documentaries – is all publicity really good publicity?

I’ve always struggled to understand why business owners feel that their reputation will be somehow enhanced by becoming the focus of a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

BBC2’s Life in the Freezer Cabinet did nothing for Iceland’s positioning and made CEO Malcolm Walker look like an idiot.  Which according to a mutual friend is a misrepresentation.

icelandmwalkerintthe Chief Exec digs himself into yet another hole mid-interview

Sky’s More Than Meets the Pie undid Gregg’s ‘the home of fresh baking’ brand work by spending whole episodes at their factories, neatly demonstrating just how little baking is actually done in-store.  It also kept with business documentary tradition by making the Chief Exec look like, yes, you’ve guessed it, a bit of an idiot.

greggscexecChief Exec in obligatory back-to-the-shop-floor baking humiliation

Inside Claridges (BBC2 again) revealed that this epitome of English hospitality is run by a German, staffed by a United Nations of hospitality workers – with the phone answered by an American.

And as for The Call Centre, at least we can thankful that however bad our day may get, we don’t work at Swansea call centre Saving Britain Money.

I also struggle to understand why supposed communications experts like agencies allow themselves to be dragged into these documentaries.  Icleand’s incumbent agency The Tom Reddy Agency came across as very old fashioned (and I’m being polite) while pitching Karmarama looked foolish for proposing increasingly tacky work in an effort to secure the account.  In the end, Tom Reddy got the ad campaign and Karmarama got the I’m A Celebrity idents, but based on what I saw in the (highly edited) pitch meetings on screen, I wouldn’t have given the work to either of them.

I bumped into a creative recently who told me that their client at a previous agency was taking part in a documentary very like the ones above and this creative told me that they had, quite sensibly, declined to sign the release form in favour of being a distant blob on screen in order to preserve their professional reputation.  However this made their job rather tricky when working with the director on the shoot of their client’s new TV campaign as the documentary crew wanted to shoot the ad being shot, but couldn’t do so with my friend in view.  So my friend was reduced to sitting on the sidelines, unable to do their job (i.e. to make the ad as good as possible) because the documentary crew had priority.  I’ve seen the resulting documentary and I think my friend’s ads are going to have to work very hard to undo the filmmaker’s damage to their brand.

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