Where does inspiration come from? How do you spark the creative process? Those of us that work in creative professions know the agony that lies between not having and having an idea. (I’m staring at a blank computer screen right now; I do that a lot, actually.) Which is one of the most interesting things about AMC’s reality series The Pitch, now two weeks into its second season: As we watch two advertising agencies battle for an account, we can actually see how the creative magic gets made.
This week L.A. agencies Innerspin and MC² are invited to pitch to the upscale spa-inspired skincare company Bliss. The company wants a new print ad for their latest launch: A facial hair-removal product called Fuzz Off, a depilatory that works in three minutes or less.
The Pitch first takes the viewer inside the two warring agencies. Innerspin is run by Elcid Choi, president, and John Meyer, chief creative officer, who seem to be in a freefall bromance: They not only work together every day, they even work out together. Elcid appears to be the administrative force while John is creative. He is so creative, in fact, he has 300 different belt buckles that he wears for different meetings and other occasions.
The main force behind MC² is Ron McMillan, a delightful gentleman who runs his shop from a beautifully elegant space (vases of white flowers, walls with raised-paneling) in L.A. Lucky it’s so elegant, since due to recent setbacks, he now lives there as well, starting his day at 6 a.m. with the coffeemaker and getting right to work. Soon he is joined by his predominantly female team (led by Talia DiDomenica, who seems to be his right hand). Their banter is consistently entertaining, as the ladies yell at Ron to get ready for a meeting, and he counters with, “Just shutting down the porn!”, or when they gather for the brainstorming meeting and he opens with, “You all look so familiar!” as he takes his seat in a throne-like pink chair.
The Pitch features two kinds of awkward shots with lots of silence. One of these happens at the brainstorming meetings as people are looking around frantically for inspiration. The other is when the two ad agencies meet each other: A token friendly greeting and a handshake, followed by some ominous glaring, designed to intimidate the other side. Last week’s two teams of two men literally squared off against each other in the hallway, while this week John and Elcid immediately hit their smart phones after meeting Ron and his team in the Bliss spa shop while waiting for the introductory meeting with the Bliss higher-ups.
Bliss, for the unfamiliar, is an amazing skincare company that has a handful of spas and 3,000 stores around the world that sell their cleansers and toners and body butters. The teams go into the intro meeting to hear the details about the Fuzz Off print ad, which should capture the signature Bliss concept of “getting the facts across in a unique, fun way” bridging the gap between “relevant and irreverence.” As the two female Bliss executives toss out a few “The ladies in the room know what I’m talking about” comments about dreaded feminine facial hair, it’s clear that the Innerspin duo made a grave tactical error in not bringing a female with them to the meeting.
After the teams walk out with bags of Bliss products (lucky!), the creative work begins, which is what we’ve tuned in for. Last week, one agency was very particular in their brainstorming meeting: Writing lists with sharpies on the big 3M pads, no bad ideas, etc. The other openly mocked each other’s ideas while drinking beer. Let the record show: I will always be in favor of companies that allow drinking in the workplace. Spoiler from last week’s episode: The beer drinkers won. But that was an interesting brainstorming session to witness as words and ideas got knocked around, leading to other words and ideas.
Elcid decries this concept: “Some people sitting around brainstorming, that’s not where the a-ha moment ever comes.” Instead, Innerspin has people working by themselves at their computers. This is not interesting to witness.
Fortunately, the MC² are in favor of the brainstorm, as Talia points out, “If you’re too serious, that’s when you stifle yourself. You can’t force creative, so we make jokes and have fun.” And they do as they toss some one-liners around the table, so they have a concept, but it’s interesting how the whole team senses that it’s not enough, so they panic as they try to amp up their presentation before the pitch.
As Phil Dyess-Nugent pointed out in his review of this show last year, The Pitch also offers a unique look into the industry of another AMC show, Mad Men, and how it functions today. Although this week’s challenge is a print ad, both companies are savvy enough to add an online/social media component: Innerspin with a hashtag campaign and MC² with a viral video. We see Ron contemplating at his computer, and get the feeling that the show asked him to talk through his creative process. Hair removal gets him thinking about Hair, the musical, which leads him to the genius idea of a musical ad, which then hopefully will become a viral video.
John’s inspiration comes as he contemplates using the product himself on his white goatee. He then has one of his minions draw a mustache on the glass wall of his office, and has women in the office stand behind it. This leads to the idea of a removable purple mustache sticker with the hashtag #fuzzyourself, which will be posted in various nighttime hotspots. Girls who upload pics of themselves with the mustache could win prizes from Bliss.
John also suggests just-out-of-college Lisa for the big meeting. Bringing her to the pitch primarily because she’s female reminds me of the episode when Mad Men pulled a Jewish employee out of mailroom for the meeting with Rachel Menken and her father. Elcid coaching Lisa on what to say in the pitch is downright creepy, like programming a cyborg.
Finally, the big day arrives. Innerspin wows the Bliss people with their interactive ad with a swipe-off mustache. Elcid just can’t keep his John-adoration contained: “I love the stuff this guy does, I gotta tell ya.” But since John’s his partner, and they’re in there pitching, his endorsement rings as falsely as a used car salesman’s. The Bliss president points out, rightly, that the hashtag #fuzzyourself sounds like putting fuzz on your face and so reasonably asks why didn’t they just use the product name. Elcid indignantly goes off on how they were given a specific assignment and they were asked to play with the concept; really, how hard would it be to say, “Yeah, sure, we can change the hashtag”? Inexplicably, Bliss decides that this is the guy they want to work with, and a disappointed yet determined Ron and his team go on to fight another day, even though their viral video is awesome.
So we see the process for the big picture, but what about how the print ad gets made? (Print is a dying art form, after all.) As a chronicler of advertising, The Pitch could definitely delve deeper into more behind-the-scenes processes. Weird segments about how the Innerspin team is extra-superstitious don’t add much to the equation (although I was unaware that it’s bad luck to write your name in red, good to know). But the insights into the creative process can be revelatory: The Pitch is at its best when it shows how nothing turns into something.
- Besides many, many closeups of people looking pensive as they try to come up with an idea, The Pitch also features a lot of nodding.
- The look on terror on Elcid’s face when Lisa starts talking at the pitch meeting is priceless. His head pivots around fast enough for whiplash. Fortunately, she proves herself quickly.