Mad Men is one of my favorite TV shows, and I don’t watch much TV so when I do it’s got to be good.
There’s a quiz circulating Facebook asking “which Mad Men character are you?” I didn’t take it (these quizzes are usually poorly written with tons of typos, and that annoys me) but if I had to choose one, it’d probably be one of the lesser-known supporting roles. Like Ken Cosgrove, the account exec / sci-fi writer wannabee. He’s the only one who doesn’t tick me off on some level from week to week with his childish behavior. But that’s why we watch the show, isn’t it? The melodrama and wacky behavior?
OK, me too. But I watch it for other reasons as well. Hidden within the crazy story lines are advertising and marketing gems, which you’ll spot if you’re paying attention. Good copywriters, after all, believe in the value of the “swipe file” and to me, the world is a big swipe file.* The best, and most famous, comes from the first season during Don’s desperate play for the Lucky Strike campaign:
“Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.”Season one, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
I’ve always thought this was brilliant. If you remember the rest of the meeting with the Lucky Strike owner (Holling from Northern Exposure!) you might recall that it also focuses on product differentiation, which is critical to any marketing campaign. “Everybody else’s cigarettes are poison. Lucky Strikes are toasted.”
There are many ways of looking at marketing strategy, many effective angles to take. This is a good one. Deep down, everybody wants to be happy, and they’ll infallibly take the path they believe will lead there–promises of beauty, new sexual partners, more money, better possessions, relief from pain, relief from fear. You want to sell a car? You’re not really selling a car, you’re selling sexy. Or relief from fear, if it’s a safe car that your kids might drive or babies might ride in. Hardee’s found out that it’s possible to make a big greasy cheeseburger sexy while at the same time hinting that it won’t make you fat. Brilliant.
Of course, if you’re Don, the method involves copious drinking, smoking, and quickie hookups on the credenza.
Pass the bourbon.
*Swipe file: collection of material you admire, used as inspiration for your own creative efforts.