Mad Men’s Incestuous Relationship With its Advertisers

Has season 6 finally seen the exorcism of Mad Men’s soul or did the sometime parodic, most often smug tribute to advertising’s golden age ever have a soul to lose? Oh no, we’re not talking about the snappy dialogue and loose moral fiber of the mad men of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce, but the marketing, writing and advertising folks behind the franchise.

We hope you’ll weigh in.

In this emergency Keep Marketing Fun blog and accompanying kickoff KMF podcast, we’re looking at Mad Men’s final decent into what may be the very darkest corner of the world we live and breath.  With insights from Brendan & Brendan partners, Brendan Sera-Shriar, Beth Thouin and Brendan Tully Walsh (your author and host) , we’ll delve into the dark heart of a show who’s mission may be revealed to be a cynical double play on our nostalgic appetites, and the great advertising powerhouses of a by gone era hoping to use the show to worm their way back into our hearts.

And no we’re not talking about the steadily derailing pitches of Done Draper, but the Actor John Hamm’s hypnotically convincing voice on the interstitial ads that run in, around and between the show.

By the way, full credit for the inspiration of this critique goes to the New Yorker’s  his maddeningly insightful eulogy (I can only hope), to the show we’ve loved so well.

We’ve all accepted the increasingly devious practice of product placement in films and television.  We say increasingly devious because often we realize only after the fact that we’ve been advertised to. When Steven Colbert plays himself through a rant on the addictive properties of the latest flavour of Doritos, as negative as that may seem, is product placement. No different certainly than Mad Men writing Kodak, Jaguar or American Airlines into to the scripts. But what happens when one of Don Draper’s classic  home run pitches, voice and all comes home to roost in the American Airlines ads running through the show.

The first example cited in Crouch’s article features Christina Hendricks sizing herself up, baiting and switching to a glass of Johnny Walker, and Couch points out echoing Season 5’s successful pitch to Jaguar using the female to bait, and the car as the punch line with the slogan, “Now you can own it”.

Does this cross the line?

I think it does, and not because in America everything isn’t for sale. But because the trust we’ve placed in Mad Men, all 50’s era debauchery aside, has been built on the belief that the strong characters of Joan and Peggy represent a deeper critique of the troubling sexist values that that generation allowed, accepted and bought into wholesale. No big surprise, but one of my partners Brendan Sera-Shriar do not agree. I’ll add some transcripts of their commentary here soon, but in the meantime feel free to listen to the podcast.


As a fan, from my point of view, for us now to be sold the very same kinds of questionably dated attitudes and campaigns that the cads of mad men would pitch to their clients could be construed as a betrayal of the core values of the show. In an era where the rules of the game have so totally changed, where as Bob Garfield and Doug Levy in their recent book “Can’t Buy Me Like”, say:

“Just jettison some old habits, such as trying to manipulate prospects. Stop viewing purchasers as conquests. They are members of a community, prepared to adore (or the opposite) not just your stuff but the inner you. Your essence is transmitted continually via your relationships with consumers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, neighbors and the Earth itself.”

And on these terms, and summarizing the new values of the Relationship Era over the bad old days of the consumer era embodied by Mad Men, Mad Men as a franchise has failed, and sold us up the river.  I won’t be watching a season 7, probably.

Stay tuned for more KEEP MARKETING FUN podcasts, and fee free to comment on Soundcloud or here on the Blog.

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