The final episode of the widely popular and critically acclaimed retro television series, “Mad Men” aired in the US in May 2015. Mad Men has been described as “bringing high art to the television masses”.[i] Art by its very nature encourages discussion and debate. The cultural references and political debate which Mad Men has spawned since it debuted on our screens in 2007 has arguably had a far greater impact than any other television series of the past decade. The series focused on the advertising profession and office life in an ad agency more than any television show before it. As an employee of braincells, a brand agency directly involved in, amongst others, the advertising arena, this got me to thinking: “What exactly does Mad Men say about the advertising industry itself?”
Television reigns supreme
Set principally during the 1960s inside a fictional New York advertising agency, although Mad Men is primarily a drama concerned with the relationships and conflicts between its main characters, it also depicts a period of renewed creativity and innovation within the industry in which it is set. I wonder whether this can, in part at least, be attributed to the proliferation of domestic televisions during that era? Although televisions were commercially available from the 1920s, they only became widely acquired by western households during the 1950s. It was not until the mid-1960s that colour hit our screens. Television indubitably revolutionised the entertainment industry, and with it, advertising gained a whole new platform with a far greater reach. Suddenly, advertisers had a captive, attentive audience – able to be demographically targeted and seduced through a vibrant, multi-sensory medium. Today, although the birth of the internet and social media has generated a healthy market for digital advertising (US $5.96 billion in 2014), TV continues to be the largest ad spending medium in the US, growing 3.3% to US $68.54 billion in 2014 alone.[ii] How apt then that Mad Men, the “king” of shows and certainly its time slot, is delivered via this medium which continues to reign supreme over advertising dollars.
Good creative lives on
Speaking of a captive audience, although Mad Men has not relied on product placement to generate significant advertising income (with only four paid placements during its first four seasons: Jack Daniel’s, Heineken, Unilever and Hilton)[iii], it has featured a substantial number of brands that existed both in the 1960s and at the time of airing, many of them being advertising clients. These include Lucky Strike, Volkswagen, Chanel, Gillette, American Airlines and Clearasil, to name but a few.
In keeping with the nostalgia of the period during which Mad Men is set, many of these advertisers have seen new value in running historical adverts. For example, in 2012, Newsweek marked the show’s sixth season debut by encouraging its advertisers, including Mercedes and Spam, to use period-style or even original 1960’s ads. Moreover, when Don Draper, the show’s principal character, glugged Canadian Club whisky, sales went up and made the self-proclaimed “stagnant” brand fashionable again.[iv] Canadian Club’s marketing team followed suit to take advantage of this retro revival. The brand launched a print campaign labelled “Damn right your dad drank it” using photos of debonair gents in skinny ties wooing dazzling women and quaffing Canadian Club.[v]
As John Slattery who played Roger Sterling stated “…I think good creative is as important as ever. It’s more important because of the glut of advertising everywhere you turn. Whether you’re at the gas pump or on the elevator, everyone is trying to sell you something. It’s more difficult to get through all of that without good creative”.[vi] How fitting then, that Mad Men ends with Don Draper spawning the iconic “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad which has been described by its creator, Matthew Weiner, as the “greatest commercial ever made”.[vii] Good creative indeed.
Financial Controller & Office Manager
[i] “’Mad Men’s’ true legacy: Bringing high art to the TV masses”, Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times, 9 May 2014
[ii] “US TV Ad Market Still Growing More than Digital Video”, http://www.emarketer.com/Article/US-TV-Ad-Market-Still-Growing-More-than-Digital-Video/1010923, 12 June 2014
[iv] “How Mad Men left its mark on the advertising industry”, Susan Krashinsky, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/marketing/mad-men-ad-industry-reflects/article24455877, 15 May 2015
[v] “Canadian Club on the rocks? Far from it, thanks to Mad Men”, Susan Krashinsky, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/marketing/canadian-club-on-the-rocks-far-from-it-thanks-to-mad-men/article4105659, 19 April 2012
[vi] “What Does Roger Sterling (OK, John Slattery) Think of Advertising?”, Andrew Hampp, http://adage.com/article/special-report-me-conference-2010/roger-sterling-advertising/147378, 30 November 2010
[vii] “’Mad Men’ Creator Matthew Weiner Explains Series Finale, Character Surprises and What’s Next”, Ashley Lee, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/mad-men-series-finale-matthew-797302, 20 May 2015