AMC’s ‘The Pitch’ Recap: Muse Fights Bozell for JDRF

By Bob Marshall 

Wow, what an episode of Mad Men this past Sunday! In an hour that will undoubtedly be considered one of the show’s best ever, Don Draper and friends find themselves delving even deeper into amoral business practices, setting a new low for what their fictional agency is willing to do to win a new client. As A.V. Club‘s Todd VanDerWerff said in his poignant weekly recap, “Though I can’t imagine watching the show anyway, who the fuck could stay tuned after this to see who came up with the coolest idea to win on The Pitch?”

Yes, this week was definitive proof to any conspiracy theorists out there that Mad Men‘s creator and showrunner, Matt Weiner, and the producers of The Pitch don’t communicate at all whatsoever. After all, it must have been difficult for even advertisers to watch the characters of Mad Men commit a horrid act and then be convinced by promos asking, “How far will these agencies go to win The Pitch?” AMC moving the The Pitch to a time slot after Mad Men was an obvious act of desperation for the cable channel’s very low-rated reality show. But, we highly doubt AMC expected this time change to harm viewership of The Pitch even further.

It’s too bad, because this week’s storyline on The Pitch should have been, in theory, more compelling than those from any other episode thus far. How different can you get than an LA-area multicultural agency and a very white agency from Omaha? Add to that a PSA about racial diversity in advertising that started a lively discussion on AgencySpy last week, and you should have the formula for success, right? Right? (SPOILERS AHEAD!)

The agency behind the PSA, Culver City CA’s Muse (clients include Honda America and the California State Lottery) fly to New York and meet their Nebraskan competitors, Bozell (the agency behind such well-known campaigns as “Pork: The Other White Meat” and the Milk Mustache). The client at hand, JDRF, is in the midst of a rebranding. You see, the name “Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation”  has recently been scientifically proven to be a bit of a misnomer, as Type 1 diabetes affects adults as much as it does children.

Perhaps due to this bit of confusion, the brief is somewhat vague: Create a rallying cry for Type 1 diabetes that targets people of all ages, encouraging them to donate money to help support continued research on the disease. It should also be noted that whoever wins JDRF would be working for the client pro bono, using their work for JDRF as a self-promotional marketing tactic to gain more, paid business.

From New York, Muse founder and CEO Jo Muse calls his agency to share his initial misgivings about the competition. As JDRF and members of the Bozell team instantly bond over an upbringing in the middle of the country, Muse tells his agency, “I couldn’t morph into a Midwestern white guy or a white girl.”

Sure, AMC setting this up as a battle of race and geography might not be the most politically correct way to edit this episode, but it would at least make this slightly more interesting than the five pitches before this one. That’s why it’s somewhat unfortunate that, although Jo Muse talks a lot about Bozell being an “all-white” agency at the beginning of the episode, it isn’t really mentioned at all after the first segment. Instead we go back to Culver City to meet Marcus Moore, a young art director looking to use this pitch as an opportunity to prove his value to the agency.

Along with copywriter Rasika Mathur, Moore comes up with the tagline “Don’t Be Prick,” a play on diabetes patients having to “prick” themselves with a needle to test their blood sugar as well as, of course, calling people pricks. Now, before we dive into this more, I’d like to take a moment to point out where the producers of The Pitch screw up yet again. While Moore comes off as an amiable, ambitious chap, Mathur is the much more interesting character. Why? Because in Mathur’s “other” life, she’s been a series regular on MTV’s improv comedy variety show, Wild ‘N Out, as well as an actress with a resume that includes bit parts in Crazy, Stupid Love and Cloverfield. Now, I get that it’s LA and everyone’s been in a movie here or there, but introducing her without even mentioning her somewhat fascinating background? C’mon!

Anyway, after convincing Jo Muse, who mentions the obvious (“You can’t just go around calling people who don’t donate to your cause ‘pricks.'”), Muse decides to go with Moore and Mathur’s campaign idea. Jo even says “We think ‘One Less Prick’ is sticky. And it’s a different kind of voice of millennials.” Meanwhile, Moore is invited to come along to the pitch, and we watch him have to embarrassingly go through lessons from Tim Hart, an “executive presentation expert.” Much to Moore’s dismay, this lesson includes him taking off his trademark baseball hat to practice.

Meanwhile, in Omaha, Bozell’s ECD Jerry Stoner (ha!) tirelessly tells the camera repeatedly that he’s only been at the agency a few months and that this will be his first pitch. There’s immediately a conflict shown between Stoner and Bozell’s “director of social influence,” Scott Bishop, who isn’t too keen on making the disease into a character named “TOD” after “Type One Diabetes.” “I hate acronyms,” Bishop says, and though he’s portrayed as a pessimistic debbie-downer, he correctly tells the agency that viral videos are “not as cheap or easy as people make them out to be” and that their success or popularity isn’t ever a guarantee.

Despite Bishop’s protests, Stoner and company decide to push forward with the idea. In the interim, we’re given some clips of Stoner hanging out with his gigantic family (a whopping seven children and 19 grandkids) juxtaposed with Moore hanging out with his own, smaller family. For those keeping track at home, yes, in the Midwest we consider it commonplace to create a small army of children to have should the need for one arise. (Not really.)

On top of ol’ “TOD,” Bozell also creates a secondary campaign idea called “Be the Voice of One.” Featuring imagery of people excitedly holding their pointer fingers to the sky, Stoner invites his agency to say the campaign phrase in unison after we see him botch a couple of attempts to literally sing it on his own. The agency heads to New York for the pitch, printing out 250 “I Don’t ♥ TOD” shirts to pass out to passerby before they head into JDRF’s headquarters.

At the pitch, Bozell excitedly tells JDRF that they just completed passing out the t-shirts to random people. The client looks less than enthusiastic about this idea, because, after all, they didn’t approve the “TOD” campaign, nor do they seem too enthusiastic when the idea is presented. Mock-ups from Bozell even include a billboard that reads, ““Start and end your day with a prick. Follow @TOD.” Hey, sounds a lot like another campaign we know about! The client is much more responsive to the “Be the Voice of One” idea which, although somewhat confusing, sounds exactly like the kind of generic tagline a non-profit would use.

Meanwhile, Moore (sans hat) adeptly pitches the “One Less Prick” idea on behalf of Muse. JDRF laughs upon hearing the tagline, which Moore mentions would look great on bracelets and coffee mugs. Seeing the client’s reaction, Jo Muse enthusiastically asks, “When can we start?”

And now, your verdict:

So, JDRF thought turning Type 1 diabetes into a dastardly character a la Domino’s “Noid” didn’t work? Surprise, of course not! JDRF didn’t want to start guilting people into donating by calling them pricks? Surprise, of course they didn’t! JDRF opted for the most generic sounding tagline they possibly could? Surprise, of course they did!

Still, credit Bozell for giving JDRF what they asked for: a rallying cry. No, it wasn’t exactly groundbreaking or head-turning, but it did include the word “one.” At the end of the day, that’s all anyone can ask for, right? We assume Stoner took out his 25-person family band for ice cream to celebrate.

Additional Observations/Insights

  • JDRF broke the news to Muse by saying, “Personally, we think the other firm is a fit right now.” Well, that’s the kind of vague reasoning you always want to hear at the end of a pitch, right?
  • Although it’s been off the air for about a half a decade, it seems like forever ago Wild ‘N Out was a big deal. In case you’re unfamiliar, here’s a clip that exhibits the utter weirdness of that show.
  • The Pitch’s season finale (in two weeks) will air on the same night as Mad Men‘s. Want to make a wager which one we’ll see return next year?
  • See JDRF’s “Be the Voice of One” work on their website here.

What say you, dear commenters? Will you be the voice of one? As always, share your comments below.