Hollywood is accomplished in glamorizing many things…countless historical figures, gangsters, pirates…even, ridiculously, vampires. But a trade that’s received one of the highest quality tinseltown makeovers imaginable is that of the advertising industry, via Mad Men. To anyone in marketing, or even those who’ve given considerable thought to marketing their own product, this program is worth a look. Its fifth season debuts on AMC on Sunday, March 25.
Yes, one of the strongest appeals of the program is that of nostalgia. Set in a chronological progression of the 1960s, it seemingly gets everything right in pop culture and fashion. Mad Men is visually stunning in the detail present in the clothing, hairstyles, homes, cars, etc. I was a toddler in the decade’s latter half (where the fifth season is finally moving to), so it’s not from memory that it seems so period-correct to me personally. But if you’ve ever seen any television, movies, print ads from the period, or homes (like my own childhood version) that held over styles from that groovy decade in the years that immediately followed, you know they nailed it.
No, nostalgia isn’t a reason marketers should watch Mad Men despite its remarkable accuracy. Nor is it the well-developed characters or storyline, which are worthy of note. Creator Matthew Weiner served as a writer and producer on The Sopranos during its final three seasons. I’m not a fan of mob films or television. But I watched nearly every episode of that series, largely because of those absorbing storylines and characters. Don Draper is Mad Men’s Tony Soprano, a highly flawed, yet endlessly intriguing and charismatic protagonist.
What Mad Men can do for anyone in promotional or marketing roles is help reignite the core passion.
Every story heavily involves courting prospective or existing clients. Each episode calls for crafting a new advertising campaign, finding a new angle to reach the masses. The detail that goes into finding the pitch lines and quality of the final results are always impressive. Draper & Co do nothing halfway, at least in their professional lives. That kind of tenacity and precision effectiveness are a romanticized version of the profession but something most of us would aspire to achieve some degree of in real life as well. Every marketer experiences a thrill from having a promotion, ad, or campaign approved by the client and seeing the end result before the target. That’s why we’re in the business.
In fact, while it is a romanticized take on the ad agencies of 1960s Madison Avenue, Mad Men also works in some grit, like The Sopranos, just to let us know it’s not all fairytale. Cigarette smoke fills almost every room, especially in the early 60s episodes. Ad execs drink in the office, during the workday. The characters sordid personal lives are high drama but also somewhat realistic.
What marketing or promotional professionals will find captivating are the many rejected campaign focuses, and how and why the winning slogan or visual comes to be. We’ve seen the fictional firm pitch everything from popsicles and potato chips to cigarettes, hotels and air travel. Both time-period-correct and effective angles are always in the mix.
In determining a campaign for Playtex, a male staffer opines that all women either want to be Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe and a marketing campaign to appeal to both types is devised. Bethlehem Steel is promoted as ‘the backbone of America’ and London Fog gets the tag ‘Limit your exposure.’
To learn the odd, yet amusing story behind why the women’s health rejuvenator product is marketed as “you’ll love how it will make you feel,” well, you’ll just have to watch the rerun sometime.
In the end, Mad Men is a program that fills a uniquely entertaining role for fans of Americana, drama….and yes, marketing.