The Apprentice: snap and snappier

By: Simon Wicks

Date: 30 June 2011

Missed the ninth episode? Catch up here

The task

Zoe hates Melody. Melody hates Zoe. Actually, I suspect Melody hates everyone, but this week was all about the battle between two strong personalities. It was like Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks all over again (Zoe is Giant Haystacks, naturally – hair all over the place). And, like those theatrical tussles, there was only going to be one winner: Melody, bloated by ambition, won’t allow anything to knock her down.

The task should have been fun – invent an original idea for a biscuit, make it, brand it and flog it to three of Britain’s biggest supermarkets. Sweet. Lord Sugar divvies up the seven survivors: serial winner Helen is on Venture, along with Jim and Natasha. Zoe and Melody find themselves side by side on Logic; the seeds are sown. Oh, Tom and ‘little’ Susan are in there somewhere, too.

Zoe instantly mows down Susan in her pitch for leadership, citing her experience in the food and drink industry. She delivers the first blow to Melody by packing her off to Wales with inventor Tom to make biscuits. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” Zoe drawls contemptuously, “but I’m probably happier working with Susie.”

They have only the fuzziest of ideas about their biscuit and none at all about their target market. But they do have a name (BixMix), a strapline (“Snap and share”) and an inventor on their team (Tom). It’s the inventor I’d worry about.

Logic, led by Helen (also from the food industry) and capably supported by Jim (ingratiating) and Natasha (anonymous) is harmonious by comparison. Helen is oppressively efficient and seems more like an android by the week. They go for “Special Stars” – a biscuity treat for kids when they get home from school. Mmm, special. The tagline is contradictory: “The after school treat for any time”. Errmmm.

The best bit

Tom making biscuits. In his element, the inventor showers his team with one crazy idea after another: first there’s the “Mermunchie” (“The emergency biscuit to be eaten in emergencies”), then the “biscuit-within-a-biscuit”. He tinkers and fiddles happily as Melody twitters girlishly about hearts and sharing.

But Melody, whose intellect is hardly her strong suit, suddenly lets slip a shard of wisdom: “I think big and then try to work out the details,” she smirks. “He works out the little, little details and then tries to fit them into the bigger picture.” She quickly kills her insight with the idea of biscuits as popcorn – “Popscuits”, obviously. That “big picture” thing – it’s tougher than it looks.

In the end, they compromise on a biscuit-within-a-biscuit that you can “snap and share” with your loved ones, family, friends, the bus driver, whatever. “Why didn’t you make it snap that way?” demands Sugar. If you have to ask a technical question about a biscuit, it’s not a good biscuit.

The worst bits

The sniping and general bitchiness between Zoe and Melody is actually the best bit. Only it’s the worst bit. But it’s the best bit. It’s riveting. They even argue in the middle of a supermarket as a team of buyers waits for them to start their pitch.

“Melody is a nightmare to work with,” spits Zoe. Melody is sniffily superior. “I’m not used to that sort of behaviour in a public place,” she exclaims. “Oh please!” cries Zoe, in chorus with several million Brits.

The winners and losers

Melody wins the battle, but is scarred – Sugar and his management team noting that, despite her “sense” (eh? She did a roleplay as a sales pitch), she seems to generate a lot of ill-feeling. Zoe’s gone; she may be assertive, but she can’t make a good decision for toffee. It’s a farrago – decent name, decent strapline, terrible product and no idea who to sell it to.

Helen wins. Again. That’s nine weeks in a row. How does she do it? The marketing strategy is confused and Jim makes an astonishing pitch to Asda in which he promises a movie tie-in with Harry Potter. Amazingly, Asda places an order for 800,000 units. “It’s a mega-product” stutters a stunned Sugar.

The ones to watch

Helen. And, yes ok, Melody. Despite her lack of irony, self-awareness, relationship-building skills, sound ideas, accountability and maturity, Sugar seems to like her. There's no accounting for taste.

Helen evades scrutiny once again. She’s smart, efficient, quick on her feet. But at some point, somebody is going to notice that she makes decisions too quickly in the name of efficiency and ends up backing undeveloped ideas.

Business lessons

Just the one, from Lord Sugar himself. “At the end of the day, marketing is all superficial if what’s in the box is rubbish. The most important thing is to make sure that what you’ve got in the box is good value for money.” I’d second that.

Quote of the week

The Welsh biscuit-maker: “You can do anything you want. Never say never in the biscuit industry.” I love this show.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

Lord Sugar’s Profitometer

Sugar’s stock just keeps on rising. The man talks sense, you know.

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