Gruen‘s back! Yes, the show that somehow manages to violate the ABC’s rule against broadcasting advertising twice* is back once again to… actually, why is it back?
Ignore, for the moment, the real reason; it still rates well and it’s not like the ABC has a surplus of those shows handy in 2019. The ABC has always claimed that Gruen in all its forms is worthy of putting to air because it helps audiences to understand how advertising (or sport, or politics, and once you remember that the regular Gruen panel used to also cover that stuff seemingly at random this argument falls in a heap but let’s keep pretending for a moment) affects our daily lives. It’s educational, you guys. It helps people to learn. It’s good for you.
Obviously this is rubbish. Even we Gruen haters don’t care that it’s rubbish; we’ve said for years that advertising is where comedy writers go when they want to go professional, and many of the best Australian comedy sketches of the last forty years have been commercials. Gruen is basically a sketch show where the sketches are written and paid for by commercial interests, which is a great idea if you’re television producer Andrew Denton but it’s probably not something the ABC should be doing – hence the panel “explaining” advertising to make it into something more suitable for the ABC.
The thing is, as this week’s return episode made clear, advertising has left Gruen in the dust. If you’re making a show with a panel featuring experts in advertising in 2019, you’d have about fifty people from Facebook, forty eight from Google, another couple dozen from YouTube and Instagram and so on – and then, maybe, you might have one single solitary person from an Australian advertising agency. And you’d still be being extremely generous to the local guys.
Look, most of the first episode – when they weren’t showing random clips and overseas commercials for shits and giggles – had them discussing various free collectables that supermarkets give away. Does anyone drawing breath need this stuff explained to them by a crack panel of industry experts?
One of the panelists literally said “we know brand exposure leads to brand loyalty” after spending 20 minutes exposing ABC viewers to the brands “Coles” and “Woolworths”, so remind us: why did an issue that could have been covered with the sentence “kids like trinkets and supermarkets use that to get the parents into the store” have to take 20 minutes? Oh wait, we put the answer before the question.
And once you realise Gruen is basically an ad for the Australian advertising industry, the episode’s final segment – “Google is scary and sinister, they’re like a drug dealer, we need to be really concerned about them” – makes sense. Google is the competition. Google isn’t bad to these guys because of what it does, because they want to do the exact same thing – Google is bad because it’s better at their jobs than they are.
Gruen is so shameless that they didn’t even notice – or care – that Wil Anderson’s final comedy catchphrase for Google – “Leave me alone mate, I’ve had enough” could just as easily apply to advertising as a whole. “Yeah, back off Google, leave annoying the shit out of Australians with the relentless commercialisation of every possible human interaction to the local boys”.
The real problem with this, or what would be the real problem if anyone took the ABC’s stated reason for airing Gruen (experts educating the plebs, remember) seriously, is that it underlines just how piss-useless the Gruen experts are in 2019. Even when they’re talking about Google, they’re talking about television commercials for Google; who the hell sees television commercials in 2019? They were honest-to-God comparing Google to the Yellow Pages, which is fine – if you still remember the Yellow Pages, in which case advertisers don’t give a shit about you.
Gruen isn’t educational, or informative, or insightful; it’s out of touch. Like an increasing amount of ABC programming, it’s a nostalgia show, based in memories of the good old days when a decent television campaign could make advertising gurus into stars and possibly sell some shit on the side. It’s not on air to give viewers the tools needed to cope with the invasive world of modern advertising; it’s a bunch of people waffling on about the good old days when they – and television itself – could be important and relevant to people’s lives.
And if you’re going to do that, you really do need to be a whole lot funnier.
*first, because it shows commercials; second, because the whole thing is a commercial for the advertising industry. Why else do they tell us who the panelists work for? They’re not politicians where we need to know their gang affiliation; a simple “advertising executive” or “copywriter” or “marketing expert” would do just fine.
“Even when they’re talking about Google, they’re talking about television commercials for Google; who the hell sees television commercials in 2019? They were honest-to-God comparing Google to the Yellow Pages, which is fine – if you still remember the Yellow Pages, in which case advertisers don’t give a shit about you.”
Google seem to think people see television commercials in 2019, otherwise they wouldn’t commission the ad and purchase airtime to run the ad on television. Given the conspiratorial premise that the show is a Trojan horse to get advertising on the ABC, saying the show “still rates well” undermines the argument that television advertising is irrelevant because nobody watches television anymore.
Moreover, many “television” commercials appear on Google’s YouTube, which undermines the point that television advertising is irrelevant & uncool because it isn’t sent to us over the internet. And guess which company serves many of the video ads on the internet (on websites it doesn’t own)? So the Weeds think ad agencies hate their “competitor”, when in fact an agency’s clients commission the agency to create the video ads that get served to audiences via Google’s products. Riiiight.
Anyone over 30 – if not 25 – remembers the Yellow Pages, even if it was something only our parents used. So that’s a whole lot of people advertisers don’t give a shit about.
Gruen rates well in 2019 in part because it’s a legacy program – it has a rusted on fanbase that returns to it every year. If the ABC axed it, waited a few years, then tried to bring it back with fresh faces, it wouldn’t rate anywhere near as well (see also: The Movie Show, Spicks & Specks). Gruen‘s ratings have nothing to do with the ratings of commercial television, which it’s hardly controversial to suggest are in decline.
The real Trojan Horse isn’t that Greun gets advertising onto the ABC – when “showing commercials” is the basis of the show, there’s nothing conspiratorial about the premise – it’s that the show itself is one big advertisement for advertising. We’ve gone over this before, but if it was a show that was critical of advertising it would feature panelists who didn’t work in advertising and would occasionally mention ways in which advertising itself – and not just a specific approach with a campaign – is a bad idea. We weren’t the biggest fans of Dirty Laundry Live over the course of its run, but for a panel show loosely about tabloid media it often actively questioned the activities of tabloid media in a way that Gruen never attempts with advertising.
And even the Gruen panelists were wondering why Google was bothering making television commercials. They’re the experts, right?
I agree with your assessment 100%. I remember reading a television critic praising Gruen as being an example of the ABC being the only channel bold enough to air a show dissecting television. It irked me, so it’s good that someone is as critical of the show as me.