Why TV’s Mad Men Would Fail in Today’s Market

First, let me say that I don’t like the TV show Mad Men.  But I’m almost old enough to remember when a handful of white, male ad agency executives in New York controlled nearly everything the public saw and heard in the media. They showed my parents glamorous images, and told themwhat the product was and how it was going to help them- and theyresponded by buying exactly what the ad agencies (and their celebrity pitch men and women) were selling.

That was then. Now, anyone foolish enough to try the same approach would fail miserably. There are three key reasons for that. To start with, consumers have choices that our parents never dreamed could exist. Back then, the only choice was to get up and leave the room when an annoying commercial came on. Now, thanks to DVR’s, pop-up blockers, and spam filters, no one has to see a marketing message that they don’t want to see.

Second, the number of communications channels available to connect companies and consumers has never been greater. TV’s Mad Men never dreamed of the immediate, personalized messages possible through the Web, social media, email, and mobile devices. They’d have killed for the kind of personalized, on-demand delivery of video and print messages that we take for granted.

Third, and most importantly, today’s consumers are anything but passive recipients of corporate marketing messages. We’re active participants in the marketplace – posting reviews on websites like Yelp, Tweeting our friends to ask for recommendations on car insurance, and posting the results of tech support calls on Facebook as they happen.

In fact, today’s interactive world is the exact opposite of the one-way communiation channel where the Mad Men thrived.  Technology has given consumers a voice at the same time that the economic meltdown left them feeling betrayed by many of the businesses and industries they once trusted.  According to the annual “Trust Barometer”  study just released by the giant PR firm Edelman, only about a quarter of Americans trust banks (25%), insurance companies (26%), and financial services companies (25%) to “do what is right”.

The news media fares even worse with just 22% of Americans ranking them as trustworthy. So who do consumers trust? People they know, especially those who live nearby. Younger buyers crowdsource everything from recommendations for a doctor to a million-dollar corporate software purchase.

Customers are the ones with the power – and they aren’t going to give it back.  I wrote a white paper at work recently, where I suggested some of the ways that marketing professionals can use technology to deal with all the changes that we’re facing as professional marketers — and as consumers.  If you’d like a copy, it’s available free on my work website by clicking here.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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4 Responses to Why TV’s Mad Men Would Fail in Today’s Market

  1. Joe Barrett says:

    I feel as though you’re missing a fundamental point of the show, which is the adaptability of advertising as a medium in general. Specifically in the show, you could see Sterling Cooper pivot when faced by tobacco industry regulations, for example; Or when they recognized a younger market who consumed television, and TV advertising was in its infancy.

    New media pops up all the time. To assume that “us modern folk” are somehow impervious to its subtle wiles because now it happens on the internet, or because we have peer review websites, is to absolutely underestimate the power of it. If anything, we’re *more* susceptible to it now because it’s such a large part of the *fabric* of the media we consume: Product placement in movies (Which was never done during the “age of Mad Men”), for example.

    Your citation of the study that gives metrics around trusted industries is a red herring at best. Very few people have consciously ever said they trust advertising, but everyone is influenced by it, like it or not. We have more ways than ever to keep other people from buying what we bought if we don’t like it (per your references about Yelp and Twitter above), but the advertising still drove us to buy it in the first place.

  2. Lisa H says:

    Great creativity succeeds no matter what the medium. That’s why Don Draper’s character is a star in the ad universe of the ’60s. To use Mad Men examples: the pitch Don did for the Kodak Carousel slide projector. The GloKote floor wax ad he supposedly won a Clio for. (Disclosure — I love Mad Men.)

    Another 60’s campaign success: The DDB Volkswagen print ads the Mad Men characters obsessed about in one episode (an ad campaign I remember even though I wasn’t very old back then). Fast forward to the 2011 Volkswagen Passat Darth Vader Super Bowl ad that was an even bigger smash as a viral video.

    Great creativity stands out because there is so little of it. Most of the corporate social media stuff I’ve seen is a big yawn and I tune it out. I don’t care how it gets to me, I just ignore it or delete it. Granted, the ways of reaching people have changed. But bad, boring creative work is still with us. And there’s more of it now than ever. In more forms.

  3. Scott says:

    One of us is too close to the forest to see the trees. I don’t live in the interactive world that you describe and neither does anyone I personally know. Of course, I’m ancient. But, there are a lot of us. I think those who are close to the social network world tend to think it represents everyone. I am sure there are tons of data out there confirming that I am the only one out of step. But, I think there are probably as many old farts like me as there are college sophomores texting while they go to the bathroom.

    Things have changed a lot since Mad Men, (I don’t like the show either and I was in the business) but I don’t think the pendulum has swung quite as far as you indicate. And, with the population still aging, it will be a while before we all forget how to talk with our tongues instead of our fingers.

    • debmcalister says:

      Well, as always, you could be right, Scott. I may be too close to it. But I am pretty sure that when I was in school they never mentioned instant messaging, Twitter, social media, webinars or virtual events, or mobile messages that followed the consumer when they weren’t at home. I think my college professor might have had a heart attack if the curriculum had had to double in size to cover all the new channels — and I know my grades would have dropped!

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