The Mad Men television show has been universally applauded for its obsessive attention to detail. The clothes, styling and sets were historically correct and the props, right down to Don’s cigarette pack, were authentic. Most importantly, and equally accurate, was the relentless pursuit of the next big idea. Because the real Mad Men and Women of the day were famously breaking the rules as they chased down new thinking and ever-more engaging concepts. And just like on the show it wasn’t always an ad. The Kodak Carousel naming scene from the end of the first series is reportedly real, and I hope it is. Don Draper’s pitch is both inspired and inspiring as it captures an idea of what something could be, and in doing so transforms a mundane plastic wheel into something magical.
“It’s not called “The Wheel”, says Don, “it’s called ‘The Carousel”.
It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around and back home again. A place where we know we are loved.”
The beauty of those days is that we hadn’t yet made up the rules that constrain us today. Creativity wasn’t limited to the latest agency designation, fad, technology or medium. Instead everyone pursued the idea that worked regardless of what form it took. Ogilvy & Mather produced tons of content back then, including the highly successful Puerto Rico campaign that was really an economic treatise on why industry should invest in that country. Indeed O&M’s long copy house ads were white papers on how to do better marketing: “How to Launch a New Product,” “How to Create Financial Advertising That Sells” or “How Direct Marketing Can Increase Your sales and Profits.” Elsewhere on the Avenue, Bill Bernbach was shaking things up with his own advertising revolution that was challenging everything that had gone before as he explored the art of advertising. As he said,
“the difference between the forgettable and the enduring is artistry.”
This sea change wasn’t limited to Madison Avenue. In Chicago, Leo Burnett was creating advertising that was written to align with the latest cultural trends; while in a converted firehouse in San Francisco, Howard Luck Gossage was producing a body of work like none other. His work was both entertaining and involving, whether it was inventing Fina Pink Air, renaming the Quantus Constellation aircraft, creating the new must have accessory for Eagle Shirts or parodying the latest work coming out of the East Coast.
Inventing new products, creating content, riding social treads? The television show may be coming to an end, but that old Mad Men thinking has never been fresher or more relevant. Someone recently described marketing today as a barrelful of content for consumers with only a thimbleful of interest. The way we will change that ratio is by finding a connection, not through programmatic buys, but by having big, original and impossible-to-ignore ideas. As David Ogilvy once said, “Unless your campaign contains a Big Idea, it will pass like a ship in the night”.
Now, where did I put my fedora?
– Graham Mills, Global Chief Creative Officer, Publicis Healthcare
This article was published in Advertising Week Social Club.