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VOL. 36 | NO. 26 | Friday, June 29, 2012

Dispelling Mad Men’s gin-soaked, last-minute-miracle myths

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Infamous Mad Men character Don Draper swills bourbon, chain smokes, womanizes and spouts out seemingly genius 1960s ad campaign concepts just under the wire every week on AMC’s mega hit. How accurate is this depiction of advertising agencies today? Let’s set the record straight.

Emotional Buyers: Clear the cigarette smoke from any episode of Mad Men and you’ll find that the basic tenets of why people buy haven’t changed from the days depicted in the show. People want to feel loved, happy and special – and they’ll buy products that deliver on those needs. Consumers make emotional decisions to buy first, then searching for a rational means of justification to allow their analytical brain to get on board with the decision.

The Holy Grail: You must have a unique point of differentiation if advertising is going to have a fighting chance. It’s the veritable Holy Grail sought out by the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce creative team. Couple that with an authentic, unique way of telling your story, and you just might have a successful campaign.

11th Hour Hail Mary: It’s fascinating to watch the Sterling Cooper team flex its creative muscle by turning a half-baked idea into advertising gold just under the wire seemingly every time. In reality, solid agencies put a great deal of time and thoughtful planning into concepting new creative campaigns.

Research is vital and concepts are well vetted to ensure they are strategically sound and capable of driving strong returns.

Work Hard, Play Hard: It’s routine for Don to indulge in a workplace catnap. While mid-day siestas aren’t commonplace, it is true that agency work ebbs and flows, creating periods of intensity and long hours followed by the occasional lull with a bit more time to relax. It’s the nature of the business, plus creative folks need time to let off steam and re-energize. That’s why you may find ping-pong tables or even the occasional massage chair at some agencies.

A Man Is An Island: – How many times have you seen Don Draper rush in to save the day with a client? Many. And how many times is the work created by his employees successfully presented to the client? Not so many. Within the made-for-TV walls at Sterling Cooper, Don is an island unto himself. That’s not the way a well-functioning ad agency operates. Teamwork and a collaborative environment where divergent perspectives are welcomed makes for stronger work.

A Round for Everyone: While the show’s portrayal of three-martini lunches and gin-soaked workdays wasn’t far off the mark in the 1960s, it is far from the standard today. Outside of the occasional celebration, agency execs are running a business and they take their clients’ work seriously.

So enjoy Mad Men. But know this: Agencies work hard with days that are far less leisurely than the creators of Mad Men would have you believe.

Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and managing partner of RedRover Sales & Marketing, redrovercompany.com, with offices in Memphis and Nashville. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).

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