John is a copywriter here at Cloud AdAgents, and a keen observer of social media.
Yes, we know, it’s a bit “expected.” But we are unashamedly fans of Mad Men here at Cloud AdAgents…not just because it’s about advertising, but also because we occasionally learn something about this crazy business we’re in. In anticipation of another season, we reflect on what the show has taught us.
1. We sell hams. Obsessed with driving sales of Sugarberry Hams, copywriter Peggy tosses aside conventional agency thinking and proposes a risky PR stunt that generates little revenue for the agency, but a lot for the client. In this and many other episodes, the people of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce never seem to forget that they are in the business of making their clients’ cash register ring.
We now ply our craft in an age of shiny new technologies, where it’s easy to lose sight of that purpose. And like many agencies, we too have become obsessed with “engagement” in social media. But is that engagement ultimately selling hams? To paraphrase a former colleague, if it’s not, we’re just telling jokes – at the expense of the client.
2. Flip-flops are for the beach. Style has been one of the most tantalizing aspects of Mad Men. The way in which Don and Roger curate their look to sell themselves, establishes them as authorities on what…sells.
We mourn the loss of that attention to appearance. Informality in agencies is becoming a point of pride. At the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, we believe if you can wear it to the beach, it has no place in the agency. Attention to style shows respect for your client and for yourself. Don Draper reminds us there’s always something to be said for the man, or woman, with an identifiable style.
3. Saying “no” is (sometimes) better than saying “yes.” Don is never afraid to tell clients exactly what he thinks. Sometimes the clients appreciate his candour. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they get thrown out of his office (as the Jantzen swimsuit people did, to the horror of the account people). For Don, the work comes before the money.
While we certainly don’t advocate Don’s occasionally disrespectful approach, it reminds us that agencies driven by the bottom line become warehouses of sycophants and yes-men, people who sacrifice what they believe in to get paid. Fortunately, there are lots of clients out there who respect an agency that shows conviction in its beliefs.
That said, only agencies who listen to their clients earn the right the to say “no”.
4. We work in theatre. In defense of persuasive and entertaining ads, David Ogilvy said that you can’t bore your customer into buying from you. Draper innately understands this – in some of the best scenes in Mad Men, he holds a room full of clients spellbound with a pitch. And no scene better illustrates Don’s flair for the dramatic than his “Nostalgia” pitch to Kodak, in which he left the client speechless…and some of his own staff in tears.
So why is it that when presenting our own ideas to clients, we forget that we too must entertain in order to make the sale?
5. No man is an agency. As good as you – or your Don Draper – may be, an agency built on the talent of one person is like a stool with a single leg. After all, what if that person turns out to be a shady impostor with a sinister past? Sterling Cooper Draper Price is a case study on how an agency can be eternally fragile when it depends on just one person; cultivating talent across all levels – not just the top – is critical for an agency’s survival as the years turn into decades, and the decades into an exquisitely realized television series.