shows that they might want to sponsor.

The next “premiere” episode is April 30. Will you be watching?

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

4 Responses

  1. I was struck by the super stone-faced Subway execs, and the same for the senior execs at each agency when the younger folk pitched. Why so serious?
    I wasn’t particularly impressed with either ad, although watching the process was fun. I would’ve liked some stats on what Subway’s target market for breakfast actually is. It was a good thing the rapper was entertaining, because the concept is pretty state! But I’ll probably tune in next time…if it follows Mad men.

  2. I don’t understand how both the Subway marketing people and these ad agencies can lump all “18-24 year olds” into one group, as if everybody in that demo eats at Subway, listens to the same music, buys the same stuff, etc. Just because somebody falls into an age group, doesn’t make them part of your target by default.

    Advertising agencies sell concepts to their customers, the clients. The clients fall in love with or hate a concept, based on their own perceptions, internalized beliefs about their product. At McKinney I think they had some random statistics plastered on the walls about behaviors by the 18-24 year old demo, but nobody, not at Subway, McKinney, nor WDCW actually talked about any of it.

    The truth is, advertising will not make us buy stuff, by default. If advertising could, we would all be broke! All advertising can do is make people aware of you and your product. Whether it is a zAMbie campaign, or some rap act, if you don’t know who your customers are, where they get their information, how they come to buying decisions, what influences them, what motivates them, you might as well take the millions of dollars you’re spending on a spiffy video and the air time you’re planning on buying and flush it down the toilets.

  3. My 2 cents:

    I have a theory that the Subway team were thinking like this:

    “hey, we’re getting awesome marketing with “the pitch” itself! So because we already get the publicity the promotion needs, why not be brave , why not experiment and try an ad that is not that good to prove something in-house in Subway”

    Well, i know, it is surely paranoid :)

    Heck, we should start a petition to ask subway and AMC and to finance the execution of zAMbie concept, and measure the results! How awesome would that be?

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