Thursday, February 3, 2005

Coffee Break for The Apprentice

I have to say, I just love watching The Apprentice. I guess it's because I love to analyze things and I like trying to solve tough problems. Today is no exception.

In the most recent episode, the teams were given a $75,000 budget to devise and execute a marketing campaign for Nestle Taster's Choice Coffee. The Donald urged the teams to think big. I think both teams came up short.

The Magna Corp team of college grads, decided to periodically raffle off iPods in the park while passing out free coffee. This was a lousy idea. They are trying to promote coffee by luring people with a completely unrelated product. Effectively they tell everyone the coffee is worthless, we’re giving it away, but you might win a highly prized iPod. Wouldn't people think it was an Apple promotion? How does this help Nestle at all?

The Net Worth team (lacking degrees) came up with the equally uninspiring idea of just handing out $10,000 cash to one lucky winner. Again, people are there for the cash, not the coffee that has nothing to do with who wins the prize. I think it's particularly interesting that the college grads idea of a cool contest is handing out lots of luxury gadgets while the high school crowd just went for a big lump sum payout.

The part Magna nailed right on the head was that dribbling out prizes slowly was a better method for keeping a crowd than expecting people to wait around for one big prize draw. Unfortunately, they didn't tie things together at all. They should have mounted a true cross-promotional campaign and got Apple or HP to pitch in on the iPods. At least get support from a local Apple retailer. And what does all this have to do with coffee anyway? Find Sqeeze and get them to play "Black Coffee in Bed". Give everybody a copy of that song for their new iPod.

Net Worth actually had a campaign. The whole "hot or cold coffee, it's your choice" theme was brilliant. It fits with the Taster's Choice name. It focused on the coffee. It encourages people to try the product in a way that might be new for them. They should have had some hot/cold taste test booths. It's a taste test that Nestle wins either way. I loved the pretend campaign speeches espousing the virtues of hot and cold. I'm still struck by how none of this has anything to do with a $10k cash prize.

Net Worth really deserved to win based on the hot/cold idea alone. They could have done a lot more with it, but it was a great concept. I'm really disappointed that the producers of The Apprentice don't reveal where the idea came from. Whoever dreamed up that campaign deserves some kudos.

In the boardroom, Danny continued to make bad choices and it rightly cost him the job. I think the group was right to gang up on Mike and point out how he was dead weight for this job, but it was stupid to think they could talk Donald into firing Mike after awarding him with an exemption the week before. Proposing such a thing was fine, but Danny should have had at least two backup plans ready to roll. Obviously challenging the exemption wasn't likely to fly.

Why didn't he propose firing Verna who already quit? That's worth a shot too. He could have faulted her for shorting the team from the get-go. It would have provided Donald an easy scapegoat if he didn't feel like firing anybody. It's probably more plausible than firing Mike. He could have also forced Mike into some kind of probation or layoff. It might have added to the drama of next week's show where Donald might have fired two people (Mike and somebody else). Certainly offering up both Mike and Verna would have at least shown some extreme out-of-the-box thinking which was perhaps Danny's greatest strength.

Donald Trump doesn't think out of the box though. He just thinks big. He hits his home runs straight down the middle. Danny needed to have at least one viable sacrifice that fit within the rules. He didn't have one.

From the outset, I expected Danny to do well with this job. It didn't require much leadership and it was heavy on the creativity side. You would expect this guy to be good at drawing a crowd yet this is the second time that Danny just didn't deliver. His Burger King promotion was abysmal. The Nestle campaign was incoherent. I kept expecting more from Danny yet it just didn't materialize. Donald made the right choice this time.

Three out of three times now, Donald has fired the project manager. I believe there is clearly a strategy here. Being PM puts you on the line fast and I don't think the reward is worth the risk. When there are so many players in the game, it's wise to stay under the radar. The losing PM always goes to the boardroom (and seems to get fired). The other team members have a much lower chance at getting called in even if they are part of the losing team. Besides, you can almost always fault team leadership for a loss. It's harder to push the blame on to a worker bee. Last season Jennifer skated all the way to second place by doing practically nothing.


  1. Nice article The only show I saw working this shift. You think a lot.

  2. Sounds like you should apply to be on a future Apprentice season :) I've heard they are going to do at least 2 more seasons. At least this season is slightly different from the previous 2 with the "street smart" people versus the "book smart" people. But just like Survivor, this show is going to get old and boring pretty soon if the game remains generally the same each season...