Tag Archives: Family Card

Yesterday was a bad day for watching others work at the coalface of comedy

Yesterday, comedian Janey Godley (of whom more later) said to me about the superfluous ‘tasks’ in the first episode of ITV1’s Show Me the Funny: “Finding someone called Michelle in a street in Liverpool does not mean you are a good comedian; it takes no comedy talent.”

Bloody right.

What on earth is the point of this show?

For no logical or demonstrable reason (apart from copying a not-very-good old TV format where comics performed in front of ‘difficult’ audiences) this week our mis-used nine comics had to perform five minutes of new material to soldiers at Catterick army camp.

Four minutes into the show, the scripted voice-over said pseudo-dramatically – “They’ll be a tough audience to please.”

Maybe. But it was not until 29 minutes into the show that the comedians actually started to perform to the audience.

Why oh why oh why do they not just Show Me The Funny?

Perhaps next year, when television screens the 100 metre race at the Olympics, the race itself will be preceded by 30 minutes of watching the athletes learn how to juggle fruit… and we will only be allowed to see glimpses of the race itself.

In this show, where the format involves writing five minutes of new material, we only get glimpses of the acts performing that material. The longest any of them got was two minutes; most got significantly less than one minute; the shortest appeared to get around 4 seconds.

Last week, I said the problem with this show was that the producers could not see the wood for the trees. We are now into another week, another simile. It is now clear they are just barking up the wrong tree.

The producers are so busy showing us irrelevant production values that they do not have any time left to show us the funny. And, because they have chopped the comedians to pieces in the edit, the person who actually comes across strongest is judge Kate Copstick whose tongue is as sharp as her Scotsman reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe. La Copstick has clearly been chopped-to-hell in the edit as well, but she still shines forth a beacon of light in her Cruella de Vil world.

Perhaps I am just becoming a grumpy old man.

A least Show Me The Funny showed us glimpses of what we were supposed to be seeing.

Yesterday, I was invited along by Sky TV to what they called a PR “junket” – which my dictionary defines as “an extravagant trip or celebration”.

Sky say that, by 2014, they will be spending £600 million on British programming and that “original British comedy provides cornerstone of Sky1 HD autumn schedule” this year.

Well, all I can say is they’d better hurry up and get their publicity act together.

I was one of six mostly-mystified people with an online presence – I think we were each supposed to be highly influential in our blogs and websites – and we were invited to “round-table interviews” with some of the talent involved in the new Sky comedy shows.

What a disastrous bit of PR. Are companies just suicidal nowadays?

“What shall we do today?”

“Oh, I know, we will see how we can damage our own brand image.”

Four months ago, I blogged about the disastrous recording session for IKEA’s ‘comedy/Friends’ commercials – it is an old blog which still gets a few hits every day or so.

IKEA promised to ply their Family Card holders with plentiful food and drink if they attended the endlessly unfunny recording of their TV ads. The food and drink which was not supplied made Southern Sudan seem like a land of milk and honey.

Sky did not promise any food or drink, so I can’t complain about the small bottles of water which were probably supplied by the excellently-run hotel where the junket took place and not by Sky.

But I can bitch about the lack of any discernible organisation.

The story was that they would screen clips from possibly four shows, then there would be these “round table interviews” with the talent. Presumably the idea was that, from these glimpses of the shows and sparkling quotes from the talent, we would write glowing online pieces which would spread the word on how good the ‘products’ are.

This was supposed to happen 5.30-7.00pm – “arrive at 5.15pm” we were told. The very efficient hotel staff showed us into a padded room. I should have started to worry at this point.

Around 5.45pm, the first appearance was made by a Sky person – a head popped round the door to say “We’re running a little late” and then disappeared.

The first ‘talent’ came into the room accompanied by a PR lady just after 6.00pm, we turned to the TV screen but there were no clips.

Perhaps later, I foolishly thought.

So we rather awkwardly asked questions of the talent who brilliantly plugged their unseen show. This was repeated with three more different groups of talent being ushered into the room (with large gaps of emptiness between) each with a different, mostly mute, PR lady. We had four bunches of talent from three new Sky series; the talent from the fourth show seemed to have wisely done a runner.

It was a magical mystery guess as to who would come through the door next. Sometimes, as they entered, we were told which show they were on; sometimes we had to guess from their faces and the single sheet press releases we had on each show.

For the record, the shows were The Cafe, Mount Pleasant and Trollied. The billed people from the Spys sitcom must have gone on an undercover mission elsewhere. It was only when we asked at the end that we discovered they were not turning up.

The show people were all rushed through to a tight deadline because, having started half an hour late, the Sky PR machine did not want to end late because they had other things to do. Poor Jane Horrocks and Jason Watkins had to try and ‘sell’ their show Trollied (set in a supermarket) in seven minutes, which they did brilliantly. But what do you ask about a show you haven’t seen which is set in a supermarket?

I asked if, because they were used to performing in studios, it was more difficult to act in the ‘real’ supermarket which Sky had built for the series.

Jane Horrocks said she had done so many ads for Tesco she felt at home in a supermarket.

I like Jane Horrocks.

But quite what we were talking about no-one really knew. Which brings us back to Janey Godley, who was one of the six influential online people invited to the junket and who said to me (I paraphrase extensively):

“You have to see clips to know what the tone is. You can shoot one idea in any number of ways. You can have a great idea badly done and it’s crap. You can have a bad idea brilliantly done and it’s wonderful.”

No clips meant we had no idea what we are supposed to be helping Sky TV promote.

I felt like asking if any of the talent had had their phones hacked by News International.

The “junket” lasted under an hour; one of us had come all the way from Devon to attend.

It all ended with a brief head popping round the door again to thank us for coming. Someone asked: “Are there any DVDs so we can see the shows?”

“Oh,” the surprised PR replied: “Send us an e-mail if you want one.”

I think a basic rule-of-thumb should be… if you are trying to kick-start good word-of-mouth in hopefully influential online sites and blogs… then show us the product.

Show Me The Funny fell at the first hurdle because it failed to Show Me The Funny.

Sky TV, trying to promote their TV shows, fell at the first hurdle because they wanted good word-of-mouth but failed to show us anything at all of the programmes.

And whatever happened to outright bribes of canapés, knick-knacks or, at the very least, an inflatable Jane Horrocks doll?

Word-of-mouth works both ways.

I will listen with interest to Janey Godley’s weekly podcast this Wednesday – after only a year, it gets over 100,000 downloads per week via multiple sites – having built on the success of her blog which, since 2004, had built up to over 500,000 hits per week on multiple sites.

I left the excellent central London hotel hosting the Sky junket – the Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall Place – I recommend it highly – thinking the highly-trained if rather overly-smiley hotel staff should have been arranging the PR.

Then I thought:

“Shall I slag off this shindig or not? If I do, they will never invite me to another one.”

Big decision.

“What have I really got to lose?”

The answer was obvious:

“A bottle of still water but no knick-knacks or inflatable Jane Horrocks doll.”

Lackaday! Lackaday!

Do the words Brinsley Schwarz mean nothing nowadays?

(Janey Godley’s weekly podcast also talked about this Sky junket – 10 mins 20 seconds in)

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Filed under Comedy, PR, Television

A funny thing happened to IKEA’s image at yesterday’s shambolic public relations disaster

If you don’t like long moans about incompetent ad agencies, PR people and IKEA, progress no further, gentle reader.

The words “piss-up”, “brewery”, “a”, “organise”, “couldn’t” and “in” spring to mind.

I am not going to name the top-notch comedy warm-up man and four excellent featured stand-ups who were employed to make IKEA’s next TV commercial yesterday, because it would be counter-productive to link their names to this shambolic PR disaster for the normally stylish and efficient Swedish company.

I got invited to be in the audience because a friend and I both have IKEA “Family Cards” despite having no family (look – it gives discounts and I am a Scot brought up among Jews).

The promise was a “live stand-up comedy TV production… The fun starts at 1.30pm… There’ll be plenty of refreshments and breaks provided, plus entertainment while you’re waiting for the filming of our TV ad to start.” It would last from 1.30pm to 6.00pm.

Bear in mind, dear reader, the phrase “plenty of refreshments and breaks provided”. We will return to this. It is up there high in the ranks of hype along with that jolly interview in which Colonel Gaddafi said that all his people loved him, anyone who didn’t love him was on hallucinogenic drugs jointly provided by the Americans & Osama bin Laden and no-one had demonstrated against him anywhere in Libya.

The IKEA fiasco started badly. There was supposed to be an audience of 250 or 300 (the publicity seemed uncertain which).

Instead, at 1.30pm, waiting in the icy cold outside the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, was a queue of under 30. There was no-one from the production team to be spotted anywhere. Eventually, someone left the freezing queue outside the Riverside Studios and, with trouble, found a couple of people inside the building. They told her they had no idea when it would start but the crew were “about to go to” lunch.

At 1.45pm, freezing, after someone else had asked, the audience was taken inside the building to stand for another 20 minutes in a line by the open-plan restaurant, watching the cast and crew eating their hot lunch. About 15 minutes into this 20-minute wait, an Australian came along asking everyone to sign ‘release forms’ (no explanation of what they were – yes, I do know).

Then, at 2.05pm, it was into the studio to… yes… wait another 25 minutes while the crew finished their lunch and drinks and, by 2.45, things had been got-together enough to start… ish.

We should have known there would be a problem when the warm-up music for this family-centred comedy ad included the punk anthem “No Future” and the Australian with no microphone inaudibly explained what was going to happen to the bemused audience while loud music continued to play, drowning his words out.

At this point, I just sat back and wrote everything down, secure in the comfort that the ad agency ‘organising’ this destruction of IKEA’s public image to its loyal Family Card members was so incompetent and so unused to staging live shows to a live audience that comedy gold could only follow – entertaining for me, though annoying for the until-then IKEA-loving but now freezing and starving audience. Yup, only around 30 of them, but word of mouth is a powerful thing.

Sure enough, having employed four good comics whose daily professional job is to create situations in which audiences laugh uproariously, the show started with the four hapless comics standing in the background on the IKEA comedy set like enforced lemons while the French floor manager stood in front of them and told the audience to “laugh” unmotivated while cameras shot reactions. Sitting there, cold – both in showbiz terms and in temperature – the audience was instructed to give belly-laughs, laugh louder etc etc. Someone sitting near me said: “Maybe they think we all went to drama school.”

The ad agency had employed an experienced and excellent warm-up man (a comedian whose London circuit work and hour-long Edinburgh Fringe shows I have seen – he’s top notch). He was not, of course, used in this surreal show-starting scenario of asking the audience to laugh at nothing. The French floor manager just stood there and told people to laugh.

Lack of direction was what characterised the entire afternoon.

During the long hours ahead the warm-up man succeeded in the near-impossible task of keeping the audience responsive and the four on-set comedians did sterling work in getting audience laughs from a misconceived sexist cliché of an idea with some occasionally godawful lines.

The ramshackle concept was to mix straight-to-audience stand-up with the TV series Friends in an IKEA-built set under a large neon sign saying MAKE STORAGE NOT WAR. The misconceived and yawningly old-fashioned premise was to look at Which sex is messier at home – the guys or the girls? The gags, I think, were partly supplied by the four comedians but also, with fatal consequences, obviously also partly written by some faceless ad agency copywriter who thought he knew what jokes are. Well, OK, maybe not faceless. I’m guessing it was the young guy skulking around in the Ayatollah-like beard.

The comics tried their best with some occasionally deadly lines. The famous laughing automaton on Blackpool Pleasure Beach would have had difficulty laughing but the audience were pros. Or, at least, they did their best to pretend they had been to drama school.

The ad agency seem to have assumed they could get steady laughs over four hours from an audience for the same series of jokes repeated perhaps (I’m guessing) seven times over that four hours. The audience tried their best but it’s hard, at best, to laugh convincingly at a joke when its repeated twice or three times. The ad agency should have put together an audience from members of the Alzheimer’s Society.

Though the one thing even an Alzheimer’s audience would not have forgotten was the key phrase in the e-mails they got: “plenty of refreshments and breaks provided”.

See? I told you to remember this.

It is a key phrase because some of the audience members I talked to had left home at 11.30am to get to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith at 1.30pm, then wait until 2.45pm (with no refreshments) until the show started.

During the recording, which ended at 6.00pm, there was one break in which the audience discovered the phrase “plenty of refreshments” involved around ten apples and ten pears plus Twinings Tea, Nescafe Coffee and an unknown brand of milk. What would have happened if the expected 250-300 punters had turned up I don’t know. Perhaps the ad agency used its fee from IKEA to have Jesus on standby with loaves and fishes.

My reason for mentioning Twinings and Nescafe by name is that these are not products on sale in IKEA, so they were presumably bought by the advertising agency. The irony is that IKEA sells and provides very cheap good food and drink and would presumably have given free food and drink to the ad agency to give to their IKEA “Family Card” members.

To be honest, there wasn’t just one break, there were two. On the second one, the break in which the audience was told to go eat, drink and wee in the toilets was interrupted after three minutes (I timed it) and the audience urgently called back to their seats (abandoning half-drunk cups and apples with one bite taken out of them) “to line up cameras”. They were then not needed for 17 minutes during which time, for a brief period, all four comics were visibly eating and drinking on set in front of the seated, unfed and unwatered audience. (Not the comics’ fault; they didn’t know the audience wasn’t being given food, but the production crew should have seen and twigged what was happening.)

The whole somnambulistic shambles came to an end just before 6.00pm with increasing audience grumbling around me about not being given any of the promised food. One person said to me, “At least a ham sandwich would have been something. They are all getting paid and had food. We get paid nothing, we have to perform and we get starved for four hours.”

Despite an out-of-control production, the comics and the warm up man succeeded in the amazing, near impossible task of keeping the audience on-side and responsive for four hours. With good editing, there was more than enough material shot yesterday to create maybe five good 20-second commercials. I will be interested to see the uproarious final comic ads with the roaring audience reactions (‘sweetened’ in the sound edit suite) and happy audience faces.

The agency behind yesterday’s farrago was Mother Advertising.

They were certainly being thought of as a bunch of mothers by the IKEA Family Card-carrying audience members I was sitting among.

Except, of course, that’s not true. I thought that myself.

Ordinary punters did not think the shambles was mis-organised by an ad agency and presumably had not, as I had, checked on the release form they signed at the beginning of the afternoon to see who the ‘producers’ were. They saw it as an afternoon organised by IKEA.

So, yesterday afternoon, IKEA’s reputation was tarnished to around 30 of its most loyal customers and, as I say, word of mouth is a powerful thing.

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There are later blogs by me on this subject, including this one about the audience. You might also want to follow me on Twitter  – @thejohnfleming – or Facebook.

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Filed under Ad industry, PR, Television