Small Business Marketing Tips: TV's Apprentice Continues to Show us Great Examples of Bad Marketing

Debbie LaChusa

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I’m not much of a reality TV fan, but I must admit I’ve gotten sucked into watching The Apprentice. Perhaps it’s because as an entrepreneur I am fascinated by these seemingly intelligent people and their actions and decisions when it comes to business.

Additionally, it seems more often than not the teams are given a task that involves marketing. Having been very disappointed in how the fields of marketing and advertising have typically been represented in fictional television shows, I guess I’m always hopeful reality TV will be more accurate.

So the lure of reality TV and its potential for actually showing marketing in its true light captures me week in and week out. While I’ve rarely been impressed with the job done by the apprentice candidates … and I’m not alone as The Donald and Martha are rarely impressed either … these shows do provide great examples of what not to do.

In this week's edition of Martha Stewart The Apprentice each team was given the task of creating a 30-second video to promote Song Airlines $99 fare from New York to Los Angeles.

They were provided with a cast and crew and access to Song Airlines executives to get all their questions answered.

One of the teams (the winning team) actually did a very nice job on their video, so much so the Song Airlines executives decided to use the video in their marketing campaign.

The other team however broke three cardinal rules of marketing:

1) They didn’t speak to their target audience

2) They didn’t feature the company’s brand positioning

3) They didn’t have a single focused message

Let’s look at how these critical mistakes played out.

First, they completely ignored what the Song executives told them about their target audience.

They were told the airline's target audience was baby boomer women in their forties. But rather than conceive a promotional spot that would speak to this audience, they decided instead to run with an idea that they liked and wanted to produce that focused on men and sports.

One of the teammates had this comment after hearing that the airline’s target audience didn’t match up to the video concept he had conceived: “We need to promote the price, the destination and the brand … I’m not worried about the target audience. ”

Ouch! Critical marketing mistake!

Second, they did not focus on the airline’s brand positioning of “High Style, Low Price. ”

In fact, when they had an opportunity to represent this brand positioning at the end of the spot they created, they instead used a play on words that loosely tied in with their sports theme, but did not represent the idea of “high style, low price” at all.

And third, they tried to cram way too much into a 30-second spot.

They took what should have been a simple idea - promoting an airline fare of $99 from New York to Los Angeles - and overcomplicated it, turning it into an ineffective piece of marketing that did not represent the company for which it was created.

In the end, both apprentice candidates on the losing team were sent home. And Martha Stewart and her crew made it very clear how disappointed they were in their performance.

So, while I continue to be disappointed by how marketing is portrayed in the media, at least reality TV is providing good examples of what NOT to do. And that can be as instructional as learning what TO do.

(C) 2005 Debbie LaChusa

Debbie LaChusa created The 10stepmarketing System to make marketing your own business as simple as answering 10 questions. Learn more about this unique, step-by-step system and get a free 10-week Marketing E-Course when you subscribe to the free, weekly 10stepmarketing Ezine at


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