Can Don Draper teach a lesson to modern agencies?

Can Don Draper from Mad Men teach a lesson to modern advertising agencies?

Written by Iñigo Etxebeste

If you are in advertising or marketing and have ever watched the show Mad Men, then you surely love Don Draper. Even if you are not in the industry, you probably like the character anyways. But people who loved the show wonder at times if the fictional advertising executive could teach an actually valuable lesson to modern advertising executives, or perhaps their fancy but old ways are outdated for today’s world.

It is true that in 1960 they didn’t have the technologies we enjoy today, for example they weren’t able to measure, track and monitor every single cent spent and every single click and impression, as well as tweak the ad copy to optimise for conversions. In today’s reality marketers and advertisers don’t play so much of a guessing game, but a new game of data-driven marketing led by analysts.

While all this is true, and modern advertising and marketing agencies function in a completely different manner, there are still lessons we can learn from these charismatic characters. So cutting to the chase, what can we really learn?

Understand the end customer

Advertising agencies need to understand the brands they are representing. The brand’s target audience, and how this brand can appeal to its audience. This is key for creating the right campaign and the right message. Don Draper always managed to accurately capture and tap into the right emotions, adapting each campaign to its audience. He was always able to tap into what audiences really wanted, as opposed to what they actually needed. He was able to craft messages around emotions versus needs, and this is what ultimately made a campaign successful.

The most important step in a great advertising campaign is to understand your customer. What does this customer really want, what does he/she feel and think? What is their deepest desire? These are the emotions you need to tap into as an advertiser. Which brings us to the next lesson…

Appeal to the emotions of your customers

This is strongly related to the previous point. Don understands that you need to put the client first and keep the customers’ happiness above everything else. Which means that above trying to sell your product, you should be thinking in terms of a deeper need that your customers may be looking for and then show how the product can meet that deeper need. Most of his campaigns appeal to emotions to make a sale.

Rely on diversity

Don had many talents, but one of the most practical ones was being able to understand that not every client was a one-size-fits-all project. He used a wide range of sources when it came to creating ideas that would stick, and many of those came from his employees’ perspectives. Take Peggy, the female secretary who eventually became the leading copywriter: Don ended up relying on her thinking and creative support.

Put effort into planning and execution

Seems needless to say, but this can make a huge difference. When Don and the team are pitching a client, they usually have the campaign strategised before revealing any details of their plans. They have already planned when and where the campaign will be showcased long before the public can see it. They don’t buy ad space in a newspaper or TV on an ad hoc basis, but instead, everything is already planned out for the entire campaign.

Can you think of any other useful lesson that the show taught us?

Iñigo Etxebeste, March 31, 2017