There are no ads on ABC1, except in one of its most popular programs. Guy Davis spoke with Todd Sampson of The Gruen Transfer.
For Sampson, who appears alongside fellow ad man Russel Howcroft as a resident industry expert on the program, the chance to appear on The Gruen Transfer was enticing for several reasons.
“ Well, working with Andrew Denton was definitely a drawcard for me,” he smiled.
“ And the second thing was a chance to show people how advertising actually works, something I really like doing. If we can shake up the automatic behaviour people display in how they choose products, how they shop, I think it’s a good thing.”
If there’s something that the show has demonstrated, it’s that the effect advertising and marketing has upon our choices as consumers is often amazingly subtle, even if commercials are anything but.
“ Most people don’t know why they choose the things they choose,” Sampson said. “ Or they don’t know on a conscious level. Everyone is influenced by the communication and advertising around them. Exposing that, explaining that and talking about that – because we have nothing to hide – is really appealing to me.”
That’s not to say, however, that Sampson didn’t initially have a few doubts about his decision to take part in the show.
“ I was quite nervous about it in the beginning,” he said. “ My primary responsibility as CEO of Leo Burnett is to the 100 people who work there, not the ABC or The Gruen Transfer. But I made my peace with it by deciding that I would be the same person on television as I was in the boardroom. So I try to say exactly what I think and feel about a topic and I think everyone on the show is as genuine.”
The Gruen Transfer – the show’s name stems from the psychological process that shifts a goal-oriented shopper into becoming an impulse shopper – has proven popular with both the everyday consumer and the people within the industry.
“ There’s a saying I really love: people know that advertising works, it just doesn’t work on them,” said Sampson. “ People aren’t stupid but they’re generally not conscious of the hidden ways on which advertising works, and what this show is doing is lifting the veil. And that makes for great entertainment.”
“ We’ve had lots of feedback from viewers who visit the show’s website or write about it on blogs or discuss it in chat rooms, so there’s a lot of public participation in the show.” And among the advertising community? “ Oh, you don’t know how much!” he laughed. “ One thing we were concerned about was how our peers would take to the show but it’s been largely accepted by the industry.”
Advertising is one of the many industries feeling the pinch of the global financial crisis, with agencies dependent upon the marketing budgets of their clients.
“ All of the medium-to-big advertising agencies in Australia are owned by holding companies existing off-shore, and they are all under extreme pressure,” he said.
“ So there has been an overall sense of paying attention to costs and running the business efficiently, which is a good thing.”
And as far as ads that have caught Sampson’s eye, there’s one in particular that stands out.
“ I absolutely love the new Boag’s beer commercial,” he said. “ The idea is basically about how the water of Tasmania transforms things and makes them even better, so a guy rides a pushbike through a creek and as he goes through the bicycle becomes a motorbike. It’s my favourite ad so far this year. And it’s not one of ours!”
It all ads up: Todd Sampson, host Wil Anderson and Russel Howcroft.