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Lessons from Celebrity Apprentice
May 1st 2011 -

After viewing last weekís Celebrity Apprentice which spotlighted Australian Gold as the feature brand, I had the opportunity to gain some unique insight into both the motivational catalyst behind the show and also the results of mainstream publicity exposure as it pertains to consumer shopping patterns.

Of course this was not my first ďbackstage passĒ into a reality television show focusing on the indoor tanning industry. I watched with keen interest several years ago when the Sunset Tan crew was filmed in attendance to the Tanning World Expo and had a subsequent opportunity to discuss with one of Sunset Tanís owners about the level of reality that is really representative of reality television.

As I watched the Celebrity Apprentice teams interview New Sunshineís Steve and TomiSue Hilbert along with Australian Goldís Melinda Travis, it was interesting to see how Ďoutsidersí perceive a company and a product that I have had the benefit of inside-the-industry exposure. While one team played it safe and used their experience with previous campaigns to help shape their approach to a new brand promoting campaign, the other team took a significant risk by deliberately stepping outside of the box of conventional campaigns and using a theme straight from pop culture in an attempt to expand the brandís mass appeal. While the feedback from the client (in this case the Hilberts and M. Travis) ultimately favored the conventional approach and won that team the challenge, there were positive points to be praised in both campaigns and a few critiques as well.

From my personal perspective, I found the menís team to be far more creative in its use of the pirate themed campaign than the womenís team in its beach theme. Ultimately though the concept was too outside the box to appeal to the client which is what lost the menís team the challenge. However, that kind of far-reaching approach is actually quite valuable in the right context, especially when one tries to reinvent oneís public image. It reminds me of a quote from Henry Ford, in which he explained that, ďIf I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.Ē There is a time to innovate and innovation is not necessarily a product of user feedback; but the point Iíd like to illustrate is that brand reinvention was not one of the express intentions of the client and the questions asked during the initial client interview did not support a radical reinvention approach. So while on the execution of the concept the menís team excelled, they excelled at going in the wrong direction.

The one critical observation of the menís team execution was that it didnít adequately leverage the iconic Australian Gold mascot. Even in this point there was a unified team consensus regarding the level of exposure the trademark was given and obstacles or pitfalls that were discussed and weighed as a team before a decision was made to omit a costumed replica of the mascot whereas the womenís team did utilize that approach with no apparent criticism.

Itís also worth noting that while there was a team member who was an obvious weak link in the menís team, ultimately the teamís project manager took responsibility for the failure of the challenge because it was his concept that lost the challenge. At no time was the execution of the concept criticized, only that it failed to embrace or even comprehend the vision of the client. This is another point worth noting Ė it is important to recognize the factors which lead to failure in order to avoid the same failure again. Personally I would not have let the project manager go because he demonstrated strong leadership skills and even the ability to identify his own failure as well as a willingness to learn from the failureÖ but thatís not how the reality show works. Undoubtedly on the next challenge he would have asked more questions to understand the clientís vision, having tasted the bitter reality of past failure. Failure is the most memorable teacher if one is willing to learn its lessons.

In contrast to the leadership strength of the menís team was the leadership vacuum that was demonstrated by the womenís team. I think this became apparent from the moment the project managers were selected because the menís team chose their project manager by consensus while the project manager of the womenís team for this challenge stepped up without the apparent support of the team. Whether the failure was ultimately the result of the project managerís lack of leadership or the teamís failure to follow the managerís lead could be open to debate, but after viewing the episode as it was broadcast I am inclined to believe that it was the former reason. The womenís team project manager struggled to involve the rest of the team in the conceptualization, failed to weigh input, failed to make strategic decisions and failed to take the reins during the execution of the concept. It even got to the point that the project manager was heaping additional last-minute demands on various members of the team without providing context for the new requirements and without grasping the scope of what the added requirements will necessitate. All of these are indications of a shortcoming in terms of leadership skill.

In the days following the broadcast of the Australian Gold episode, the resulting skyrocket of consumer traffic to the brandís websites was not entirely unexpected but the resulting trends were. Three standout products in particular soared in popularity based on percentage increase in sales volume and surprisingly none of them were even the products featured in the nationally televised broadcast. The overall impact of promoting awareness of the brand was achieved with phenomenal results but it wasnít until the consumer was exposed to the full line of products that the real popularity of specific products became apparent. In many cases the viral effect of marketing and promotional campaigns cannot be predicted or even restricted to just those offerings the merchant wants to promote. Human nature will more often prove to be an unpredictable and enigmatic paradigm. The key would be to maximize a broad range of options and be prepared to reap the full benefits when a wave of effective campaigning surges onto your shores.

 

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