What Ad Men (and Women) Can Learn from Mad Men
[By Aaron Broverman]
Mad Men – the Emmy-winning cable TV series following a fictional advertising firm on New York’s Madison Avenue in the 1960s – premiered its final seven episodes on AMC in April 2015.
That means it’s the last time we’ll ever get to talk about Mad Men and its impact on the advertising field while it’s still on the air. Now, I’m sure some of you read that last sentence and laugh to yourselves a little. You’re probably saying, “What could advertisers possibly learn from a show about a fictional philandering creative director?”
Well, a lot actually. Mad Men is known for its obsessive attention to detail and accuracy, but that attention does not stop at getting everything from the sets to the costumes in line with the 1960s. That special attention to detail continues with the advertising field at that time. The production regularly employs consultants working in the advertising industry now and those who’ve worked during the Mad Men era.
These include people like Josh Weltman. Weltman serves as a co-producer on the show and is tasked with coming up with many of the ads dreamed up by Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and making sure the business scenarios on the show were realistic for the time.
His new book Seducing Strangers: How to Get People to Buy What You’re Selling includes many advertising lessons as seen on Mad Men.
See It from the Customer’s Perspective
Perhaps the defining pitch of Mad Men was the one from the Season 1 finale called ‘The Wheel.’ In it, Don Draper forgoes the attraction to things new and exciting for something even deeper – nostalgia and the sentiments that come with it.
In a presentation to Kodak executives, while trying to sell their new slide projector, Don runs through photos of his own family during happier times in his life and delivers this monologue:
“’Nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device [the projector] isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again…It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place we know are loved.”
Josh Weltman will tell you that people focused on what was new just as much then as they do now, but it’s the advertiser’s job to see the benefits of the product from the customer’s perspective, not the manufacturer’s perspective.
“What Don saw were the benefits to the customer, rather than the new features of the product,” says Weltman. “For Don, it wasn’t about how you project the slide, it was about how you trigger memories. It’s the difference between a piece of film and a Kodak moment.”
Lead with Authenticity
Weltman’s favourite piece of business he was involved in on Mad Men happened in the Season 2 episode ‘For Those Who Think Young’ when Don and Peggy are discussing using sexy stewardesses in a campaign for Mohawk Airlines because, as Peggy says, “sex sells.” Hearing that, Don comes back with this line:
“You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex.”
“The lesson is that canned and accepted wisdom are not how you connect with people on an emotional level,” says Weltman. “What connects is you and you have to be willing to advertise on a level that makes you feel something, or you’re never going to make other people feel anything.”
Don Draper: A Walking Lesson in False Advertising
It’s a quotable line from the second episode of Season 3 ‘Love Among the Ruins.’ “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation,” and it’s practically a mantra for Don Draper. He’s all about remaking himself over and over again.
But according to Josh Weltman, reinvention isn’t always the way to go.
“Happiness occurs when reality meets or exceeds expectations, and advertising is how companies set expectations that their products or services will meet or exceed,” he says.
In Mad Men, Don Draper is that promise – the suave, smooth-talking advertising magnate who says all the right things and always gets the girl. But Dick Whitman is the reality – a poor farm boy, raised in a whorehouse, who’s extremely insecure and unable to come to terms with his past.
“Don is constantly not only disappointing himself, but he has a set of expectations for being a man and is constantly disappointing those around him who have expectations of him that he says he’s unable to meet.”