As we’re living in the age of the DVR, which often allows us to fly past the commercials, it’s likely to be a challenge for advertisers to find ways to grab viewers’ attention before they reach for the remote. If there’s ever a series to make us appreciate commercials, it’s Mad Men.
If you’ve been watching Season 4 of Mad Men on Sunday nights when it airs, then you’ve surely seen those clever commercials that follow an advertising agency in the ‘60s as they attempt to build a campaign for a real product, like Dove or Breyers. If not, you can watch them here…
One of the biggest draws of Mad Men for me is seeing how the advertising field might have been back in the sixties, not just as a work environment but as an industry. With the country on the verge of some major changes (the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, Vietnam), times were changing, as were the people and that’s reflected in the way Don Draper and the other account people handle pitching ideas and following through with their ad campaigns as much as it is in the character arcs and overall dramatic plot of the series. Within the show, advertising is a great device to showcase the times they were living in and how companies communicated with the consumers. The industry was evolving along with society and that comes through nicely in the series.
With the above said, the "Smith Winter Mitchell Agency" vignettes that air during episodes of Mad Men are a great example of the changing times we’re living in today. While we’re still a culture that appreciates the simplicity of a funny commercial, the ads customized for Mad Men viewers not only push a product but they also borrow some of the style and charm of the series we’re watching, giving us a more seamless viewing experience (and also entertaining us). Sprint did something similar with Desperate Housewives last season.
The series of Sprint commercials that aired weekly during Desperate Housewives involved the use of a cell phone in a romantic affair that, if I remember correctly, ended in murder. It could be said that the campaign was somewhat in the spirit of Desperate Housewives, which has plenty of unfaithful spouses and murders, however in the end I’m not sure sex and violence was the best way to endorse Sprint as a brand. The approach was great as the ads were aired like a story and filmed in a similar style to the series, which is probably why I watched them to begin with but the subject matter rubbed me the wrong way.
The ads that have aired during Mad Men so far take that same approach in mirroring the series to an extent but additionally, have celebrated classic products in a positive, nostalgic way, reminding us that brands like Breyers and Dove have been around for ages and continue to appeal to people generation after generation. This is an approach and an execution that I can appreciate not only as a TV viewer but as someone with a growing interest in the advertising industry thanks to Mad Men. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these commercials. From what I hear, we can expect to see ads for Hellmann’s, Klondike, Suave Hair and Vaseline during future episodes of Mad Men (Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. ET on AMC). The ads will continue to be made available to view here after they air.
Finally, for those of you who have an interest in the history of advertising, I recommend the documentary Art & Copy. It’s available streaming and through DVD on Netflix. If you love the ad-related bits in Mad Men, you’ll definitely appreciate that documentary as it digs into some of the history of ad campaigns that left their mark on our society over the years.