Modern Marketing Principles Featured In Mad Men



Although the cultural TV juggernaut that is Mad Men has wrapped up, it’s easy to see the mark it’s left on its viewing audience – especially those who work in marketing and advertising today. Even though the show took place decades ago, there were a number of solid lessons and principles showcased that are still relevant for marketing today. The audience may change, but one thing remains consistent: Marketers still need to find the best way possible to position their product in order to make it attractive to customers. Whether that means utilizing new tech and techniques or going back to the drawing board with an old-fashioned brand story, there are some innovations that can help change the game – and other marketing ideologies that have remained winners for a reason.

In this way, there’s plenty we can learn from Don Draper and his colleagues – let’s parse out some of the most useful marketing principles that Mad Men has highlighted over the years.

Give Life to a Product

This is the focal point of so many of Draper’s presentations, and for good reason – too often, marketers forget that people connect with a product based on a story. As an article at Psychology Today recalls, “What Don Draper did so successfully was tell a story that connects to people’s hearts, knowing that’s what they respond to. As he said, ‘YOU are the product. You have to feel something. That’s what sells.’” This is a theme repeated over and over in Mad Men, and it bears remembering if you’re having a hard time figuring out a product marketing angle. Try to put yourself in the role of the customer: What would make the connection with them? What would make them feel something for this product?

Alternatively, you may want to have a brainstorm session for ways to figure out the product’s story – a Capterra blog post about Mad Men marketing says that “telling your customers a real story, whether about your brand or something unrelated, is the best way to make an emotional connection with your customers.” This is where you can get really creative with brand-building and storytelling through many mediums: blog posts, extended ad campaigns, and more. The end goal is to make customers engage with the brand and feel like they want to be part of the brand’s story.

Change the Conversation

In one of Peggy Olson’s most famous quotes, she says, “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.” And in this day and age of opinions flying fast and furious online, it can be far too easy for a brand to lose control of the conversation around its product. It’s in these moments that a good marketer can really shine – by figuring out a way to deflect, detract, and ultimately defuse a potentially negative situation. If you can determine a way to change the conversation into something that deflates the previous issue, it can go a long way towards creating a new and positive story that will hopefully block out the initial one. Of course, there are times when you need to recognize the importance of apologies and retractions, but how you recover from a crisis will reflect better on your marketing skills than what happened in the first place.

The Capterra blog post notes that “it’s extremely important to listen to your customers, and find out how the world feels about your products – to engage the public in a discussion about that stuff. But when the heat comes on too strong, you have to change the conversation. You have to release a new product; find a new angle; rebrand.” It may seem like rudimentary marketing knowledge, but it’s one of the most important things to remember – especially since, in the words of an article from NASP, “He [Draper] believes in the effectiveness of being able to mix things up and being unique in presenting your product or service.” You should always be capable of finding new angles – whether or not a crisis change is necessary.

Make a Connection With Your Clients

Although the rise of technology has made it easier and quicker than ever to communicate with clients, Mad Men can serve as a good reminder that everything wasn’t always so fast – and so impersonal. “Back in the 60s, they had to make a call on a land line and take a client out for dinner and as many drinks as it took to win them over,” says the Psychology Today piece. “They didn’t count on emoticons and fast sells.”

While you obviously don’t need to be relying on alcohol to help your business pitch look more attractive, a smart takeaway is the notion that you need to make more of a connection with your clients both prospective and current. Rather than go with a fast sell, be sure to tailor your pitch for the client you’re aiming to land, and do as much research as needed to make sure you’re hitting a note with them.

Afterward, you likely won’t choose to indulge in a few drinks (or any other dubious vice) in the workplace, but it’s always a welcome idea to suggest a business lunch or a happy-hour get-together. And although you’ve got a wealth of communication options in front of you, opt for either phone calls or face-to-face check-ins. It’ll take some of the impersonality out of your client interactions, and help both sides remember that there’s a real human face behind the computer screen – which is invaluable if things ever get heated.

Be Pro-active, Restless, and Innovative

This final Mad Men lesson mixes both marketing principles with career goals, as well as how you define yourself as a professional. Making sure that you never settle for less than you’re capable of can serve both your current position and your career as a whole. Like Joan – and Don to a degree – you can’t rest on your laurels and be content with where you are. Instead, you need to keep climbing and keep pushing yourself to reinvention. It’s too easy to become stagnant in both your ideas and your way of thinking if you refuse changes, and only insist on using tried-and-true methods of marketing.

Another good character to emulate here is Peggy, who chooses to look at challenges in new ways and comes up with creative solutions to solve problems. The Capterra blog refers to Peggy’s pitch to Burger Chef that reframed their restaurant as a place for family dining; although this was taking a risk, she was able to sell the concept successfully. It’s that kind of thinking that can help you grow as a marketer – the idea that you need to take risks and try new concepts in order to keep pushing the envelope for creative marketing. You’ll be bringing a fresher take on ideas to your clients, which can make you look even more attractive as a professional.

Although Mad Men may have been a fictional show, the fact that it was rooted in actual history made it relatable – and useful –  to many business professionals watching it in the current day. Don Draper and his colleagues may have moved on, but some of the lessons and marketing principles we can take from the old days of advertising continue to be invaluable today.

What important marketing lessons did you learn from Mad Men? Tell us in the comments.

Contributed By: Roseanne Luth is the founder and president of Luth Research, a privately held market research company founded in 1977 and located in San Diego, California. Roseanne’s commitment to quality is evident at Luth Research, the full-service, client-oriented research firm. With over 300 highly trained and dedicated employees, Luth Research provides cross platform digital tracking, complete custom research support, telephone, focus group, field service capabilities and on-line surveying.

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