The Gruen Transfer – Season Three
Time Slot: Wednesdays, 9.00 pm
The Gruen Transfer is one of those programs that builds its success on discussing a topic we all feel we know something about. In a world where advertising is as all-surrounding as air, there would be few people not interested in the methods it uses to create needs and satisfy desires. That, at least, is the ABC’s perspective, as it makes room in its Wednesday night line-up for the third series.
The Gruen Transfer is named after Austrian architect Victor Gruen, the man supposedly responsible for the creation of the first shopping mall – and so the birth of that decorative technique that aims to disorientate shoppers, making them more open to impulse buying. If you think this is just sounds like urban myth, count the number of shiny surfaces the next time you go to your local shopping centre. The Gruen Transfer is just as keen to show you how film, television and print advertisements reflect and distort your self-image, revealing your problems and providing solutions in the same glittering instant.
I’ve always thought that the host, Wil Anderson, was something of a barrier to this program’s success but I’m happy to be proved wrong. He continues to look for every opportunity to turn an advertising moment into an opportunity for lewd humour, but the series itself doesn’t seem to be suffering. Co-hosts Todd Sampson, CEO of Leo Burnett, and Russell Howcroft from George Patterson Y&R manage to keep the conversation generally on topic: what works and doesn’t work in advertising.
It’s that conversation that should prove most interesting to anyone who spends a lot of communicating, particularly ministry workers. The Gruen Transfer continues to provide an entertaining way of understanding how the average Australian thinks. It seems, for one thing, that there is still a high regard for truth, no matter what postmodernists might say. Regular and guest marketers agree that the most successful pitch is finding the core truth about a product and conveying that to the audience. In short, telling them something they can rely on.
Audiences aren’t nearly as suckered in by made up ‘truths’ as we might believe. They will demonstrate how that it really holds up in all of life’s circumstances. “The problem with doing faked-up stuff is that after a while we’ll get wise to it,” says freelance copywriter Jane Caro, reflecting on how audiences respond to manufactured stories. “Once you find out that it’s a fake, my feeling of being impressed goes down, not up.” It’s a warning that can easily be applied to suspect testimonies and Gospel messages that promise what they can’t deliver.
Another gem worth passing on relates to the success of the viral campaign. Companies and marketers alike are extremely excited about the idea of advertising that consumers are keen to pass around their own networks, if only for the savings in ad spend. However Todd Sampson is quick to point out that messages go ‘viral’ not because they are easy to pass on but because they are well executed. “If you’re going to get people to be the distribution network for your campaign,” Jane Caro adds, “you have to make [your message] so engaging, so involving … that they’ll want to pass it around the world.” This stands as another warning to Christians who would hope to see the good news about Jesus spread organically through our community. The Gospel, presented as an after-thought or with the finesse of blunt force trauma, is unlikely to engage anyone.