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.