BBC’s The Apprentice: on Gin Branding

BBC’s The Apprentice: what they could have done differently?

I have a confession to make…hello my name is Northern Munkee and I’m a big fan of The BBC’s The Apprentice.

Yes, I join the millions of viewers each week who scream in unison at their TV sets offering advice to budding entrepreneurs seeking to earn Lord Sugar’s affections (and a £250k investment).

Now, just to be clear this post is not designed to criticise any of the candidates. The process isn’t something I’d want to go through and I have a great deal of respect for those that do; they are all great business people in their own right. However, when a foodie task like this week’s arises it would be remiss of me not to consider what they could have done differently.

For those with busy Thursday nights or haven’t had the chance to catch up on iPlayer I won’t give anything away regarding the Final 5 – I promise. The premise of the task was to develop a new gin brand and product to pitch to three teams of booze buyers.

I just want to call out three areas that I believe both teams could have done differently: the product, the brand and the pitch.

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The Product 

So, let’s skip to over the ‘puddle-coloured’ product; we all know it’s wrong and the poor girl got enough stick for that.

Anybody that’s been to a food festival this year will know that we’re in the midst of a gin revolution; which means the palates of the early-adopting populous are becoming more discerning when it comes to gin. They are, therefore, not easy to fool.

Although one team clearly outperformed the other in product terms, they both went into the task blind. Unless you’re a gin expert how can you understand what’s popular, what’s on trend and what’s a dog. I’m confident that some superficial market research would have prevented some of the initial mistakes. A great quote from the show was ‘don’t be unique for unique’s sake’ – priceless.

The Brand

Now, I have some real sympathy here. Creating a brand to sell to Tesco shouldn’t be achievable in a month, let alone a morning so I fully appreciate the restrictions imposed on the teams. That being said, they didn’t seem to be in danger of stumbling upon on the next Innocent!

A brand is an emotional entity and needs to inspire people to get behind your cause. Difficulties with pronunciation and a haunting history weren’t about to drive the gin-drinking hipsters to buy ‘Colony’ or ‘Giin’. The ‘Colony’ camp did at least attempt to add some texture to their brand and created a credible backstory but, if we’re honest, it was doomed from the outset.

The Pitch

I’m afraid I have to be a little critical here, although I do fully appreciate how intimidating any pitch can be; let alone when you’re put on the spot and have a TV camera thrust in your face. Both teams pitches lacked any sort of structure and cohesion even though they did enjoy some success. If you feel you need more than one person to present then it is integral that you assign clear roles and responsibilities as opposed to having three people telling one story.

A strong sales pitch is composed of experts: a brand expert, a category/market expert and a customer expert. You’ll note that I haven’t listed a ‘sales expert’ there. My view is that you shouldn’t need to sell in the classical sense; you should never need to ask for an order because you’ve understood your customer, identified an opportunity or issue and your proposal presents the perfect (and collaborative) solution.

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So to summarise this post, let’s look at what we can learn from this episode:

  • The Product: do your research and if you intend to develop a unique product make sure you have a reason for doing it
  • The Brand: seek to inspire people to create fans not customers
  • The Pitch: create a pitch composed of experts but leave the sales expert in the office

So that concludes my TV-inspired post, be sure to check out my latest guest post on branding for Smoothie PR; and before you go don’t forget to leave me a comment on this post to let me know what you thought of the episode.

Northern Munkee.