In a society that exposes us to hundreds of advertisements every day, the ABC is a sanctuary of commercial-free bliss. Thanks to the organisation’s lengthy editorial policies, the closest you will get to product promotion on the ABC is the occasional station promo. That is, unless you to tune into The Gruen Transfer. Which you should.

Protected by the same section of the editorial policies that allows Media Watch to mention brands and products by name, The Gruen Transfer provides valuable insight into the murky world of advertising.

Hosted by Aussie comedian Wil Anderson, the show features a panel of advertising experts including regular guests Todd Sampson and Russel Howcroft. Whether or not you’re a fan of Anderson’s tightly scripted humour on Gruen, he does manage to lead proceedings well and facilitates humorous banter between mountaineering-enthusiast Todd and perpetual joke-magnet Russel.

But there’s far more to The Gruen Transfer than jokes about Russel’s receding hairline. The show looks at the best and worst from the world of advertising, asks why some ad campaigns are more effective than others and discusses the ways in which we respond to advertising.

The program is named after Austrian architect Victor Gruen, the man who designed the first US shopping mall back in the ‘50s. The ‘Gruen transfer’ is the moment when, disorientated by the deliberately confusing design of the mall, a shopper loses focus of what they came for and becomes an impulse buyer as a result.

While the show features a number of entertainment segments, ‘The Pitch’ is by far the best of the bunch. Two ad agencies are given the same advertising brief, being asked to ‘sell the un-sellable’, with the panel judging the best of the two ads.

There have been some truly memorable briefs for The Pitch in the two-and-a-bit seasons of Gruen so far; a brief to convince Australians that invading New Zealand would be a good idea, an attempt to sell the idea of celibacy and a ‘fat pride’ brief that produced an ad that didn’t make it past the ABC’s editorial policies.

In a world that spends over $400 billion a year on advertising, it’s becoming increasingly important to understand the way the industry works. The Gruen Transfer does all that any more, and might even make you laugh along the way.

The details: The Gruen Transfer airs at 9pm tonight on ABC1.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey