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Subway, breakfast and “The Pitch”

Those of us interested in how the actual advertising work gets done on “Mad Men” kept our TVs tuned to AMC after the show Sunday night for the first episode of “The Pitch,” a reality program that pits two ad agencies against each other to come up with a campaign aimed at bringing 18- to 24-year-olds to Subway for breakfast.

In this sneak peek of the eight-episode series set to debut in its regular time slot April 30, Los Angeles’ Wong Doody Crandall Wiener, probably best known in the foodservice world for edgy Quiznos campaigns such as “Singing Kittens,” competed with Durham, N.C.-based McKinney, the agency responsible for commercials of Nationwide’s droll spokesman and Travelocity’s traveling garden gnome.

Both agencies met with Subway Chief Marketing Officer Tony Pace, who advised that the chain didn’t want any talking animals, but the same sensibility that powered earlier campaigns for Quiznos seemed to color WDCW’s “zAMbies” pitch. In the initial meeting, Pace recalls an earlier Quiznos campaign from the agency that didn’t “appear to do much in the marketplace” and expresses hope that this time, WDCW can come up with the right mix of brand message and quirkiness to appeal to the target audience.

What follows are brainstorming sessions and creative meetings at both agencies. They’re often stressful sessions at McKinney, where two two-person copywriting teams try to come up with the best ideas, only to face bosses who can’t seem to shake a look of disappointment. Ultimately, one idea from each duo is chosen.

Back in the room with Subway, an initial pitch tagged to “Let’s Fix Breakfast” seems to fall flat; then, McKinney Chief Creative Officer Jonathan Cude introduces a video by YouTube rapper Mac Lethal, whose spot filmed in a Subway store has executives losing their impassive expressions and breaking into smiles and laughter. The laughs get bigger when the presentation ends with a live, rapid-fire performance by the rapper himself.

WDCW’s “zAMBies” get a similar response from Subway’s team, but ultimately executives look beyond the humor of the campaign to more practical considerations, and ultimately choose McKinney’s rapper’s “Wake Up Your Taste Buds” campaign.

It wouldn’t be reality TV if there weren’t plenty of dramatic scenes of hopeful young copywriters putting themselves out there only to have their ideas shot down. And, of course, the brief dramatic scene in which the teams find out whether their idea was the winner — thankfully this part isn’t too drawn out. But TV drama aside, “The Pitch” gives a real feel for the struggle that goes into coming up with a killer brand-new idea while at the same time keeping with the brand’s image and message.

There’s been some debate in the advertising world about whether it’s ultimately a good thing for agencies and their clients to take part in reality shows such as “The Pitch,” as Advertising Age reported in pro and con columns last month. For Subway’s part, the show made sense as a way to build on the earlier successes of other branded TV partnerships on shows including “The Biggest Loser,” “Chuck” and “Undercover Boss,” Pace told The New York Times.

McKinney’s first spots are set to air this summer, Pace said.

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