How the ‘Mad Men’ era differs from today’s marketing

Jon Hamm as creative director Don Draper in AMC's "Mad Men."
Jon Hamm as creative director Don Draper in AMC’s “Mad Men.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the “Mad Men” era of advertising. And not because of the drinking, smoking and fooling around. (Although I have some clients who would be pretty entertaining at a three-martini lunch.)

One reason for my interest is the focus on creativity. The message and the presentation were everything, because you didn’t need to think too much about the venue. In Don Draper’s day, you could buy a spot on network TV and pretty much be assured of reaching a third or more of American consumers. Take out an ad in any city’s leading newspaper and the local market coverage would be even greater. With relatively few mass advertising channels, the message was king.

Today, I’d argue that the medium has become just as important. There are so many ways of reaching consumers that choosing the right channel is as critical as what you have to say.

Talking recently with a group of businesspeople, I asked them how they got their information. Their answers were all over the map. One reads blogs almost exclusively. Another relies on Facebook and Twitter, while one swears by The New York Times.

Meanwhile, the avenues for direct communication with consumers continue to grow. Direct mail remains an important method of one-to-one marketing, but there’s also email and a rapidly multiplying roster of digital venues like Foursquare, Groupon and Crowdcut.

Naturally, you’re going to want an effective message for consumers in these venues and present it well. But when your message is, “Here’s a coupon for 50 percent off a sandwich” — well, your main challenge is finding people to act on your coupon, not crafting a clever and compelling combination of words and images that draw them in to learn more about your product.

One-to-one marketing is still a relatively new concept. Methods we take for granted, such as 1-800 numbers, magazine subscription cards and customer loyalty programs, were created and widely adopted only within the last 50 years or so.

Now the digital revolution is spinning off one-to-one communication opportunities faster than the average person can keep up with them. In the marketing world, the role of digital strategists and planners will grow in importance, because finding the right avenues for engaging with consumers is more crucial than ever. You can’t deliver your message if you don’t have an audience. Identifying those increasingly fragmented and dispersed audiences is becoming perhaps the most critical piece of any marketing campaign.

In short, Don Draper is being replaced by the propeller-heads. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just different.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by myles spicer on 04/04/2011 - 02:39 pm.

    Here’s another change that has taken place from the “Mad Men” era (which I LIVED as owner of ad agencies in the 50s and 60s). The advent of the computer in offices today — and especially ad agencies.

    In the “Mad Men” days, there was strong and natural interaction among staff. That was useful in a creative business. In fact, I would always spend part of my day talking with various members of staff on creative, media, or production issues du jour. And sometimes just schmoozing. It helped bond people and just made the office a nicer, more fun environment.

    Today, virtually every office has everyone’s head literally buried in a computer. Want to lunch with an office companion? SEND AN EMAIL! Huh?

    At any rate to me, business today is a lot less personal, warm and interactive. Kind of sad — but not for me. I was in the agency business at exactly the right time for my needs. I was a “Mad Man”!

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 04/04/2011 - 09:41 pm.

    I was hoping to hear from you on this one, Myles.

  3. Submitted by Frédéric De Vries on 05/03/2011 - 07:31 pm.

    Interesting read.
    And yes, of course, advertising has changed. It’s gotten more direct. It’s become viral and user-generated. But the message remains key, because it’s so much harder to stand out today. That’s why I strongly believe that we need Don Drapers today more than ever. I’ve dedicated a series on the topic on our (marketing company) blog that is covering every episode of the first series just to make this point 🙂

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