The Gruen Transfer – a fun way to learn more about advertising

A series first broadcast by the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) in 2008 and ran for four seasons until 2011.  The Gruen Transfer celebrates the brilliance of advertising, questions the ethics and overall gives an entertaining but educational insight into the industry.

Unfortunately, if you’re outside Australia, you’re not able to view current episodes online, but the good news is that you can find seasons 1-3 online in full at the Gruen Transfer Archive channel on YouTube (2016 update – now taken down unfortunately, I think they want you to buy the DVD) and later episodes on the Gruen Transfer HQ YouTube channel (2016 update – now only short clips).

Gruen Transfer

I somehow first thought the show’s name was referring to the official name for a barcode (perhaps I was confused by their logo), but learnt it’s as follows (from the Gruen entry at

  1. In shopping mall design, the Gruen transfer is the moment when consumers enter a shopping mall and, surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout, lose track of their original intentions. It is named for Austrian architect Victor Gruen, who disavowed such manipulative techniques.

The show is hosted by comedian Wil Anderson and over the years it has tackled a huge range of products and services including beer, beauty products, banking, politics and even the Royal Family.

Here’s Season 1, Episode 1 if you’d like to watch it for yourself (low quality on YouTube but still watchable)

You can also just search YouTube for “Gruen Transfer” to watch lots of clips, but to watch the whole episodes, you may need to track down the DVDs.

There’s a number of clever – and funny – regular segments on the show.  My favourite is “The Pitch”.  Two advertising agencies are pitted against each other to create an ad for an “unsellable”, controversial or unrealistic product or service, such as whale meat in this first episode.  This segment of The Gruen Transfer gives a behind the scenes glimpse into the creative process behind ads with the agencies first giving a short explanation into how they went about the task.

Not suitable for children with regular adult themes and language but to anyone else, I’d highly recommend this show.  Even watching just one episode will make you more alert and aware of the day to day confrontations each of us has with advertising.

Marketers will recognise many of the techniques and tactics discussed, but even those who work in this industry also still likely to learn something new as the show analyses ads from all over the world.  Those in business will also benefit from learning more about the psychology and science behind why we buy.

The website itself is worth a visit, click on the image below: (update 2016 – no longer online, an updated website is here:

Gruen Transfer

An offshoot show – Gruen Nation – ran in 2010 and 2013 during the Australian National elections and looked specifically at the interesting topic of political advertising.

From 2011 – 2013, The Gruen Transfer show was replaced by three seasons of Gruen Planet.  The former focussed just on advertising, but the new show broadened the discussions to also include public relations.  It was recently announced there will be a fourth season of Gruen Planet returning to Australian screens in 2015. (2016 update – has now aired!)

Ever watched The Gruen Transfer, Gruen Nation or Gruen Planet?  Or watched an episode after reading this blog post?  I’d love your thoughts in a comment below!


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