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AMC’s ‘The Pitch’ Recap: SK+G Battles the Ad Store for Waste Management

Despite a full-length “sneak preview” that aired in early April, last night marked the official premiere episode of AMC’s ad agency reality show, The Pitch. And, compared to the sneak preview (which pitted McKinney against WDCW for a Subway assignment), the battle for the Waste Management account was much more jam-packed with office drama, in-fighting, ominous music, and surprise twists. Of course, from an advertiser’s perspective, this made it all the more frustrating, albeit compelling, to watch. (MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD)

The episode opens with Waste Management’s CMO David Aardsma inviting Las Vegas-based agency SK+G (who’s largest clients include ARIA Resort & Casino and MGM Resorts International) and NYC-based The Ad Store (who have done work for Mike’s Hard Lemonade, GoDaddy.com and Jet Blue) to the company’s headquarters in Houston. The short creative brief both agencies are given is simple: Help Waste Management re-brand itself as an energy company. As it turns out, Waste Management is using the trash they collect to create renewable energy, and the company needed a smart ad campaign to build brand awareness among the general public (a target demo isn’t mentioned). Aardsma encourages both agencies to look to new media to execute their idea, throwing around well-worn phrases like “edgy” and “go viral.” For both agencies, this seems a bit too difficult of a task to complete, even considering the tight five-day turnaround time from brief to presentation.

Now, here’s where it gets silly. Throughout the episode, SK+G is portrayed as a house of total drama queens. Leading the pitch team are two creative directors, Doug Hentges and Ray Johnson, who don’t stop bickering for the entire hour-long run time. Johnson, apparently the more cut-throat of the two, describes working in the ad world by saying, “There are poets and there are killers. If you can be both, you’ll get rich.” Well, okay then.

After attempting to weed through seemingly hundreds of campaigns/taglines (the agency describes them as interchangeable entities), Johnson stumbles upon the phrase, “Turn Waste into Wow.” Agency partner Jerry Kramer approves (really?), and the agency goes to work. But, the drama continues, with Hentges controversially “sneaking” home to visit his young children briefly. As those back at the agency voice their disapproval, Hentges heads back to his office, leaving his crying child standing at the front door. Ladies and gentleman, this is television.

Meanwhile, Ad Store founder/chairman Paul Capelli describes his agency’s fall from grace. The SK+G team looks down on him, making fun of his accent and casually mentioning that Capelli’s “not going through life with an Oxford degree” (really?). Similarly, Capelli looks down on himself, saying that if the Ad Store doesn’t win the Waste Management project, the agency will probably have to shut its doors. Yes, they’re portrayed as the sympathetic character, led by a man past his prime trying to repeat success from decades past. If we’re to believe the AMC camera crew (we don’t), it looks like no more than five people work at the agency, including a young art director named Steven who’s revealed (in a surprise twist) to be Capelli’s boyfriend of the last 15 years.

After experiencing what the show labels “writers’ block,” Capelli finds some inspiration with the phrase, “Trash Can.” What can save the world as a renewable energy source? Trash can. It’s a wonderful idea, but one that the viewer feels is veering off-course when Capelli is shown photographing signs with statistics about waste shoved into garbage cans on the street (think the anti-smoking “Truth” campaign from more than a decade ago). So much for “new media,” huh?

Now, it’s time for both agencies to pitch. The Ad Store presents an incredibly simplistic video infographic-looking thing that answers a flurry of statistics with “trash can.” Here’s where I really start to question the “reality” depicted in this show. Is that honestly it? That’s all the Ad Store gave Waste Management?  Surely, you jest.

After experiencing some A/V difficulties, SK+G shows their campaign video, which parodies the Statue of Liberty’s “New Colossus” sonnet, but employs references to trash in place of those about immigrants seeking respite. It actually, I kid you not, moves the client to tears. Then, comes to kicker, a print ad that uses mobile augmented reality app to have celebrities say, “Turn Waste into Wow!” Waste Management Group absolutely loved it. And now, the verdict:

Unlike the first episode, I thought this was somewhat fair. The Ad Store had a campaign better idea, but they failed in proving their agency’s new media capabilities. But then, did they really have to resources to pull a new media campaign off? Even if they won the account, would you, as the client, put your faith in The Ad Store to make their campaign explode over digital channels?

The client praises SK+G’s use of social media, which, wait, was there any? Sorry, but an enhanced print ad is not social media. I assume we’re missing something. Undoubtedly, most people winced when they heard the tagline “Waste into Wow,” but the agency succeeded in showing the client how the idea could be supported by (sort of) flashy technology. In short, SK+G gave the client what they asked for, more or less.

What have we learned here? Nothing, except the Ad Store, which won a new client shortly after losing the Waste Management pitch, will keep its doors open for a little longer.

What did you think, dear readers? Did you agree with the outcome? Leave your two cents in the comments section.

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