I like to think Don Draper and I have quite a lot in common.
Maybe it’s the creative genius, sharp dress sense and dashing good looks. Or perhaps the checkered past, underlying personality issues and hints of alcohol dependency. Either way, since starting at FRUKT, a London-based experiential agency representing my first foray into the world of marketing, I have felt naturally closer to the brilliant yet wholly fictional Creative Director at SC&P.
A year down the line, and with the Mad Men obsession train still gathering pace, I find myself in a perpetual state of comparison between Matthew Weiner’s ultra-realist portrayal and my own fast-paced, high-tech reality. With the show’s final curtain recently dropped, this fascination has become palpable. How much has the industry changed? How does my work relate to that of Don? Indeed, with FRUKT growing and Don’s P45 in the post, would he want a job here at FRUKT? Heck, would he even survive?
Like Don, I was plunged into the industry from relative obscurity. And indeed, aside from what I had seen in the early episodes I, quite simply, knew nothing. I had never prepared a ‘deck’. I thought a ‘millennial’ was some sort of multicolored, sugar-laced confectionary. And a tissue session, well…let’s not go there. These ‘everyday’ industry terms were all completely alien to me. Had I not been paying attention?
Well, maybe not.
Mad Men begins in 1960, at a time when you could smoke in bars almost as liberally as you could advertise the cigarettes themselves. Don’s biggest client is Lucky Strike. We see billboards, newspaper ads and Readers Digest coupons. Typewriters, corner offices and artwork designed by hand. It’s traditional advertising in all its glory.
Fast-forward to today. From client services, through planning, creative and design, the structure is still quite similar, but the world is very different. Google Adwords, relationship marketing, the Instagram economy. E-mail, PDFs, hashtags. It’s 21st century marketing that still feels new yet won’t stand still.
Times change in Mad Men too. It keeps fresh what is, narratively at least, a pretty uneventful drama series. A quiet fascination with the golden age of advertising pulls us through. This is no Breaking Bad. The big pitch wins and historical timestamps providing the thrills in lieu of the meth labs, Mexican drug cartels and machine gun-laden finales.
We see consumers evolving too - the clothes, the hairstyles, the furniture, all reflecting the ever-adapting trends of New York, and indeed the world as a whole. But what has become clear to me is that the consumer is always evolving. It’s this constant change, reflected subtlety but powerfully in Mad Men, that defines this industry. The ability to adapt is the only way to keep on top.
FRUKT’s mere presence is testament to this. Experiential marketing scarcely existed until the turn of the millennium, and has been cited as a reaction to a market that is overcrowded, and showing no signs of abating. Perpetuated by the onset of the internet, the active, easily-distracted and downright impatient consumer (that’s YOU!) demands engagement on a more personal and emotional level.
So where does this leave Don?
Will he be swapping the tailored suits for a pair of Hunter wellies? Manhattan with Farringdon? Is it his turn on the beer trolley?
I feel to find the answer you need only to watch one scene from Mad Men’s very first episode.
“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.”
This quote instantly resonated with me, and re-surfaced when I started my career. In the modern, non-stop society of 7 second videos, 140 characters and click-to-order taxis, a new order has emerged that has to weave through the traffic in order to reach the heart of the consumer. Don shows, within one hour of our meeting him, that he inherently understands this truism, one that has survived for half a century, and will live on forever.
It’s one of the wonders of working for an experiential agency – seeing at first hand, people enjoying their experiences and their interactions with brands. From Coca-Cola, through Lucky Strike, down to the new app you and your mate dreamt up last night in the pub - make your potential customers happy. Keep your existing customers happy.
Don knows it. So yeah, I think we’d take him.
He can sit next to me.