The ad industry – even Clems – has nothing to fear from The Gruen Transfer

In this guest posting, The Gruen Transfer co-creator Jon Casimir answers the question of whether the advertising industry has anything to fear from the new series of The Gruen Transfer.

Ha. Of course the industry has something to fear. For we are a dozen ABC public servants – not true, but we’ll go with the stereotype – armed with a word processor and a few cameras. And the industry, poor it, is the engine room of capitalism, trampling through $500 billion a year, a global army that has us entirely surrounded…

Sorry if you wanted controversy, but Gruen gets on pretty well with the ad biz. When I first did the agency rounds before the show, I expected to be met by skeptics with folded arms, people assuming ABC stands for Ambush, Belittle and Crucify. But most ad folk were intrigued, supportive, even enthusiastic.

And to my surprise, this has been the case ever since. Yes, industry people I meet often have criticisms and questions (usually “why isn’t my special subject better represented?”), but the conversations are civil, fruitful and welcome. And if you believe the AFA, sorry, the Communications Council, Gruen has sparked a surge of career enquiries.

We’ve had many great agencies volunteer for The Pitch, which they rightly see as both fun and a chance to show that advertising is a problem-solving industry, that genuine insight can scale apparently insurmountable peaks.

This year we’re excited that agencies with the profile of Droga5 and BWM are scheduled to take part, as well as a bunch of other bold and willing new faces. Some old friends will return for a second shot too.

But not everyone wants to do it. If you matched our Pitch roster against the list of Australia’s top agencies, you’d find a few notable absences. Some don’t see it as right for their brand, which we understand. Some are just insanely busy.

Some creative directors have politely told us they don’t care for the show, which is fine too. Though others have suggested that a few of the “rock star” CDs are staying away because they fear being pantsed by a smaller competitor on national television. Maybe there’s an element of that. Who knows?

There’s only one agency with an active, public dislike for the show: Clemenger. We’d been on air for oh, about a week before Clems boss Peter Biggs accused us of painting advertising people as wankers. A couple of weeks later his chairman, Robert Morgan, said we “demeaned and trivialised the industry”. We don’t believe either of those things is correct, but we’re not going to doubt the sincerity of their views…

Honestly, I reckon the opposite is true. After decades of “the adman” stereotype being Singo or Siiiiimon, every week we put four smart, interesting people from Adland onto the small screen. They prove to the world that the moral and ethical debates the rest of us have also happen in the industry. They show advertising to be much more grey than it is black and white. They come across as people, real people, with differing and conflicting views.

Time has not weakened the Clemenger stance. Its disapproval is all-consuming and institutional. The last time I rang to ask a research question about one of its ads, I was told that everyone in-house had been instructed not to fraternise with The Gruen Transfer. We’re dead to them (this sentence works better if you channel Joe Pesci and do the Mafioso chin-flick thing). Dead to them.

Sometimes I wonder if they protesteth too much. I wonder if, as it was in the fifth grade playground, all their insistence that “we don’t like you” means they have a secret crush on us. Actually, maybe if we all got a room together and shared the hospitality that only an ABC budget can buy (four cups of tea and Iced Vovos, hold the ice) we’d find that we’re made for each other. Peter and Rob, our door is always open…

By the way, despite appearances, Russel Howcroft and Todd Sampson do often agree on things. Some of their colleagues have suggested that giving away the IP of the industry on national television is not smart, that sharing their “secrets” – as if none of us could read a trade mag or check out sites like this one – is potentially damaging.

Both men have said that if the result of The Gruen Transfer is a public more educated about advertising’s methods, that can only be a good thing. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe the ad industry would be held to a higher standard of work and thinking. Now, is that something to fear?

  • The Gruen Transfer returns to ABC1 tonight at 9pm

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