Real Advertising Lessons from Reality TV

I’ll admit it. On occasion, I’ve been known to escape reality by watching a reality show (or two or three). But I can elevate nearly every show beyond a guilty pleasure by teasing out a lesson or two about advertising.

Let’s start with an obvious one, “The Pitch.” Yes, it’s what you think it is. Two agencies have a week to pitch the big idea and win the account. Are you hyperventilating and reaching for the remote yet? Wait, just stick around a minute, it will be worth it.

Lesson from “The Pitch”

Quality always trumps quantity

I cringed as I watched copywriter Jenny presenting her ideas for the Subway breakfast sandwich pitch to her creative director. Oblivious to his yawns and icy stares, Jenny plowed along with a seemingly endless assortment of half-baked random thoughts ranging from “doing an interpretive dance” to “getting a foot massage while you eat your breakfast.” Before the next presentation, I hope someone coached Jenny to apply a bit of critical thinking to weed out thoughts that will never become big ideas…and to nurture the ones that will.

Lesson from “Celebrity Apprentice”

As long as you can sell the idea, it doesn’t matter who came up with it

In the boardroom (where each week, as Donald Trump promises, “someone will be fired”), teammates Aubrey O’Day and Arsenio Hall both claimed credit for the tagline “Trust Your Instinct” for Mr. Trump’s new cologne. While Aubrey and Arsenio couldn’t help bickering about creative ownership, they both agreed publicly that this line was an actual Trump quote that they found through an online search. So, the creative team demonstrated that they were listening. And the tagline became Aubrey’s, Arsenio’s, and Trump’s. Win, win, win.

Lesson from “Chopped”

Creativity can live with constraints

On “Chopped,” chefs avoid the “chopping block” by preparing appetizers, entrees, and desserts that must incorporate a basket of mystery ingredients. Some of these ingredients are obscure (really—has anyone ever heard of dulse?). Others are downright disgusting—like haggis, which caused rampant gagging among all the chefs in the “Chopped” kitchen after a mere sniff. While I’ll never be able to taste the final results, seeing the amazing dishes these top chefs create in less than 30 minutes is an inspiration to me. If Chef Anne can rock a dessert featuring root beer jelly beans, baby fennel, and ladyfingers…surely I can be creative enough to rise above the black-box, parity data, and mandatory disclaimers I find in my mystery basket every day.

What do you think? Has anyone else learned about advertising from reality TV? Extra points if you can find something in “Real Housewives.”

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  1. Jen Kalawur
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed this, thank you for sharing.

    It was great meeting you in Buddy’s class last week.

  2. Scott McCarthy
    Posted June 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Nice article! I don’t really watch reality tv, but I think the lesson from ‘housewives’ would be- don’t act like them.

  3. Mike Romkano
    Posted July 1, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Very nicely done! Although I abhor reality shows, your message does sink in. In the business that I’m in, the phrase “trust your instincts” is rarely said, but is often applied. Thanks!