Trump Brushes Up

Toothpaste was the name of the game in the third installment of The Apprentice, as the two teams of job applicants were each handed a $50,000 marketing budget to create a buzz for Procter & Gamble's (NYSE: PG  ) new Crest Vanilla Mint toothpaste.

Donald Trump described Procter & Gamble as a $50 billion company (technically the market is valuing it as a $140 billion company -- with $51.4 billion in sales this past year), though it's obviously not all being squeezed out of a tube. The company has 16 different brands that rack up more than a billion dollars in sales annually, such as Pringles potato chips, Folgers coffee, and Charmin toilet paper. Its biggest rival is Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL  ) .

Procter & Gamble also produces soap operas, and that's exactly what viewers got this week. It all started out innocently enough. Kevin won a draw of names to serve as Mosaic's project manager, and the team tossed around outlandish ideas like pumping vanilla scents into the subway system, hiring a blimp, or dressing up as teeth. They ultimately went with Andy's idea of using the bulk of the budget to insure a potential million-dollar giveaway.

Apex's Elizabeth, who had worked with Procter & Gamble, became the logical choice to be her team's project manager. The team went over to the company's ad agency to inquire about potential celebrities to do a live endorsement, and eventually settled on Mike Piazza at a meaty $20,000 chunk to come out to Union Square and brush his teeth with Crest Vanilla Mint.

Mosaic's plan was dealt a savage blow when Procter & Gamble's legal team shot down the idea of insuring the seven-figure payout on such short notice. The team resorted to hitting Washington Square to give away three $5,000 hourly prizes, and contracted stilt walkers, jugglers, and fire eaters to drum up a carnival-like atmosphere.

Piazza proved to be a popular choice, as the power-hitting member of the New York Mets announced to the crowd that he has been using Crest for as long as he can remember and he's never had a cavity.

Yet Apex made one fatal budgeting flaw. Maria had discussed a price of $1,850 with a printing company for the promotional fliers, and the team was ultimately billed $6,950 for the work. With a quick camera shot of Ivana's budget spreadsheet dangling dangerously over $49,000 earlier, you knew that Apex would be in trouble, and the team lost the challenge due to the oversight.

In the boardroom, Elizabeth placed the blame for the botched budget on Maria and also brought Stacie into the line of fire. While Maria and Elizabeth slugged it out with words, they both ultimately agreed that Stacie's flare-up during the first week's challenge was still upsetting the team. Looking to get to the bottom of things, Trump had the entire Apex team come down to confirm Stacie's troublesome rant. When they all agreed that it was distracting behavior, Trump fired Stacie.

Rick: Vanilla mint? Is this the ice cream episode again? Incidentally, Andy's idea was pretty brilliant if not for the legal and limited time restraints to pull it off. He's right in that you don't need a million bucks to guarantee the potential for a million dollar prize. It's exactly what PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) did last summer when it paid an undisclosed seven-figure sum to Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK.A  ) insuring arm to guarantee a 1,000-to-1 shot for a contestant to win a billion dollars.

Tim: Yeah, I agree. But Andy got so wrapped up in his big idea that he lost sight of the big picture. Going into the night waiting to hear from the lawyers at P&G was a terrible idea. Still, I love the way Mosaic rallied back, sticking with the original giveaway idea but scaling back to three $5,000 giveaways. It was enough to earn them a ride and a luxurious dinner aboard Carnival's (NYSE: CCL  ) Queen Mary 2.

Dayana: They totally lucked into Plan B and that tax loophole (for giveaways of $5,000 or less). The irony of the team wearing top hats a la Uncle Sam was not lost on me. Still, as far as execution goes, it looked like Mosaic went to Coney Island to round up the "talent" for their Washington Square Park freak show. Did they have insurance covering possible injuries from the stilt walkers chucking Crest boxes into the crowd?

Tim: Is it just me or wasn't this task about generating buzz? At least Apex went to a PR firm to get some help, but there wasn't one mention of getting media coverage. I would have thought Mike Piazza brushing his teeth in Union Square would have at least brought out one of those cheesy headline writers from The New York Post.

Rick: I'll say this. I too have been using Crest for most of my life and I have never had a cavity. So you blew it Apex because I would've done the appearance for $15,000 and kept you under budget.

Dayana: You might have even bothered to brush your teeth before your public appearance. Does P&G make razors? Piazza could have used one of those, too. As far as buzz, Rick could have done the job. P&G completed the challenge the day the contract to appear on The Apprentice was signed. That, my friends, illustrates the art of the deal.

So whom do you think will be the next person fired?

Rick: Well this was the second week in a row that someone who performed well during the actual task got booted. I call shenanigans! Yet Trump never forgets a failure, so I think Ivana or Maria may be vulnerable in the Apex camp, while Pamela and Andy have already been tagged by Mosaic.

Tim: Ivana should be next between her lack of leadership last week and failure to control the budget this week. Although with the way the Apex women behaved during this boardroom, I say fire them all. Seriously, Stacy's comment about Stacie J's lunchroom meltdown in the premiere -- "... it was one of the most scary moments of my life" -- was ridiculous. My wife said it was like watching a bunch of high school girls gang up on the unpopular one. I thought it was like Mark Burnett's other smash: Survivor. They voted off Stacie J.

Dayana: Gentlemen, the ladies are staying. Trump clearly enjoys the catfights -- why else would he have staged this one? I do applaud the producers for their restraint, however. After the King Arthur music that heralded Trump's arrival this episode, I was bracing myself for the theme from Psycho upon Stacie's exit. The viewing public was spared.

Until next week, suite dreams.


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