The Apprentice 2011, Week Nine: Taking The Biscuit

Following last week's French adventure, the stupid seven were back on English soil and charged with revolutionising the biscuit market. Cue silly names, inane concepts and Jim talking utter nonsense...
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The Mugnificient Seven receive a surprise Sunday visit from Sugar. As usual there’s no muckin’ about, his audience tittering in their bathrobes (Tom wears a bodywarmer indoors) Sugar launches straight into it. Biscuits. He wants a ‘different’ and ‘distinct’ biscuit. Got it!? Biscuits.

They line-up for this week’s fixture with a three-man Venture: Natasha, Helen and Jim. Whilst Logic has the slight advantage/disadvantage with a quartet of sparkling minds: Tom, Melody, Zoe and Susan. Skippers are Zoe and Helen. Susan makes a feeble attempt at getting the armband. “This is what I do. I take ingredients, what works in the market and then I mix them together…” Zoe cuts her off before any more cooking analogies are delivered. “But you work in the cosmetic industry.” Hush your beak.

Jim’s excited by kids. “Massive area” he says, his mind slowly creaking into action like a steam-powered hat. “I like ‘Mini Men’” he declares. Logic has no such direction.

The teams then split for product development – in essence mucking about with crumbs at a biscuit factory/focus group – and branding. The project managers decide that their expertise is needed back at the office and so the runts of each litter are packed off to the biscuit development laboratory in Swansea to create tea-dunking history; at £1.99 a pop. Jim is entrusted with looking after the health of the nation’s kids. Whilst Tom – who has already riffed around the concept of an ‘emergency biscuit’ in the cab, is twinned with Melody to jab the buttons and pull the levers for Logic.

Tom wants to push the boundaries. An inventor by trade he wants to create a “biscuit within a biscuit”. He wants to splice two distinct entities together. His jotting pad looks like something that’s fallen off Stephen Hawking’s fridge. This is nuclear fusion, shit. The hat-stand Melody however is failing to win anybody over with her ‘biscuits are the new popcorn’ mantra; a product that would not only raise obesity levels across the western world, but would also potentially wipe out Glasgow.

The Swansea locals look scared. Melody’s ‘popscuit’ looks like Play-Doh crafted by a child in boxing gloves.

Venture’s star-shaped kiddie treat ‘’cos anytime’s treat-time, as long as it’s after school time’ begins to take shape. A seven-year-old tells Jim to create a star-themed cookie. Jim obeys. Meanwhile Logic’s heart-shaped biscuits, crap-shaped biscuits, and shitty two biscuits-in-one shitscuit are going nowhere.

The focus groups hate Logic’s sorry creations and Melody’s getting angry that her ‘popscuit’ is being been ignored. Tom simply looks confused, like a press officer just placed in charge of the Dignitas account. “Something’s gone wrong and you’re in need of an emergency biscuit?...” he mumbles to the focus group. The Swansea locals look scared. Melody’s ‘popscuit’ looks like Play-Doh crafted by a child in boxing gloves.

Eventually, Logic has a biscuit. Well, two biscuits blended from two discarded concepts. It’s a biscuit you snap in half to share, one half is chocolate covered, while the lucky recipient of the second half gets plain old digestive. It’s a luxury product and so Zoe and Susan (who suggests Bix Dix as a name) have plumped for some purple branding, with echoes of silk and ribbons. Bix Mix is the Silk Cut of cookies. “It’s an old school biscuit,” raves Zoe. Venture’s star product, which is being branded exactly like Cadbury’s Star Buttons has been christened Special Stars, which could be mistaken for a charity rock band of the handicapped.

The biscuits are sampled in-store to a luke warm response. A wheezing old man in gloves tests Bix Mix. He hates Bix Mix. He really hates Bix Mix. “They’re a bit dry aren’t they?” he croaks, placing the Bix Mix back onto the plate.

It’s pitching time. In a role-play scene every bit as excruciating as a sixth-form play – described by Nick as ‘very odd playlet’ – Tom and Melody pretend to be lovers, whose gentle row over what to watch on TV is smoothed over by the Kofi Annan of the couch: Bix Mix. The Sainsbury’s people look scared. “Where was this product manufactured? Heaven?” asks Susan. They’re told that there’s no clear target market, and so Tom is eventually replaced and Bix Mix is resighted for the girlie night-in market. Bottle of plonk, Dirty Dancing, experiments with make-up and a giant bloody biscuit. “We want to break the mould and push the boundaries,” Zoe tells Waitrose.

TV advertising, film tie-ins “Harry Potter”, below the line, above the line, biscuit-juggling chimps on jetskis… the guy’s brain turns to porridge.

Meanwhile Jim has gone off script at ASDA and is promising the world with his Special Stars as Helen looks on. “We envisage a very significant, mass-market, structured and strategic marketing approach,” he burbles. TV advertising, film tie-ins “Harry Potter”, below the line, above the line, biscuit-juggling chimps on jetskis… the guy’s brain turns to porridge. “Go big or go home!” he says releasing a fug of wind.

Back at the boardroom Jim receives the BBIW (Biggest Bullshitter In The World) award for his £20-£30million media campaign. “I stand by that,” Jim says staring off into the distance. However, the star of this week’s Apprentice is Jim’s Special Stars, which although a poorly-marketed, weakly-branded, derivative, unhealthy piece of junk and part of a media campaign Venture can’t deliver, somehow, rather unsurprisingly maybe (it is ASDA) shifts 800,000 units. “We’re back in business here,” says Sugar, adding, “Unbelievable! It’s a Lord Sugar mega product this!” Even Alan’s wily old brain can’t figure out how this could have happened. Still, you can’t argue with the figures and the victors are sent off to eat buns. “That takes the biscuit!” jokes Jim like a poor man’s Roy Walker.

Logic is a divided house. Logic has sold precisely zero biscuits. Bix Mix was a schizophrenic and limp biscuit. “At the end of the day, packaging, marketing is superficial if what’s in the box is rubbish,” Sugar gruffs. Project manager Zoe blames the toxic Melody. The unshaven Tom blames Zoe. Melody is still banging on about ‘popscuit’ and Susan just keeps schtum and goes grandfather clock. She escapes the elimination process.

Tom agrees that he’s a broken record, and says that he should ‘listen to my gut reactions more’. Melody slates the biscuit-nous of the people of Swansea. Zoe believes Melody to be disruptive, and that Tom should be carpeted for his cheap digestive base. But it’s the project manager with experience in running a successful drinks business, Zoe, who is brought downtown to Chinatown by Sugar for not developing her product at the factory.

There’s no ‘Thank you Lord Sugar for this opportunity,’ here from the departing Zoe. Just a seething silence. As Zoe sits chewing her lips in reception, and no doubt wanting an entire box of Bix Mix, without having to snap and share, Tom leans in and gives her a parting kiss.

Next week… We zip to a warehouse stuffed full of tat. “I expect you to sell that stuff!” Sugar barks.

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