Mad Men Advertisers Would Make Don Draper Proud

As most pop culture phenomenons, if you haven’t heard or watched “Mad Men” at least once, you are living in a cable-free cave. I could launch into an ecstatic rant about the nuances and complexities of the storylines, the utter amazement at the set details of the time, how handsome Jon Hamm is, but I won’t go there. I want to discuss the ads during the show – one of the bests TV commercial strategies I’ve seen in a long time — which both embraces and ramrods right over the growing trend to skip over ads on your DVR-no mean feat.

When Mad Men began its first season, it had “wraparound commercials”, which was a small taste of things to come. Wraparounds are nothing new but are used in a clever way here. In this case they feature Mad Men’s thematic elements as background and in the foreground a factoid or question about an advertiser, say BMW, and lead directly in or out of the show break. In other words, the line is blurred between when the commercials end and where Mad Men picks up, so you make sure you tune in, sooner rather than later. And you might even learn something interesting (just found out “hotel” came from “host” in French).  BMW in particular, and more recently Bridgestone both have advertised his way season after season.

As Mad Men grew in popularity, more advertisers got on board with this triple threat: Not only did they have their product commercial during the breaks, their company names were woven into the wraparound commercial, and surrounded a show about advertising. Nice. There are several reasons an advertiser would adopt this ad strategy, the most obvious being to reinforce their advertising message, but another strong driver that has pushed things to the next level is that many viewers don’t watch a show when it originally airs and instead TIVO, DVR or On Demand it, skipping right past the commercials when they view it. This has becoming a daunting, growing barrier for advertisers trying to get mind share, only to see their viewership go down the drain double time. But wait…what if people thought the show was actually starting but it turns out to be a commercial…what a great psych!

Unilever, maker of over 400 consumer products, has not only accepted this fast-forwarding trend, it has taken it one step further by creating advertising campaigns for six of their products in the spirit of Mad Men show, amping up the fuzzy line between commercials and where Mad Men starts. This was a great move by the company to tap into Mad Men’s popularity while getting many a remote to stop squarely on their entertaining ads. Each commercial features one of their products, such as Dove, Klondike bars, or  Vaseline and star two retro ad men that distinctly remind us of the account guys that might have offices at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but a little more campy. And even though they are not drinking, we get that Mad Men vibe with the set and dialogue as they discuss their cheesy ad concepts. Often funny, we do actually want to hear their horrible ideas. And at the end of each ad, the vintage version of the product is shown front and center. Usually, a current product commercial is shown after. 

Paying homage to Mad Men, poking fun at advertising, and featuring Unilever’s history of  products is a very smart way  to engage with viewers and make a “show-within-a-show”. Clorox has also gotten in on the trend too. Their “Mad Men” only ad features a man’s white collared shirt with a lipstick stain. A typewriter hammers out in real-time “Getting ad men out of hot water for generations.”

I wondered, though, will the average person (besides marketing types) also be stopping the DVR during these commercials? I think the answer is “yes” from the success of these commercials, according to Unilever. The key to these ads is that anyone interested in entertaining commercials and Mad Men will want to watch. Does it mean viewers will buy more of Unilever’s products? Maybe. Will they remember the ad and product? Absolutely.

If Don Draper himself had thought of this idea, he would take a swig of his whiskey on the rocks (at 8am of course), pause for just a moment, and with slow inflection say “This idea has legs. Let’s do it.”

This is me after I “Madmen’ed”  myself. Try it at:


Traditional Marketing Does Not Exist

If I had a $1 for how many times I’ve heard the rhetorical question “Is traditional marketing dead?” or purporting that it is, my business office would be located at the top floor of a fancy San Francisco building instead of my small condo. I even heard this phrase  as part of “common knowledge” last year on a phone interview for a job from someone squarely in the internet space. Makes sense given his world revolved around ecommerce. For fun, I made the case for other forms of promotion, not sure if knew instantaneously I wasn’t a good fit for the job, was sticking up for my generation of marketers, or being a devil’s advocate. Lo and behold, they hired someone else. 

Fast forward to now:  I’ve had over a year to think about traditional marketing and what it actually means (nor not). I realize that the answer to this question affects not only the way thousands of companies seek out and market to customers, but also me professionally and personally. What should I spend MY time focusing on? What’s important to know for the future? I watched and waited, I scoured Mashable, TechCrunch, marketing articles and editorials, Linkedin groups, talked to people. I want to know what trends that have come and gone and maybe more importantly. what is noticeably absent from the mix – perhaps even permanently.

My first thought was we need to get rid of the word  “traditional”. It  not only sounds stodgy and connotes ancient, it  doesn’t capture the essence of what marketing has and will continue to be: an ever-changing transformation of strategies, tactics, and  tools to reach customers and prospects. As mentioned on this blog before, a recent marketing class instructor said  “There is no such thing as online and offline marketing anymore – it’s all marketing” and this was an aha moment for me, reinforcing the fact that innovations in technologies, shifts in communication and creative strategies, and business and consumer drivers dictate what direction the marketing mix will go, not simply salivating over anything internet related.

Think back to some of the trailblazing times in last century’s marketing: the first print advertisements in a newspaper; the first highway billboards seen for miles; the first advertisements for hair care, cigarettes and indigestion cures on black and white TV; and now social media communities churned into marketing machines. Some forms of communication go out, but many never leave. What works stays, what doesn’t goes away (fax advertisement anyone?).

Which brings us full circle to the same question: is traditional marketing dead? And does traditional marketing collectively include any communications that is print/offline and not on the internet? Is it one-way marketing pushing out promotion vs. two-way communication encouraged by social media communities and customer feedback? The answer depends on your definition of traditional, but the most popular one seems to be one that focuses on “old school” direct mail, advertising, trade shows – anything offline vs. the Big Dog: the internet, with a heavy emphasis on social media, particularly as of late. In fact, young B2B marketers have probably never even produced or received a hard copy direct mail at work, but ironically might be getting a postcard twice a year from their local carpet cleaner offering 20% off…which happens to be quite successful for their business.

The important question marketers really have to ask is not whether there is such a thing as traditional marketing and if it is dead, but what is the best way to reach their target? Context is everything – smart companies assess and deliver the right mix of gravitational pull for their own business and do not fall prey to the latest trends because they are in fashion or techie appeal.  It might not be a Facebook Fan page that grabs your customer’s business if they are not internet-savvy; or consider hybrid marketing like the Yellow Pages which have print directories but also support  a web business to reach their targets wherever they are. Compare a  high level executive receiving a hand-crafted invitation to an exclusive CEO event in the mail versus an email.  It may not be as convenient or include flashy html but it strikes the right emotional and business cord to open up a real and personalized invitation (with texture yet!). Or a multi-level, integrated campaign for a new consumer product which is advertised on the web, in print, on TV and retail. One communication channel may have more impact than the other but they all work together in concert, one is not more relevant than the other. Lastly, a high tech companies that offer customer events both webinars and in person events maximum impact with different audiences and objectives. All of these examples come back to: there is no such thing as online and offline marketing anymore. The truth is that traditional marketing does not  exist, smart decisions to reach your target do.

While it would be foolhardy not to be on top of critical pieces of the internet pie – be it email marketing, ecommerce, social media, the alphabet soup of  SEO, SEM, PPC, etc. – we must not be myopic and dismiss the successful tools used for years to reach our prospects and customers when they hit the bullseye.

Online Event Technology Cannot Trump Human Connection

For many corporations, online event technology has bridged the gap between time, distance, culture to reach their prospects and customers. These advances help marketers reach audiences across the street and across the globe quickly and efficiently.

The beginnings of online events in the late-1990s consisted of webinars (also known as eSeminars) and web casts, straightforward attempts to port the live experience to the computer. They haven’t changed much over the years and are still used by many companies to launch products, educate consumers, soften PR problems and more.

The significant changes in online events are the dazzling technologies such as telepresence meetings and virtual events – marketers now have even more choices with these newer, sexier showcases to swap out with their less flashy cohorts. The result? With a mix of the webinars and newer online events, some companies are cutting trade shows, seminars and other in-person events altogether – that is a mistake.

The argument for leaving live events off the roster has been made for some smaller, nimble web-based companies in these times of shrinking budgets and growing computer sophistication among attendees. Add to that shorter times to execute webinars at less cost and with fewer resources and that decision can make financial sense for them. 

But for the majority of companies now reslicing the event pie, it is a myopic view to cut live events altogether.  As much as in-person events are given a bad rap for bloated budgets, unnecessary fluffery and fuzzy ROI, online events also have their inherent disadvantages of hollowness, distracted attendees, occasional breakdowns in technology, and lack of feedback. Though there are certainly online event ROI tools to measure activity and clicks, how does one value metrics for the human connection – that  elusive “X” factor?  This may be the speed bump on the cyberhighway we are ramming over. There is a completely different psychology, awareness level and interaction that takes place face-to-face human exchange that online communication can never replace.

If we look closer at online events, they have four basic outcomes, from least desireable to most:  1) Cancellation  –  Since the commitment is low and they likely didn’t pay 2) Inattention – The person could also be filing their nails or having a conversation with their cube mate (ironically, I recently received a webinar invitation to “How to engage multitasking webinar audiences.”) 3) Paying Attention – Asking questions of the presenters, responding to event surveys, wanting more information  4) Ready to Buy – The person wants a salesperson to call or is ready to click and buy –this of course is the best outcome, live or not.

Contrast these actions with a live interaction at  a trade show, conference or networking party. The result could be the same but could also be changed real-time: There may be the opportunity for  conversation and extended discussion, read the person’s body language and facial expressions, answer questions, and even change their opinions and buying objections. Add to that some peppering of personal discussion of  common colleagues and interests and you have a real engagement. This face-to-face encounter cannot be seen, heard or felt online at any more than a superficial level – a cyberspace click — if at all. 

This is just one example to consider. What about the annual user conference that suddenly goes online? How will that affect your customers and their perception of its importance to your company?  Or the one trade show you exhibited at every year that you are now absent from? Ultimately these types of business decisions will be based on your goals, target audience, and perhaps most importantly, budget. But when evaluating what events to add, remove, and replace in your events mix, take a close look at how interacting live verses cyberspace will matter, or not. This factor may not be calculated into the equation. 

And make no mistake – quantifying and persuading management that human encounters are worth the cost can be difficult. Analyzing the hard numbers, online events will always win out as more attractive cost-per-lead, but the intangible benefits of live interaction may not be able to be measured long-term. Online events, strategically used in conjunction with live ones, keep just the right distance and closeness with your prospects and customers.