Everything I Needed to Know about Advertising, I Learned from Mad Men

I have recently discovered Mad Men. It started at Christmas, but I’ve now watched the entire series to date.

Oooh, the dresses!!

If you’ve not watched Mad Men yet, the show is a drama that follows the adventures of a Madison Avenue Advertising agency in the early 1960’s. There are parts of the show that are shocking (how they treat women and minorities), and parts of it that I love (the clothes! So beautiful!), but it is also really interesting to watch the team come up with creative marketing and advertising campaigns.

The one thing that stands out for me above all else with the show is something that Donald Draper (who is the lead character, played by John Hamm) says (and you’ll have to excuse me here, because I’m paraphrasing (an exhaustive google search didn’t turn this quote up, so if you know the exact quote, please let me know):

People don’t know what they want until we tell them.

Times were quite different in that era. Advertising was a relatively new thing, and the kind of media fracturing that we see today didn’t exsist. There was one television in your house, it sat in a central location (like the living room) and everyone watched whatever was on, because programming was limited to a few hours a day, and few channels. Television advertsiers had a captive audience.

In addition, we weren’t as discriminating about advertising as we are now, and as cynical about the promises that ads had to make.

Some things have not changed about a good ad campaign, however. In good advertising, the ad itself is as important as the message. We have always appreciated an ad that entertained us, made us look at something from a different perspective, or shocked us a little bit.

Yes, clearly an advertisement needs to highlight that product’s unique selling point, and show you the benefits of purchasing it. But ads that do that in a creative or off-beat way are much more successful than those who don’t.

When it comes to marketing your next event, try looking at it with new eyes, like you’ve never seen it before. What unique perspective can you bring?

Meanwhile, I want to share with you a couple of recent Mad Men things I enjoyed. First of all, some levity: The Oatmeal’s W.W.D.D.D. and a recent Art of Persuasion podcast (on the CBC, hosted by Terry O’Reilly) called Mad Women, where he salutes the top 8 female advertisers of all time.

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

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