People often ask me if I watch Mad Men. Well, do you think Texas oil men in the early 80′s watched Dallas? The funny thing about Mad Men is that the advertising business is just used as, what we call in the business, an executional device to tell a cultural story about the period from 1961-1966, just like Dallas and big oil (don’t forget the cattle) in the early 80′s.
As one might imagine there has been a fair amount of hype and publicity surrounding the return of the show on AMC after a long awaited 17-month hiatus. Aside form the press, there have been clever poster campaigns, all kinds of strategic brand alliances (i.e., Banana Republic) and for a second time Newsweek magazine dedicated an entire special issue to the show – well to the show’s 60′s era. Tina Brown worked with Hill Holliday to create an issue with just not a retro cover but editorial pages and accompanying advertisements that via design and message harken to the time, all while assuring the content is new and about issues today. It’s a fun and interesting read with a long shelf life.
So what about the ads you ask. Well, the issue is well represented by such brands as Allstate, John Hancock, Tide, Dunkin Donuts, SPAM (not E-mail), Johnnie Walker and Triumph just to name a few. The aforementioned all created era relevant advertisements while several brands like AT&T and Gucci simply picked up what we call “existing materials” and missed out on a great opportunity. So who really shined in the retro-fit department? Well, there were for the most part two creative approaches to this issue. One was to raid the Agency archives for original work and run it as is, which was a bold and in most cases sound approach. Take Dunkin Donuts, they went with “America’s favorite cup” (“Say yup”) which at the end of the day is very much still on strategy with the core product offering today. While America now may “Run on Dunkin,” it does so because Americans trust it’s products.
Johnnie Walker did the same as Did Old Forester, who capitalized on the recent thirst for Old-Fashioneds – well played boys (but wait there’s a Facebook and Twitter icon there). John Hancock pulled it off in what appears to be a very bold approach using an old imagine of a confident financial advisor and headline: “Pessimism is a darn LOUSY investment strategy.” Everything in the ad appears genuine (or at least from 1965) save for the final bit of body copy: ” Talk with your financial advisor today. Or, if you have a computer, use the World Wide Web to visit.” So why you ask is this bold? Well, they are giving the same advice 45 years later even after what we just went through over the last 3 years, but it’s good advice – pessimism IS a bad investment strategy. It may seem tongue and cheek for the issue, but think again.
On the other hand, some brands took a creative tactic of having their product offering fit within the 60′s style or pop culture, Tide being a prime example of such. The print advertisement shows a current, attractive woman in a Pucci-like dress (borrowing from the Braniff air hostesses on page 65) against a psychedelic background and the headline: “Pop of Psychedelic” The product? A new one – Tide Pods which appear to be super concentrated detergent tablets which you simply, as the tag-line states “Pop In. Stand Out.” Allstate while running an original ad on the fourth cover adapts their current “Mayhem” character to the ages and SPAM goes the way of psychedelia like Tide, but with more of a Ken Kesey theme. Hush Puppies took the “high camp” road apparently retrofitting a chic gal with cool spy camera and a handsomely turned out man with a not so amused Basset Hound – you pick who “Steals the Scene”
So who’s the winner? Well any brand that gave it and “old-fashioned try” not to mention the readers and the advertising business as a whole. It would have made Don, Roger and Peggy proud. Oh, and yes, I watched last night …”Dancing Beans,” really?