Denton: ‘Gruen’s power is it’s a show about us’

Andrew DentonThe creator of Gruen, the ABC’s long running show on the advertising and marketing world, has told how the success of the show lay in the fact that it’s show “about us”.

Speaking at the National Radio Conference in Melbourne today, Andrew Denton described how the former CEO of both Seven and Nine, David Leckie, had told him before the show launch that the idea “was fucking boring” but argued that Leckie “could only see what was already there which was World’s wackiest commercials.”

“But what he didn’t see was what wasn’t there,” said Denton. “And the reason the show worked, beyond the fact we got incredibly lucky with our talent, is that (Gruen) is a show about us. It is about how persuadable we all are.”

In a wide ranging keynote speech, Denton talked openly about his career successes and failures and told the audience the idea for Gruen, which is currently on hiatus before a 2015 return, came from a visit to the supermarket.

“I was at the local supermarket and I reached for the no name dishwashing liquid and I saw my hand move across to the more expensive green Palmolive dishwashing liquid and put it in the basket,” said Denton.

“And I thought I can’t believe I’m doing this. I know what I’m doing and I’m doing it,” he said.

“I then raced home and wrote down this line which became the centre of philosophy of the show which was ‘if you can be persuaded to buy the more expensive green dishwashing liquid when you know the orange one is cheaper and just as good, what else can you be persuaded to do? How do you know that your thoughts are your own?”

Denton noted that he was then able to capitalise on a gap in the market. “There was nothing about advertising in popular culture,” he said. “We are talking about the most pervasive art form there is on the planet… but nowhere was there anything taking apart how this amazing industry works. The dark arts and the brilliance of advertising.”

Denton also spoke about other initiatives through his career including Hungry Beast, Randling and Enough Rope. He also took aim at the Big Brother franchise, which is currently airing on Nine.

The TV content creator, who left production company Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder last year, said he thought the idea of putting people in a house and filming them was both “thoughtless” and “dangerous exploitation”.

“The fact is that I created House from Hell putting a whole bunch of people in a house, filming, mic-ing them up and making their life hard,” he said referencing his 1998 radio competition.

“This is the year before Big Brother went to air. If I had been really smart I would have formatted it, I would be a billionaire.

“But I didn’t do that. I look back at it now and realise it was a thoughtless, dangerous exploitation of human beings and the only thing I can say in my defence is that we were the first to do it, and only in doing it did we discover it and we never went there.”

Throughout the speech Denton focused on the need to embrace failure and also that success comes from being “relentless”.

“The one thing I have learnt in my career, which I know absolutely to be true, is that anyone who has reached the top of the tree – and I have met a lot of them across every possible profession – no matter the good fortune they have had, they have the same thing in common, they work harder than the next guy,” said Denton.

“I’m not a huge fan of Alan Jones but I respect him. A friend of mine used to work with him. Now he wasn’t a huge admirer of Jones, but he came away with respect for him. He used a word about him, which I don’t think people use often enough, he said he is ‘relentless’.”

“The reason Alan Jones is successful is not just because he is a very smart broadcaster [but] because of relentless amount of work he puts in behind the scenes.”

Nic Christensen is a guest of Commercial Radio Australia and the National Radio Conference in Melbourne


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