What Don Draper Taught Us About Marketing

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Don Draper

One of the great television series of all time is coming to a close, and we will soon see the last of one of the medium’s most iconic characters ‘- Don Draper. As portrayed so convincingly by Jon Hamm, Don has been the main figure in the trip through time we have taken on Sunday nights for seven seasons on Mad Men. From the election of John Kennedy to the fiasco of the Vietnam War, we’ve followed Don and other players from the advertising firm of Sterling, Cooper, et al. We’ve traced the story arcs of these indelible characters, and been amazed at how much of ourselves we’ve seen in them.

As a content marketer, I’ve related to Don in ways which only others in my same profession might understand. Yes, of course I relate to his rugged good looks and exquisite tailoring. Beyond our (ahem) superficial similarities, though, I connect with Don because I see in him the psyche of a creative realist.

‘You are the product. You feeling something – that’s what sells.’

In marketing today we consistently hear the phrase, ‘Content is king.’ Present valuable, informative content which earns the trust and respect of your target market, and you will be rewarded with qualified leads to present to your sales team. Great content speaks to your clients honestly and directly. For Don, making the association between a product and his daily life allows him to excel in advertising. He clearly shows people why they need this car or this brand of floor wax. Regardless of what you are marketing, your client benefits when their product or services are perceived as obviously benefitting the people targeted in the campaign.

‘If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.’

Don understands branding. If your client’s business has suffered because of a perception that they aren’t the cool kids, re-branding is in order. Don’t linger over old news, refresh the message! So what if this product was recalled? That was yesterday. New packaging, improved service, a fresh message ‘- This is how you change the conversation.

‘What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.’

Yes, Don can be cynical. He knows the power of pairing the right word with the perfect image. He knows that playing the right song in the department store motivates sales at a particular hour. He’s done the A/B testing a hundred times, and knows what works. Long before analytics came into our lexicon, Don was studying, testing, and evaluating X, Y, and Z. The trick is not to let the average person know that they are being manipulated.

‘Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.’

Marketing is largely about using the familiar to reach someone who is unfamiliar with you. Social networks like Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have extraordinary reach every day. Scanning their home page, someone sees a blog, video, or meme which you created. It prompts them to click, sending them to your website. This person now enters your sales funnel, and it could only have happened because you reached out to them safely and innocuously. They responded to your overture because something you did made them want to.

‘We’re gonna sit at our desks typing while the walls fall down around us. Because we’re the least important, most important thing there is.’

You won’t cure a crippling disease, or change the economic paradigm for millions of disenfranchised and forgotten citizens of the world. You will sit at your desk, in a chair, and generate content which stirs some people to buy. You will inform the invisible who may not read your blog until months have passed. You will help someone to better understand a topic. You will make a person half a world away laugh out loud. You will improve your client’s bottom line. You aren’t Don Draper, but you are more like him than you ever imagined.

I’ll have what he’s having.

Photo credit: Christina Saint Marche / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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