My time off around the holidays this year did not result in a world-changing personal plan to become super fit, make millions or transcend to eternal happiness. My time off did, however, include successfully binge-watching a few old episodes of Mad Men. Watching again reminded me of a few things:
– The Mad Men characters, stories, production, acting are brilliant.
– Hats used to be a big thing.
– Don Draper knows how to tell a story.
It’s become fashionable to trash the Mad Men era as a bygone age that’s no longer relevant in today’s marketing world. You’ve maybe heard some variation of the expression that all marketers should all be making the transition from “Mad Men” to “Math Men” moving away from the emotionally driven Don Draper approach to a quantitative, measurable, data-driven marketing model. Many marketers are already very data-driven or investing heavily to become more data-centric. Yes, the quants are shaping much of our collective marketing future, but there are still a few things we can learn from classic Don Draper:
Emotion drives behavior – Until we are replaced by robots, we humans are still very much at the center of buying decisions and are very emotional creatures. How we feel about a product, service or company still has an enormous impact on our buying decisions. Brand purpose and values are significant drivers of behavior, especially for younger audiences. Don Draper, and much of the advertising of the day, hinged on playing to or evoking specific emotions. The platforms and context have changed, but the idea that brands must understand and align to customer emotions is as relevant as ever.
Brutal honesty is essential – There are several scenes throughout Mad Men where Don has “tough love” conversations with clients, reminding them that how they see themselves is out of step with the reality of how customers actually see them. Some clients see the light and come around to messaging that builds on their real strengths. Others ignore the feedback and forge ahead with messaging that attempts to gloss over or misrepresent the realities of their products. Back then a brand might take a chance and risk a big disconnect between message and reality. Today, a brand can be eaten alive on review sites and other social platforms for ignoring reality. Every brand should have the courage to be honest about who you are.
Success requires deep audience insight – Many of Don’s most potent moments involve the stories he tells about how products fit into the context of customer’s lives. Don goes beyond what the research tells him and gets into deeper emotional drivers, fears, and aspirations. His insight becomes the starting point for more meaningful, personal messaging. How often do we as marketers take the time to get to this deeper insight?
Delivery matters – Not all of us can have Don Draper gravitas, charisma and command of a room, but we can learn a lesson from Don about the impact of fantastic delivery. His delivery actually became part of the narrative; an unstated but critical element of the story. Strong delivery can make a mediocre story stronger or make a strong story unforgettable. Style matters in a very tangible way.
Don Draper is probably not a guy anyone in the real world would want to model their life after (I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t watched the series) but much of what he represents, and the period that it came from, are worth remembering. Data and technology are driving much of the future of marketing, but if we’re still marketing to humans channeling a little of our own inner Don might be a good idea.