Mad Men is an amazing phenomenon, and clearly strikes a chord with those in and outside of the marketing business. Leveraging the show’s huge following in the US and UK, Banana Republic has partnered with the program for a 2nd straight year for its “Mad About Style” collection, reflecting the styles of the 60’s (were they that great the first time around?) Recently, Mad Men entered a realm of the pop-culture pantheon that its creator, Matthew Weiner, says has surprised even him: Mattel has created versions of Barbie and Ken styled after four “Mad Men” characters.
Whether you want the Betty Draper look or Joan’s pencil-skirt look, it’s smart to be marketing nostalgia in these challenging economic times, which we know is what consumers do in seeking reassurance and stability in their lives.
Here’s Some Questions I Put to the Good People at Dare Advertising:
Q1. Does Mad Men’s appeal have little to do with advertising and much more to do with nostalgia? And if so, what are we nostalgic for? Why is the advertising industry used as a template for that era and why does it resonate so strongly in the present?
It’s that whole life was simpler back then nostalgia, it probably wasn’t but that’s the insight it taps into. They’re always doing one of three things – drinking, brainstorming or presenting to clients. Easy. No project managing, excel docs or annoying little details.
I think it links back to that idea of power there were only a handful of tv channels and media outlets back then, if you worked in advertising it was code for saying I am brilliant enough that the company trusts me to write a message that will go out to x million people. There were less brands but they were all reaching x millions of people every time, they needed the best in the business to make sure they stayed at the top. Anyone who could nail a decent ad became a rock star and the first wave of genuine innovation and consumer wealth amongst the middle classes suddenly consumers had money and therefore choice for the first time, as affluence grew so did media consumption and supply and the need for brands to be in those media channels with more and more eye catching / amazing creative
Hugo de Winton, Planner at Dare
Everyone in advertising it seems looks back upon the past with these rose-tinted spectacles where they could pull campaigns out of a hat and everyone would cheer. A time where budgets were less limited and they all had ‘free reign’. It’s all about nostalgia, not really advertising that gives Mad Men its real appeal (it’s peppered with some truths I’m sure – but everyone loves exaggeration and stories).
Also the fashion and way it is shot is stunning, with exciting adulterous subplots all intertwining and all the mystery around the characters (bear in mind I’ve only just finished watching the first series). Tight family units existed, but we are reminded they didn’t always work then, so people feel less bad about them not working now. The men look like they are in charge, but the women are – seeing their role as covering for the men’s mistakes, generally keeping the ship quietly afloat and yet being able to play them at their own game just as well.
Like Monday’s article in the Guardian suggests about Britain and Saatchi’s in the 80’s – advertising for this era in America helped define the culture of the nation. They gave each person their role and from a purely feminist angle some of them really helped push towards more women’s rights. Give us a dishwasher – free up our time for more activities etc…
Planner at Dare
Q2 The Hidden Persuaders, first published in 1957, imparted the view that: “Millions of you are being secretly manipulated by evil ad-men who have wormed their way into your innermost feelings.” This touched on a collective feeling that had been growing among consumers about modern society – a fear of conformity, manipulation, fraud, and above all, of powerlessness – and that this had somehow all been created to sell products. Is this still relevant in advertising today? What are your biggest challenges in getting the attention and buy-in from consumers?
Of course it’s still relevant. The premise for most advertising is that the product or service has a benefit; that it could improve your life in some way; that you’ll feel better for using it; that others will judge you favourably for having it. To maximise the impact you dramatise the benefit. But it’s the same in all walks from life, from politicians to parenting: people want other people to do stuff and they’ll try everything to persuade them accordingly.
The techniques and psychology of selling have come a long way since 1957 – in the digital space especially. For a start, everything is measurable, so advertisers can tweak messaging and media planning on the fly while a campaign is still running.
The biggest challenge is that consumers know they’re being sold to. How could they not? They’ve become fluent in the language of advertising and they become ever more sophisticated in consuming it – which is why all those ads from the 50’s and 60’s seem so quaint and naïve. Interruption isn’t enough. These days the buzzword is ‘engagement’. How can we encourage customers to spend time with our brand, to actively engage with it rather than just sit passively in front of the TV and have a 30” commercial wash over them?
Digital is growing fast and will continue to do so because it’s the perfect environment for brands to engage more deeply with their customers.
The other problem advertisers have had to contend with is the media fragmentation – so many channels, so many new ways to consume media – in the real world and online. But you can consider that an opportunity as well. With a computer on everyone’s desk and a mobile phone in everyone’s hand, advertisers have a way to reach customers wherever they are, whatever they’re doing. But the silver bullet has never changed: right message, right time, right place.
Jonny Watson, Associate Creative Director at Dare
Trying to defend working in the advertising industry to a lot of my friends has been quite a challenge – but I see it this way: It’s going to happen. If you can get into the industry and try to help the big companies do better things themselves – however small, then it’s a step in the right direction. By helping them come up with ‘Ideas that can be advertised’ we are trying to improve them, and then tell everyone about it.
Consumers are more savvy these days – and if they see a hole in a brand and its messaging, they will pick at it. The key is for a brand to be clear about what it is doing, so that people don’t feel like they are being tricked. If you do something worthwhile – then good things will happen to you. It’s all Karma at the end of the day ; )
Planner at Dare