Mad Men, A Fictional Show and A Real Advertising Battlefield

Although Jon Hamm was still wearing his signature smile, I was upset sitting in front of TV when I saw Mad Men went home empty-handed on 2012 Emmy Awards ceremony last Sunday night. The critically acclaimed show caused a stir after its premiere in 2007 by impeccably portraying the 1960s, an era of drastic social changes and a golden age of American advertising industry.

When I was an intern in Ogilvy & Mather, I ran into lots of situations that reminded me of the show. I was stunned by the fact that although technology and media environment had changed tremendously in the past 50 years, many industry traditions and routines established at that time had remained, from the company hierarchy, the process of brainstorming to the interior design of the advertising agency.  I was attracted even more by the show when I began to reflect on the huge impact the show had brought to the fashion industry and the insight the show had lent to old brands.

Mad Men

Mad Men

When I navigated myriads of vintage products online, Banana Republic’s Mad Men collection captivated my attention immediately. Estee Lauder joined the trend this spring by launching the Mad Men makeup collection. Back in 2010, a series of Mad Men Barbie dolls was launched by MAT, featuring the fashion icons in the show, Don Draper, Betty Draper, Roger Sterling, and Joan Holloway.It’s interesting to see how old fashion becomes a new fashion when marketers are sensitive enough to seize the opportunity. Mad Men, as a hit series, set a tone of nostalgia and to some extent set a public agenda about vintage styles . Once the deeply ingrained itch for old time and retro-inspired styles is triggered, wise fashion marketers immediately find a way to tap into customers’ emotion. The opportunity is tempting, as the brand marketers do not need to draft a story or establish the emotional bond from scratch. The story and emotional bond have already been established by the hit show.

Besides fashion industry, the TV shows like Mad Men also facilitate embedded marketing for many old brands. Mad Men realistically depicts the operation of the advertising agencies, with lots of fictional and real brands appearing in the show as clients. The show perfectly blurs the line between fictional and real brands and provides many old brands such as Samsonite, Hilton, Kodak and Gillette with a platform to showcase their history. Watching Mad Men is like strolling around through the history of modern advertising industry and these old brands. After the episode in which the fictional agency won Jaguar, the real luxury sports car manufacturer responded to the show immediately by launching a discussion on social media about the episode.

Retro ads of Dunkin' Donuts on Newsweek

Retro ads of Dunkin’ Donuts on Newsweek

The advertising competition is equally fierce outside the show. When the fifth season of Mad Men returned to Sky Atlantic, vintage ads of American Airlines, Pringles, Volkswagen, Birds Eye, Milk Tray in 1960s and 1970s were aired during the breaks. When Newsweek released its Mad Men inspired issue, old brands such as Dunkin’ Donuts, Mercedes, Allstate and Tide found a place to exhibit their vintage ads.

It is interesting to see how these big names like Kodak and Samsonite take advantage of the show, but it is more interesting extending the discussion to rejuvenating a declining brand or even to reviving a dead brand. Most brand marketers are fully aware of the overarching principle about positioning and establishing emotional bond. But when a marketing strategy becomes common sense, adopting it blindly may backfire. Brand marketing in the Mad Men case is quite thought-provoking as to how to innovate the strategy and to differentiate the brand by creating a buzz at the right time and on the right platform.



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4 Responses to Mad Men, A Fictional Show and A Real Advertising Battlefield

  1. limthong says:

    These collaboration between the mentioned brands and Mad Men is genius. I am particularly fascinated by Estee Lauder’s Mad Men collection because it really got my attention. As a 22-year-old, I never liked Estee Lauder because I grew up seeing my grandmother (who’s currently 77 years old) as Estee Lauder’s loyal customer, therefore I associate Estee Lauder with being traditional and old-fashioned.

    However, Man Men has made old-fashioned and vintage art directions cool and current. As a Mad Men fan and a cosmetic addict, I am instantly attracted to Estee Lauder’s Mad Men Collection. Like Qingwei said, a lot of the elements from Mad Men still remains in advertising agencies today. The whole campaign brings back nostalgia of the 1960s, as an extension of this campaign companies provide opportunity for customers to get a glimpse of Mad Men experience through purchasing their products.

    Estee Lauder and Mad Men has the same brand core value and characteristic. They both originated in New York, USA; Estee Lauder peaked during the 1960s which is the period where the series set. They both capture each other’s personalities and spirits, this is the reason why the two brands match each other harmoniously. Imagine if Mad Men were to collaborate with Burberry cosmetics or Anna Sui, I don’t think they would work as well as Estee Lauder.

    • Qingwei says:

      Thanks for extending the topic to identifying the same core value when two brands intend to collaborate with each other. I really love how you analyze the correlation between Estee Lauder and Mad Men. I agree with you on that if a brand wants to launch Mad Men collection, it must identify the same core value and exploit the new opportunity under the premise of keeping a consistent brand image.
      Mad Men seems to be more than an ideal brand to collaborate with for some fashion brands, it is also regarded as a multifaceted platform enabling embedded marketing for many old brands. The storyline of the show endows old brands such as Samsonite, Lucky Strike and Jaguar with a perfect platform to showcase their brand legacy. The nostalgic air of the show also ignited a trend for brands to bring their retro ads back in the spotlight. When using Mad Men as a platform rather than a source of product design inspiration, the need to identify the same brand core value is not that necessary. But of course these brands had better to be old brands established before 1960s (It will be the most jaw-dropping moment if Don Draper pitches to Fiji Water executives in the next season).^^

  2. mtsang says:

    I was never particularly interested in watching the Mad Men TV series (yes, I’m probably the only one). However, being out in the real world and being bombarded about the show made me feel like I was missing out on something, something big.

    I can disregard typical advertisements quickly, but strolling through a shopping mall and coming across show integrated promotions like Banana Republic and Estee Lauder just made me feel like everybody else was in on something that I was out of the loop of. It made me have this sudden urge of rushing back home just to watch it , and finally be a part of the Mad Men community.

    With that, I think integrating current brands with TV show characters, and integrating TV products into real life is brilliant. It not only nurtures and continues to encourage TV show fans to become zealots, but it also captures the non-viewer’s attention, hopefully converting them into a fan in the long run as well.

    • Qingwei says:

      I like your perspective about how Mad Men enhances its own brand image by increasing exposure in marketing campaigns of other brands. Banana Republic’s Mad Men collection may elicit people’s curiosity about the show. I decided to watch the show after I participated in Google Adwords campaign with my teammates. Our client was a vintage clothing store located in LA. After doing research on vintage industry and learning about the competitors, I got familiar with vintage product lines of many fashion brands, such as Kate Spade and Banana Republic. So you can see that is also how I learned about the show. Your comment also reminds me of the show The Pitch aired on AMC after Mad Men. The reality show also takes advantage of the trend and might have stimulated more audiences to watch Mad Men.