Why ‘The Apprentice’ is bad for business

Lord Alan Sugar of The Apprentice
Lord Alan Sugar of The Apprentice

For years I’ve been avoiding avidly watching ‘The Apprentice’. Last time I watched it, I saw them attempt a dreadful rebrand of Margate. But this week, I was asked to give it another go and I found myself hating it even more.

The group had the task of creating a new dessert product to sell into the major supermarket groups and the team who did worse only managed to create and sell 15,000 units in their allotted few days, whereas the winners sold 23,500. So why do I think this is so wrong?

1. The competitors behaviour in the boardroom was horrific. Initially they worked as teams but were encouraged and delighted by the fact that they should back stab their other team members in front of “Lord’ Sugar. I’ve been in business for a long time and maybe I’m the naive one, but a situation where the other person has to lose for you to be able to win is not a situation I recognise or respect. I don’t believe it sustains good business.

2. ‘Lord Sugar’s’ feigned ignorance was appalling. He sneered at one of the competitors for referring to their target audience as ‘grazers’ If he genuinely didn’t understand this term, is he qualified to judge such a programme?

3. The situation itself was completely ridiculous. For young people to believe that it’s the norm to pop into a development kitchen and create a new dessert without even a nod towards costing it up properly (more Saffron anyone?) is bad enough, but for them to carry on the myth by pretending they had secured pitches in front of Tesco and Waitrose is even more ridiculous. For them to pretend that they then ordered units without any production ability or drawn out negotiation just perpetuates the stupidity.

4. And then it came to the judging. The esteemed ‘Lord’ Sugar decided who he wanted to belittle first. A young lady with an idea about a healthy eating restaurant chain emanating from Sunderland was literally laughed out of the boardroom. But what had changed? That was the business idea she had pitched to get onto the programme, so when did it suddenly become something worth ridicule? It was nasty and spiteful and all to do with bullying on TV. She had been set up for that fall since she agreed to join the programme.

For me, business is built on the old fashioned values of mutual respect, trust and hard work. Throw in some luck and grasping the good opportunities that present themselves, whilst knowing which ones to pass over, is the difference between success and failure.

The Apprentice is X Factor business. Nothing to do with ANY of these business values and everything to do with creating shocking TV and making money at any cost, despite how many people you harm on the way. If this is the impression we give young people about how business behaves, in my opinion, very few of them will choose to join us. Those that do will be horrendous colleagues trained in the very worst of business behaviour.

This isn’t an apprenticeship, It’s an ugly beauty parade that’s causing harm to the future of business.

Thanks to TV Choice magazine for the picture of the pin up boy for business, Lord Sugar.

Waitrose, Tesco, trust and horse burgers

Horses wouldn't be served at Waitrose, because we trust them and it's in their values
Horses wouldn’t be served at Waitrose, because we trust them and it’s in their values

I did a workshop at Nottingham Trent University yesterday and one of the key points I wanted to get across was brands who work with very focussed brand values have clearer marketing messages. More than this, they have clearer business propositions and it would seem to me that they are ultimately more successful as businesses too.

Take two companies, Tesco and Waitrose.

Tesco brands says ‘Every little helps’. What this says to me is that they chip away and chip away at every tiny little cost to try and drive the price down to one that is almost unsustainable by the supplier. I’m not saying I agree with them throwing a horse in with the beef to make a value burger, but I do think it may have de-specced the product to such a degree they just needed to add the protein to get them to the 63% meat content that their recipe demands (which is higher than Birds Eye’s Value burgers 45% meat!), so really, what do we expect?

A horse didn’t just fall into that beef vat by accident. Someone threw it in, knowing they needed to add some cheap meat to make up the weight of their consignment. That’s supplier desperation in action.

Waitrose work on the core brand value of ‘Trust” and for me, this comes trough everywhere. I just don’t believe they would buy their meat on the open market, without knowing where it came from. I trust them. For me, they have almost become curators of good food choice. If they sell it, then we know it’s going to be pretty good – certainly for supermarket food and we can be pretty sure it won’t contain horse.

It’s too easy to take pot shots at the giant that is Tesco, but they deserve it in this case. Their values are wrong and too many of us care about what we eat for them to remain as the force they are now. They need to change their values, change their brand behaviour to be a little more loveable and change the way they treat their suppliers. Or, they’re off……

Jamie Oliver in Boots – Two brands that don’t work together

I quite like Jamie Oliver and I quite like Boots. I sometime pop into the latter for a cheap meal deal and something to make me look less old or ugly. BUt I don’t think they are brands that sit well together. As i’ve said before, brands work well together when they approach similar audiences who share a close match when you overlay their combined values. This isn’t the case with Boots and Jamie.

And I have some evidence to prove it.

Jamie Oliver and his so far unsuccessful assault on Boots lunch time audience

If you look at these two shelves side by side the one on the right is the normal Boots meal deal fare. £3.29 for sandwich, drink and crisps. On the left is Jamie’s good work. Sandwiches (which look lovely) starting at £3.70 and specifically excluded from the meal deal. By the time you add crisps and a decent smoothie you are at £6 or nearly double their normal price. 50p off isn’t going to impress or influence anyone.

As you can see one gondola is very full and one is very empty. That shot was at 14.45 today, so very little else will sell today.

Now, I don’t consider myself a tightwad in the lunch department, but this is a big step up in price for Boots customers. Too big. In Waitrose it may work, but not here.

This range will have to be included in the meal deal  – even with a small price premium – or it will fail fast.

It’s not because the sandwiches are bad or the retailer is at fault. It’s just that there is nowhere near enough overlay in the values.

The promo video

This is what Jamie Oliver said before the launch.

I genuinely believe he is passionate about the product, but sadly unless there is a fundamental shift in Boots customers’ buying behaviour, it will be in the meal deal and dumbed down to meet the price point, or  sadly it will fail.

Update 25.10.12

I went in again today at 17.05 to see how it was getting on today. The picture still doesn’t lie. There is an enormous amount left in Jamie’s stand and far less in the one on the right. It looks more even because the standard one has been re-merchandised to bring the remaining stock forward. And of course, we don’t know whether they had a jamie delivery overnight and how much will have to be thrown away.

Jamie Oliver's lunch in Boots - Stlll not really selling very many sandwiches
Jamie Oliver’s lunch in Boots – Stlll not really selling very many sandwiches