How the Ad World in Mad Men Was Different from the Ad World Today

Ad World in Mad Men

Just how different is the ad world today from that of Mad Men? Plenty different. In the real world, heroes are everywhere, teamwork matters, and channel diversification is key. Here’s our take.

The Myth of the Ad Man Hero

TV show ad agency Sterling Cooper needed a hero, and in Don Draper it had one. He had swagger for days. Intoning the perfect, fully-formed slogan while his copywriters came up empty. Winning over client execs with drunken pitches on more than one occasion. The fictional agency’s ringleader was always there to lead the way and he almost always came out on top.

But the ad man hero embodied by Don Draper is a made-for-TV myth. For drama, there’s nothing better than a single character to lead a group, overcome challenges, and close the deal.

In the real world, an agency is greater than the sum of its parts. There are many Don Drapers at an agency — brilliant creatives and savvy account executives creating the work and helping clients succeed.

Great Agencies Work Together as a Team

A client may get the picture their account has its very own Draper. They’ll interface closely with the same agency staffer over and over again. But behind the scenes, you’ll find the unsung heroes. A team of designers, developers, copywriters, strategists, media buyers, and more, working together.

Collaboration is key for real world agencies. An ad agency team has to combine their capabilities in order to come up with solutions that meet the needs of their clients. Without teamwork, a client is left with the talents and shortfalls of the individual, rather than the collective expertise of the agency.

You Need More Than a Slogan

Now there are some things Mad Men gets right about advertising. “The pain, the pressure, the ultimate joy in trying to come up with ideas. They’ve got that right,” Billy Barnes, a creative director at Howard, Merrell & Partners, told Esquire about the show.

“I actually think they come up with decent ideas for creative that get featured,” Barnes noted. “A lot of ‘slogans’ though. You need more than a catchy line today.”

Barnes is, of course, spot-on. Today’s marketing efforts do need more than pithy one-liners and striking imagery. To sell products and services, you can’t just pull at heartstrings with nostalgia or love, as many pitches depicted on the show do.

Today’s consumers are savvy. Very savvy. Studies tell us they trust recommendations from friends, and they do their own research and evaluation online before they buy. For local business choices, 88% of consumers read up on businesses online before they buy.

For the today’s ad world, that means agencies need to put their clients’ products and services, as well as testimonials, press, and content marketing, in all the places where consumers are lurking. Multi-channel strategies and campaigns are a must.

Real World Ad Agency Work Is Comprehensive

“Don would be impressed with how much work we present to clients,” Jessie Perlin Graham, a freelance art director in Los Angeles, said in a piece for Esquire. “I’m always amazed by the client meetings on the show, when they reveal, like, one or two print ads, and the meeting adjourns.”

“Nowadays, that would be accompanied by photographer recommendations, a color story, casting thoughts, several options of headlines and visual directions. And probably also a script for broadcast, an out-of-home idea, and a social media strategy.”

SEO and Web Design, Content Marketing, and More

Full-service agencies offer so much more to today’s real-life clients. SEO and web design services, content marketing, email content marketing, and even online content marketing. It’s these multi-channel strategies that best combine the talents of the whole agency to reach more consumers and achieve client success.

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