Outclassing the Mad Men

Friday, July 23, 2010 - 02:47 PM

Over the last few days, the internet has ooed and aahed over a viral marketing campaign from Old Spice.  In just two days, a production team and a charming actor named Isaiah Mustafa created 183 short videos; instead of paying for TV airtime, Old Spice simply uploaded them to YouTube.  It was the kind of bombshell that the creative minds at Sterling Cooper could only dream of.

The fictional ad agency at the center of Mad Men, Sterling Cooper is late to the game on a lot of ideas. The show’s writers often appropriate real advertising campaigns of the 60s for their plot lines.  In an early episode, creative director Don Draper opens up a magazine to the iconic Volkswagen 'Lemon' ad; Maidenform's racy bra campaigns push them to propose a sexier set of ads to their client, the more conservative Playtex.

The last season ended in November 1963, so I’d bet money that this season uses the famous 'Daisy' ad from Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 campaign, which startled the nation by linking Barry Goldwater to nuclear war.  (It was yanked from the airwaves, but replayed often on news outlets; you can see 1964 ads from both candidates at the Museum of the Moving Image's website.)  'Daisy' was designed by Doyle Dan Bernbach, a firm that Mad Men’s writers have already co-opted as one of Sterling Cooper’s competitors.

And Mad Men has itself become the subject of real-life ad campaigns.  Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers have both used Mad Men to entice men to make like dapper Draper and his boss, the slick Roger Sterling.  Last fall, Studio 360’s Eric Molinsky explored the Draper fetish among American slobs, and you can hear it here.

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