The Jumping Off Point

Mad Men's imagined past gives us glimpses of advertising trends of the present—and the future. Here's how Don Draper's concepts lure in readers while letting them do half the work.

Jumping off point for great marketing copy

To a 21st century digital copywriter, watching Mad Men is like taking a campy face-in-a-hole photo at a carnival. On the outside, it’s the life of an adman gussied up (not us). And yet, the agency plotlines resonate in a way that’s surprisingly contemporary and real.

In Don Draper’s mock-up for the Royal Hawaiian (season 6, episode 1), he doesn’t show Diamond Head, a lavish suite, or the hotel pool. In their place are a suit, tie, work shirt—doffed and discarded on the fine white sand. The invisible subject has shed his skin and jumped into the ocean, says Don. The clients are flummoxed. It’s morbid, they say, shaking their heads and minds emphatically.

Three episodes later, a pitch to Heinz features naked food— fried chicken, glistening fries, a slice of steak. Above it, a simple directive: “Pass the Heinz.”

It feels like half an ad, says the man at Heinz, who sees only what’s on the page.

According to show creator Matt Weiner, these ads were six years ahead of their time. “The greatest thing you have…is not the photo you take or the picture you paint. It’s the imagination of the consumer. They [sic] have no budget…no time limit. If you can get into that space, your ad can run all day,” says Don.

We’ll raise our whiskeys to that. 1968 or 2013, great marketing copy is often anything but literal. Rather than douse you in a stream, it doles out condensed, heady droplets. Rather than hand you the punchline, the reader gets to pick it up himself. Which do you think is more powerful?

At MarketSmiths, our hats are off to Don Draper, copywriter of the future.

Conrad Strathbone

Conrad Strathbone

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