November 9-13, 2009 was MAD MEN week at Inside The Arts where select authors are posting content inspired by or related to MAD MEN, the award winning television series at AMC. You don’t have to follow MAD MEN to enjoy the posts this week (but it will certainly enhance the fun).
For those unfamiliar with the program, AMC describes the series as “Set in 1960s New York, the sexy, stylized and provocative AMC drama Mad Men follows the lives of the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue advertising, an ego-driven world where key players make an art of the sell.”
Outside the interpersonal relationships between characters, the program also focuses on the transitional era of simplistic logic based advertisement to the more sophisticated era we know today. During this time, advertising campaigns based on logic of reason evolved from serving as the core platform to becoming one of several tools designed to subtly develop spending habits.
In the 1960s, consumer development moved from relying on static billboards, commercials, and print add efforts toward comprehensive campaigns designed to exploit the customers’ sense of themselves as insiders. The world of consumable goods became crowded enough that building the best product and convincing buyers of that fact no longer translated into meeting sales goals.
Think of the traditional logic based mentality of 1960s marketing as something akin to the notion that classical music is inherently good for you and you should consume it for that reason alone. By and large, the world of performing arts (and especially orchestras) has discovered that relying on the logic based “high art” argument is a strategy that produces diminishing returns.
Consumers are sophisticated enough to understand the language we use to sell the concert experience (as well as justify donations and government support), so the business needs to adapt accordingly. Rather than pushing classical music’s merits, the business needs to focus on persuasion. Furthermore, it needs to acknowledge that the overall concert experience goes beyond listening so taking those elements into consideration is a critical component to building a successful campaign of emotional persuasion.
Fortunately, Mad Men’s writers do a wonderful job at taking the myriad of social and political change taking shape in the 1960s and interjecting it into the advertising campaigns explored by the fictional ad agency of Sterling Cooper. What’s important here aren’t the actual social issues as much as the process they invent to help the show’s characters realize those changes and subsequently incorporate them into their actions (with varying degree of results). The requirement to fit it all of this into a 60 minute weekly run time is a sort of blessing in disguise as the show’s writers are forced to continually condense and refine the final material.
We’ll be exploring all of this in greater detail throughout the week, using some specific examples from Mad Men as a vehicle. Here’s an index of the articles from 2009: