Eight years ago, Mad Men premiered on AMC, sparking a craze for all things early 60’s. (And thank god, because do you even remember what fashion looked like pre-Mad Men? Among other things: suspender shorts.)
I have avidly watched every episode of Mad Men and cannot WAIT for the final half of the final season. I have excitedly embraced the delicious fashions inspired by this show – high-waisted pants, poufy skirts, and silk scarves. But I’m not just a fashionista, and Mad Men is not just a show about clothes. I’m a marketer, and Mad Men is a show about marketers in the ‘60s. In fact, Mad Men is part of the reason I ended up in marketing in the first place.
How could a show about marketing pre-computers have inspired me to become a marketer? Well partially it’s because I didn’t know anything about marketing when I first saw the show, and boy, does it make marketers’ lives look glamorous. But partially it’s because a lot of what the ad people do in the show is still incredibly relevant today, believe it or not. Especially the drinking. (I’m kidding. We do not drink during work – at least here at Capterra. I can’t vouch for the people behind the Dr. Pepper 10 campaign.)
Don’t believe me? Just keep reading. I’ve pulled some tips and tricks the Mad Men use that are still relevant today.
1. “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.”
Don Draper says this line in the very first episode – in fact, it’s the first time we ever see him in the board room presenting to a client. This is the line he comes out with that proves he’s an advertising wunderkind. And he’s not wrong.
Don reminds us of the simple fact that everything we marketers do is to convince the world that our product will make them happier. You can be cynical about consumer culture – Don frequently is – but you can’t get around this. If you’re a marketer, you need to know that happiness sells.
What does that mean exactly? It means that we as marketers have to show the customers not what our product is, but what it will do for them and how it will make their life better. No one wants a chair because they can sit in it. They want a chair because of who it will make them: someone who is rested, relaxed, happy. Your message surrounding the chair should reflect that.
Which leads us to my next point…
2. “You, feeling something, that’s what sells.”
I think this quote is my favorite one from the entire show (except, of course, the entire collection of hilarious things that Pete Campbell says).
Context: Don and Peggy are trying to come up with an ad for Mohawk airlines and Peggy spouts that old adage, “Sex sells.” Don beautifully shuts her down like this:
“You are the product. You, feeling something, that’s what sells. … Not sex.”
Sex doesn’t sell – there’s about a trillion articles on the internet about this. But there’s probably an equal amount of articles on how building an emotional connection with your customer makes for a strong brand.
Connecting on a deep emotional level with your customers creates a lasting relationship between product and person. Every good marketer knows this. Sex doesn’t create an imprint in the memory and it doesn’t make someone feel personally connected with your brand. You can only do that by appealing to their deeper emotions.
How can you accomplish this? Well, you could take a cue from the man himself…
3. “I wanted people to say, ‘What’s happening in the story right now?’”
This is a quote from Don about his wildly successful ad for a floor cleaning chemical that manages to come across like Western movie for the first half.
Don explains his intention behind the article: “I wanted people to say, ‘What’s happening in the story right now? Oh! It’s an advertisement!’”
Telling your customers a real story, whether about your brand or something unrelated, is the best way to make an emotional connection with your customers. There are lots of different ways to do this. Modern content marketing is one of the easiest ways. Start a company blog to tell your brand’s story; advertise on a really compelling story someone else is telling; or, like Don, Geico, and Bud Light, put storytelling to good use in your video advertisements.
And remember, storytelling should not be restrained to top-of-funnel interactions. You should be using storytelling to engage your customers all the way down to the bottom of the funnel – and even beyond. Your customers should become a part of your brand story. Your salespeople should be learning and using storytelling techniques for pitches. Don does all the time. It’s why he’s also a very effective B2B salesman.
4. “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.”
This may be the most famous line of the whole show (next to “Not great, Bob!,” of course). It’s often attributed to Peggy Olson, from a season six episode, and she does say it far more memorably, but it’s originally Don’s line early in season three to the builders of Madison Square Garden.
Long story short, the Garden Guys are tearing down Penn Station to build the colossal stadium we all know and love today, but they’re getting a lot of heat from historic preservationists. Don solves this problem in the only way Don knows how to solve problems: smoothly and oh-so-handsomely. With this one line, he more or less flips the coin for the Garden Guys. He suggests that, rather than dwell on how the Garden will destroy some of NYC’s history, they talk/advertise about how Madison Square Garden is taking NYC into the future.
It’s some really great, if basic, marketing stuff. But I think, perhaps because it’s so basic, marketers often forget it. It’s extremely important to listen to your customers, and find out how the world feels about your products – to engage the public in a discussion about that stuff. But when the heat comes on too strong, you have to change the conversation. You have to release a new product; find a new angle; rebrand.
5. “I won’t settle for 50% of anything. I want 100%.”
This quote comes from a scene in season five in which Don is chasing Dow Chemical. He and Roger Sterling go in for a meeting to make an unsolicited pitch to the heads of Dow for their business. The executives quickly inform Don that they are happy with their current agency – they have 50% of the market share. And that’s when Don comes out with this line.
This line really speaks for itself as a lesson, but never-the-less, the takeaway here is to never settle. 50% market share is not the best you can do. If you’re at 50% market share, you’re only half way to the goal. No matter what you’re marketing, never forget that there is always room for improvement.
6. “Stop writing down what I ask for and try to figure out what I want.”
This quote actually comes from a Heinz executive, trying to explain to Peggy why her campaign wasn’t working for him. And whether you work in-house or at an agency, it’s something all marketers need to know: the customers (or, if you’re in-house, executives in your company) do not always know what they want, even if they tell you they do.
Marketers (and salespeople) need to remember that the customer isn’t always right. You have to remember that you are the expert. Many times clients don’t know what they want because they don’t know what is possible. If something is telling you that what the customer has asked for just isn’t right, don’t do it. Or rather, I would suggest providing them with a second option.
To use an example from Mad Men, there is an episode where Pepsi asks Sterling Cooper (the ad firm) to create an ad for their diet drink that is a frame-for-frame parody of the opening shot of the musical Bye, Bye Birdie. Right from the beginning, Peggy Olson knows this ad won’t work for Pepsi, but the rest of the team refuses to listen to her. Ultimately, Sterling Cooper delivers the frame-for-frame ad perfectly, but loses Pepsi, because, upon seeing the work, Pepsi realizes they don’t like it.
How could that have gone differently? If the team had listened to Peggy’s worries, they could have created a second commercial to present to Pepsi as a back-up. It’s more work, but it’s obviously worth it.
7. Don’t be afraid to embrace changes and come up with new traditions.
There’s no specific quote for this one, but I think it would be wrong to ignore Peggy, who is both Don’s protégé and legacy, while simultaneously representing the next age of advertising, in a post about what we can take away from Mad Men as marketers.
From the very beginning of the show, Peggy embraces changes and taking risks in her career, and in her dealings with clients. The best example of why and how Peggy finds success with embracing change is her pitch to Burger Chef that the first half of season seven culminates with.
Peggy pitches to Burger Chef a campaign called “Family Supper at Burger Chef.” Peggy comes to this idea because she rejects the idea of the “traditional family dinner.” She says that doesn’t happen in real life anymore.
And out of this declaration comes her ad. You can still have family supper, but rather than at home, you have it at Burger Chef; and maybe instead of with your family, you’re having it with who’s ever already there, like the employees. She leaves the Burger Chef execs with the idea that they are creating a new tradition.
There’s a lot to take away from this, so I’m going to leave it at this: don’t be afraid to change things. In fact, as marketers, we should never let ourselves not be changing stuff. Just because one email marketing campaign worked really well, that doesn’t mean another one won’t work better. (Don’t settle for a 50% click through rate – you’re only half way there!)
In fact, this lesson that we see embodied in Peggy is perhaps the most modern lesson to come out of Mad Men. In the digital age, two things about marketing are very true.
- It’s way easier to test virtually anything nowadays.
- If you’re doing your job right, your customers should be extremely exposed to your brand. You should be in their email; you should be showing up on side bar ads and remarketing ads; you should be pretty much everywhere they turn.
Those two things mean that customers are going to get sick of a stale campaign far more quickly than in the Mad Men days and that you have no excuse for not testing new campaigns all the time. Embrace new traditions like email marketing and social media, and don’t ever settle for good enough. To be on the cutting edge, you have to push the envelope.
At the end of the day, Mad Men is a phenomenal show for marketers everywhere. It makes us feel glamorous, and it reminds us that the internet didn’t scrap everything we knew about marketing. Follow the lessons it teaches, or you’ll be feeling…
What marketing tips from Mad Men do you have to offer? Leave them in the comments below!
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