"The Pitch" Subway episode

10 April 2012

zAMbies?! My Quick Take on “The Pitch”

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Sucker for Shows about Advertising…

Just saw AMC’s “The Pitch,” a reality show about ad agencies going head-to-head to land an account. Although it contained the usual heavy editing and over-dramatization of most reality shows, it was fun to second-guess real agencies in action.

This episode featured two agencies, WDCW and McKinney going after the Subway breakfast account. My thoughts?

  • WDCW had better talent. Their writing was clever, and even their stock-photo selection was funny. And that goes to show that creativity alone doesn’t always win accounts.
  • Even if it wins accounts and awards, creativity alone doesn’t always work as marketing. The Subway executives knew that — the “zAMbie” concept was entertaining but not understandable at first glance. Wouldn’t that be a requirement for morning zombies?
  • McKinney nailed the target market with the rapper — and the rapper should get nearly all of the credit. McKinney deserves credit for researching and finding an engaging influencer. Although rap-based commercials targeting young people have been done by everyone, they still work. To round out the concept, McKinney should have also pitched a “Breakfast Wrap” to go with the ad. An idea needs to go beyond just the ads.
  • Neither agency talked about the actual product! I kept wondering, when will they emphasize what makes Subway sandwiches better and different than the competition? Sure enough, that’s what the Subway execs complained about. Right off the bat, both agencies focused on creative that could work for ANY fast-food joint. Hide the Subway logo, and they could be ideas for Wienerschnitzel.
  • When were the creatives going to eat at Subway? The episode contained an odd segment about the McKinney creative director trying to make breakfast for her kid. I was waiting for her to take him to Subway. Did that scene land on the cutting-room floor? If so, why include this bit at all?
  • The agencies needed to think beyond themselves. All their creatives targeted themselves as young professionals or hipsters, who are not morning people and who dig on zombies and rappers. I grew up in a working-class town, where people are wide-awake and heading to work before 8 am. They’re hitting up fast food because it’s quick, cheap, easy, and tastes good, not because they’re morning zombies.
  • It was a lose-lose situation for WDCW. The bigger agency in L.A. is expected to slaughter a mid-size agency in North Carolina. As the underdog, McKinney stood to gain even if they had lost the competition.

I think the ultimate problem is that the agencies tried too hard to look creative for a television audience, instead of doing good work for a client. As a result, both ideas were off pitch.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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Lynette Padwa
Lynette Padwa
12 years ago

I was struck by the super stone-faced Subway execs, and the same for the senior execs at each agency when the younger folk pitched. Why so serious?
I wasn’t particularly impressed with either ad, although watching the process was fun. I would’ve liked some stats on what Subway’s target market for breakfast actually is. It was a good thing the rapper was entertaining, because the concept is pretty state! But I’ll probably tune in next time…if it follows Mad men.

Jean-Paul de Jager
Jean-Paul de Jager
12 years ago

I don’t understand how both the Subway marketing people and these ad agencies can lump all “18-24 year olds” into one group, as if everybody in that demo eats at Subway, listens to the same music, buys the same stuff, etc. Just because somebody falls into an age group, doesn’t make them part of your target by default.

Advertising agencies sell concepts to their customers, the clients. The clients fall in love with or hate a concept, based on their own perceptions, internalized beliefs about their product. At McKinney I think they had some random statistics plastered on the walls about behaviors by the 18-24 year old demo, but nobody, not at Subway, McKinney, nor WDCW actually talked about any of it.

The truth is, advertising will not make us buy stuff, by default. If advertising could, we would all be broke! All advertising can do is make people aware of you and your product. Whether it is a zAMbie campaign, or some rap act, if you don’t know who your customers are, where they get their information, how they come to buying decisions, what influences them, what motivates them, you might as well take the millions of dollars you’re spending on a spiffy video and the air time you’re planning on buying and flush it down the toilets.

Attila Kristo
11 years ago

My 2 cents:

I have a theory that the Subway team were thinking like this:

“hey, we’re getting awesome marketing with “the pitch” itself! So because we already get the publicity the promotion needs, why not be brave , why not experiment and try an ad that is not that good to prove something in-house in Subway”

Well, i know, it is surely paranoid 🙂

Heck, we should start a petition to ask subway and AMC and to finance the execution of zAMbie concept, and measure the results! How awesome would that be?

11 years ago
Reply to  Attila Kristo

Are you saying they should let the market decide? Blasphemy! 🙂