Like millions of others with nothing better to do on Thursday nights, I've munched on snack food while watching half-naked fortune seekers munch dried grasshoppers. I've scratched my belly as these fame chasers scratch their mosquito-bitten legs, fighting the elements and each other, hoping to stick around long enough for this week's finale.
So Survivor isn't Club Med. For a million bucks—and more in product endorsements, book deals and talk-show appearances—it better not be.
I'm not surprised Survivor is doing so well. It's a great concept. Like an effective ad campaign, it's based on a simple idea that can easily be pooled out. Just pick a new batch of players, choose the next exotic location and every six months you've got another ratings winner.
There's also the merchandising possibilities: T-shirts, bandannas, trading cards, videos, CD-ROMs, board games, fast-food tie-ins, Halloween masks, you name it. It's a case study in branding.
Credit CBS. At a time when network broadcast seemed mired in the tar pits, Survivor proves you don't need high-priced actors, fancy production or a Gen X theme to score big. Again, it comes down to a great concept. Whether it's TV or advertising, it's the core of any marketing success.
On a more personal level, I've gleaned a few pearls of Survivor wisdom that can easily be applied to the ad business.
• Success depends on alliances. To be a winner, you need to be part of a winning team. Choose partners, associates and clients carefully.
• You need to be a team player, but only to a point. Be cooperative, but don't be blind or naive. Survival depends on self-preservation.
• You can only control so much. No matter what steps you take, some things are beyond your control. Be adaptable until you can take corrective action to improve the situation.
• Embrace the challenge. Rather than avoiding obstacles, view them as necessary stepping stones toward reaching your goal. If you succeed, you'll feel exhilarated. If not, there's always the next one.
• Have a clear, worthwhile goal. You'll never perform your best without one, and it'll keep you focused and motivated.
Moving forward, I think the big challenge Survivor will face is how to stay fresh after folks have seen a half dozen or so versions of it. Can we eventually expect to see Celebrity Survivor? L.A. Gang Survivor? Survivor: WWF? It's anyone's guess.
But before it gets syndicated on Fox with NFL Cheerleader Survivor, I'd like to see the producers choose a location that offers a different kind of challenge. Survivor: Mad Ave.
Imagine these glory seekers plunged into six-hour meetings, working consecutive weekends, trying to confirm a lunch date. See who can hold out the longest when the client wants the logo bigger. And bigger. And bigger. Give 'em a cell phone and a 10-minute deadline to schedule drinks with a client who just put his account in review. See who's the first to grab a cab during a rainy rush hour lugging a gargantuan portfolio case.
Better yet, stick 'em in a stalled E train with some fat guy's armpit in their face.
Now that's must-see TV.